Sooraj Barjatya is the current flag-bearer of the famed Rajshri Productions, which completed 75 years last year, being formed in 1947 post-independence by the patriarch of the family Tarachand Barjatya. His son Rajkumar Barjatya carried on the legacy and Sooraj, who is the third generation, also became a director-producer. Sooraj is now passing on the legacy to his son, Avnish, who makes his debut as a director soon with a film starring Rajveer Deol and Paloma Dhillon.
“The Prime Minister also made a note of the fact that we completed 75 years and wished us and that made us so happy. It felt good to have been working in the industry for this long as a family dedicated to cinema,” smiles the reticent Sooraj.
Sooraj who last made Uunchai last year, is happy with the heights his company has touched so far. We saw him go out of the way to promote his film Uunchai last year with Anupam Kher, Neena Gupta, and others.
Unlike Aditya Chopra, who never spoke to the media, Sooraj is now learning the ropes of marketing after being a filmmaker with seven consecutive hits like Maine Pyar Kiya, Hum Aapke Hain Koun, Hum Saath Saath Hain to Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon, Vivah, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, and Uunchai.
“I am a bad promoter. I restrict myself. The power of promotions today is helping you say what you want and I am learning. Marketing is not my strong point. But I guess one has to do that. I have a good team which makes all this possible,” says Sooraj, who never preferred to speak to the media.
Filmmaker Sooraj Barjatya |
Sooraj also understands marketing gimmicks now after his last film Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’s hook step went viral. “It is all because of Sonam. It was her brainchild and she said, ‘I have put a video and asked people to post it’ and I was wondering what she was up to, but it worked. I keep learning,” adds Sooraj.
The maker did move away from the traditional family stories and his favourite character called Prem for his last film, Uunchai. Prem was no longer the hero. “The complication was the age. Why should age be a restriction for heroism? It was pandemic time and I was writing a regular family drama with Salman Khan in mind and realised that everyone was challenging themselves. So, I wanted to do this story Uunchai about hope, courage and challenges,” he says. However, it was not really easy for him to break the news to Salman that the next film won’t be with him.
“I told him I am not making that film but this one first. He laughed saying this was not my style. Then he suggested that he should also play a 65+ man in my film and that he would work on it. But I told him that people can believe that Salman Khan can trek in the mountains and reach Everest base camp. But one will not expect Anupam Kher, Amitabh Bachchan and Boman Irani to do so,” adds Sooraj, whose last release was his fastest film.
Sooraj is not someone who picks up a pen and writes a script. Despite making family-oriented films, he says that research is his strong point and that is why people have connected with his movies. “Every film has a whole nut to crack. When I did Vivah I visited hospitals where burn victims were admitted. I like to be clear in my storytelling and I have to live that character and make things look natural. Hence, I write everything myself,” he adds.
No surprise that it took him 34 years to make seven films as a director. “When I started Maine Pyar Kiya I just wanted to do one film. I wanted to do what people did with Godfather or Sound of Music. I managed to make six more because my first film was a hit,” says Sooraj. He began his career as a 19-year-old standing in one corner watching the 28-year-old Anupam Kher shoot for Saaransh.
“I was an assistant on Saaransh, which was Anupamji’s first film. It was on January 1, 1984. I was the producer’s son and he has been with us for many years. Uunchai was our fourth film together and it was the first film I did without my father (Raj Kumar Barjatya passed away in 2019). It has not been easy without my father. So, Anupamji has been like a father figure guiding me and agreeing to do the film because it struck a chord with him,” says Sooraj, despite the fact that Anupam is just nine years older than him.
Apart from Anupam, Sooraj shares a wonderful bond with Salman, whose career went soaring after Maine Pyar Kiya. “The movie was not supposed to be my debut film. I was writing another film. I was newly married and was to start the project when my father said that I should make a love story as my debut film. He was of the belief that one should do a film closest to his life,” he shares.
“He gave me a story, which was called Lakha Banjara. The film was about a gypsy who leaves his daughter with a friend to travel to make money. The daughter falls in love with the friend’s son. When Lakha returns, he sees his daughter being yelled at by his friend and takes her away. My dad said let us take this story and add Mughal-E-Azam to it. But he said you make it your way and then I wrote it in English. The Mohnish Bahl dialogue, “Kya ek jawan ladka aur ek jawan ladki kabhi dost ho sakte hain?” was written in English. I told my dad that I could not write it in Hindi and he said write it the way you write because the film is for your generation. I became a screenplay writer and a dialogue writer in the process,” says Sooraj, who then cast Salman in the film after rejecting him earlier.
“It was a different film. The hero is wearing jeans throughout the film, which never happened in a Hindi film earlier. To add to that some of our previous films were flops and we were financially in bad shape. The actors who we always worked with were not ready and then I met this boy who we had rejected earlier when he gave the first screen test and five months later, Salman became Prem. My father borrowed some money and we started the movie,” he recollects.
Sooraj is still harbouring hopes to direct the elusive Salman Khan film, which he first postponed for Uunchai and then for his son. “I will be a producer now to watch my younger son, Avnish, turn director with his film starring Rajveer Deol and Paloma. We have a new director in the family after 35 years. I will start my film with Salman bhai after that,” he says.
Sooraj was so silent in class that his teachers never knew his name. But now the world knows that Sooraj has risen, but he will soon witness his son rise!