With Sanju, Ranbir Kapoor makes up for Jagga Jasoos like Raj Kapoor did for Mera Naam Joker with Bobby

Ranbir Kapoor has spoken about the failure of his first production Jagga Jasoos. Speaking to a senior journalist, he said that Jagga Jasoos broke both his heart, and his bank.

His maiden production, under the banner Picture Shuru Entertainment, Jagga Jasoos took nearly five years to make. The film’s script kept altering throughout its shoot, with locations and scenes getting added and removed, and the budget increasing. Govinda was meant to play a key character, that of Jagga’s father, but after having shot for sometime, he was replaced. Reportedly, Katrina Kaif, the leading lady of the film, was miffed that her ex-beau’s film kept eating into her shooting dates calendar. Veterans tracking and making films had begun to murmur that a project that drags on in this manner is ill-fated. Having collaborated with director Anurag Basu successfully in Barfi!, which is also one of Ranbir’s career best performances, he decided to jointly produce this ambitious film about a young boy who stammers, is somewhat shy, but goes looking for his father in places across the world. Mounted on an imaginative, grand scale, the film did not click with the audience. While Ranbir’s performance was applauded, Jagga Jasoos lost him a huge amount of money. Since then, Ranbir has stated repeatedly that producing films might not be his calling.
Given his emergence as a movie star in present times, Ranbir’s financial woes did not impact his life terribly. He still bought himself a plush bachelor pad near his parents’ residence and had Gauri Khan do the interiors. With endorsements and investments that actors make in smart businesses, they rarely go broke. Ranbir took a big risk with an ambitious first production and it did not pay off. In his passion and drive to make a different, unusual, entertaining film for the young, Ranbir replayed his family’s history. The Kapoor khaandaan has had instances of others betting the shirt of their backs for a film, going bankrupt and then emerging successful by reinventing themselves.

The story of betting it all on a film begins with Raj Kapoor, who pretty much lost everything when Mera Naam Joker flopped. Raj had mortgaged the historic RK Studio and his family’s assets to ensure that his ambitious film releases. When it did not get takers, the family faced severe financial stress and bankruptcy. Dealing with creditors and staying on course had become a challenge for Raj but he resurrected himself with Bobby. Three years later, when he made the first teenage romance of Hindi cinema, he cast Rishi Kapoor and debutante Dimple Kapadia. Considered a risk because of its cast of newcomers, Bobby was not expected to do well but the film went on to become a blockbuster. In 1973, it garnered a crore in gross earnings, quite unheard of in the ’70s. Raj could finally bring his financial worries to a conclusion. The family also bought a home in Chembur after this.

In making Mera Naam Joker, Raj took a risky commercial decision. He chose to make a creatively satisfying film and told a sensitive story that is viewed as ahead of its time today. Shashi Kapoor, his brother, similarly chose to follow his passion for quality films as a producer, facing financial ruin.

Shashi’s repertoire as producer is unmatched in Indian cinema. He backed interpretations of mythology, history, politics and fantasy; making films that were primarily driven by a solid story. Junoon, 36 Chowringhee Lane and Kalyug are rare films that do not follow typical hero-driven plots. Junoon is about a dwindling, delusional feudal lord’s obsession with a young English woman that he keeps captive. 36 Chowringhee Lane looks at the loneliness of old age and Kalyug reinterpreted the Mahabharata with Karna as the central character.

Shashi bet big monies on Utsav made in 1984. Adapted from the ancient Indian text Mrichhakatika, it turned a corner in presenting the courtesan or nautch girl onscreen, whereby her desirability and beauty were celebrated and not judged. But it failed miserably on its release, and having been made on an expensive budget, it nearly bankrupted its producer. Shashi chose to make yet another feature, this time also directing it. His son, Kunal Kapoor, recalls the journey of making Ajooba, a multistarrer fantasy flick with Russian stars in its cast, as a big party on the sets. Made on an expensive budget of Rs 8 crores in the ’90s, Ajooba had Gorky Studios from Moscow collaborating with Shashi. Costs began to mount while shooting for the film and on its release, it only made half of its total budget. Badly hit by losses, Shashi never directed or produced another film.

As a producer, Shashi backed films that make a difference to the format in Hindi cinema. He would often make up for losses that his productions made by working for four to six shifts. His productions would never have been superhits but they hold tremendous recall value and remain quality stories that resonate till date. Ajooba was a misadventure, yet it reflected a filmmaker willing to take risks and explore fantasy as a genre.

Ranbir’s experience of production is most akin to his father’s experience of co-producing and directing Aa Ab Laut Chalen. In 1999, under the banner of RK films, brothers Rishi, Randhir and Rajiv Kapoor produced the Aishwarya Rai-Akshaye Khanna-starrer. He cast a promising star Aishwarya in it and the brothers spent freely on its making. The film made no impact and ever since, Rishi chose to stick to acting. It lost them money despite being toplined by popular stars. As films began to focus on characters beyond just the hero and heroine, the veteran star also began to find better, more substantial roles in mainstream films.

Ranbir’s stint in film production might be over for now. One must keep in mind that despite turning out to be box office flops, films that the Kapoors have produced and backed over time, reflect courage, grand imagination and a will to make non-typical, good films. Playing it safe did not appeal to them. Rather, they believed in pushing the envelope. Had they not displayed an appetite for risk, these films — Kalyug, Utsav and Mera Naam Joker — might never have been made. While failure in productions can become a big setback, it is worth hoping that someday that the RK Films banner finds resurrection under the new generation, for the sake of good cinema that stands the test of time.