Ajiaz Khan on the Indian Film Industry and Making Ad Films

In Film Director

He watched his grand aunt tell a story, and he listened to her, enthralled. Deep down, an idea sprouted, and he knew where that would take him. In his college years, he started working as an assistant director for many Ad filmmakers and began to understand the insides of the Bollywood Industry. After directing more than 400 television commercials, Ajiaz Khan travelled across the panorama of the film world. Read ahead to know about my conversation with him on his journey.

Do you recall any incidences from your childhood which influenced your decision to become a filmmaker?

My memory takes me back to my 7th standard. It was at a family function where I started to tell a story to everyone with great relish. I savoured the details of the story. My entire family was silent and still, as they listened to the story. That moment I realised that I was a good story teller, and this ignited a creative streak in me.

Now after more than two decades in the film making industry, I can affirm that story telling is a core ingredient, in a person, to make films. All the crafts and props and techniques are secondary. So, it was much early in my life when I began to envision myself as a filmmaker.

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How would differentiate between writing for a book and writing the screen play for a movie?

I understood that writing and film making are two completely different tasks. A different craft is involved in writing a novel, as compared to that of writing a screen play for a movie.

A book makes you visualize. The novels gets into the mindset of a person so that we can visualize it. It is not necessary to imagine in the same way as the writer would have.

Did you acquire work experience in your college years to pitch yourself as a film maker?

Absolutely. Infact, I remember my school pushed me towards dramatics. Stage shows give us a certain confidence we need to have to be in this industry. It was more towards acting at that time and also about holding the audience’s attention.

I started to work professionally in my senior year of college. I also started doing professional theatre in Mumbai at that time. But I knew I had to get into films because that was what I was most passionate about.

How was your experience of shooting your first film? Can you take us back to that time?  

In 1992 I was assisting Mahesh Mathai, a very prominent ad film maker in Mumbai. My father constantly encouraged me to be a good assistant director, and to learn my craft from the best man in ad film business. As I was working with Mahesh, I began to understand the epic scale of film making. Henceforth, I shifted to ad film making. 

Back then, working in the Hindi film industry was not considered cool. In the early 1990s the idea of people in the industry was if you’re not doing well academically, then you should do films! 

In 1994, I started to work on my own films, as an independent director.

After two decades in the film industry, do you think more people are educated about the subject matter?

Earlier, not a lot of people studied filmmaking, but now the scenario has changed.  I take on assistants who have studied film making. There are a lot of difference which have happened since the 1990s. 

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Can you tell us about your experience with feature films?

I am two feature film old! In 2007 I released my first feature film The White Elephant. It was difficult to shoot this film because we were shooting with an elephant in Kerala. The movie was more towards an arthouse and not commercial. It travelled in the Indian Panorama and all over the world.

After The White Elephant, I veered towards commercial cinema, and directed a quirky situational comedy, Baankey Ki Crazy Baraat, which was released in August 2015. It was well received by audiences. It ran for almost 6 weeks.

Can you tell us about the truths behind building a great story?

As a director has a different conceiving power. A classic example is how Devdas was portrayed by Dilip Kumar, then by K.L. Saigal and later by Anurag Kashyap.

In Iran you cannot show a woman without a veil but the Iranian Directors have mastered the craft within the restrictions.

Also, it must be considered that, an individual point of view might be overlapped by people starring in the film. But one needs to master his own technique.

You mentioned when the funding increases a lot of factors influences the direction of the film. Can you tell us about the such factors?

India has one of the most versatile film making industry. It caters to rickshaw drivers and the corporate and the business class who travels abroad, from labours to aristocrats. In India, films have a very strong distribution. Our source of entertainment are only films and cricket.

Take an example that Do Dooni Chaar is much different from Ishaqzaadey. Both have been directed by Habib Faisal. This is primarily because in the case of Ishaqzaadey, the producers have become bigger. A lot of money is involved in the funding.

In a smaller budget film, the biggest challenge is to convince a star. Stars have a way of portraying themselves. They only do a certain kind of movie. Then getting the studios convinced and getting your release is a mammoth task.

 

What is your message for our readers who aspire to become film makers?

The biggest high of my life was when I have sat with the audience to watch my film, and saw their involvement and got their feedback. A good story, great content is king.

Be a good storyteller. And tell it from the heart. Do not think how it will happen, because one day, it will happen. Keep at it.