Focus and the aim to do something different in life has made the famous director and writer Braj Bhushan a well-known face in both the Bhojpuri as well as Bollywood film industry. He has directed more than 75 short and documentary films, 23 Bhojpuri and seven Hindi films in his career spanning over four decades.
His decision-making capabilities have been instrumental in shaping his life. He has won the National Award in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 2001 for his documentaries Tribal Women Artist of Hazaribagh, Jab tu Jage Tabhi Sabera, Waris and Do Gulab. In a tête-à-tête with Bayside Journal city correspondent, Abhitash Singh, Braj Bhushan opens up about the film industry and his achievements.
Tell us about your initial days in the film industry.
From my school days, I was inclined towards films. I used to learn both the Hindi and English alphabet to filmy tunes. I never wanted to be an actor but was inclined towards direction. I completed my graduation in Bachelors in Science (BSc) from Langat Singh College in Muzzafarpur, Bihar. Since my interest lay in the film industry, I went on to pursue my higher education at the Madras Film Institute.
What was the turning point in your life?
During my BSc days, I had a friend, Manoj Kumar. He wanted to be an actor. He told me to do something off-beat in life. He suggested that I try my hand at film direction. Initially, I was under the impression that one needed to have a very good personality, good height and body structure to be a director. But later when I met Prakash Mehra, who had done many films with Amitabh Bachchan, my perception changed. I became more confident about making it in the field of direction. At the Madras Film Institute, I pursued an education in editing and direction. This was the turning point of my life.
There is usually a story of struggle before success. Tell us about the days of your struggle.
I have always been decisive. So after my graduation, I decided to start my own production house, Rupam Films. In 1972, I became a Director General of the production house. My friends started the production house with just Rs 7. Our team started growing. Later, we charged a membership fee of Rs 10 for anyone who wanted to be associated with our production house.
Although we wanted to make films under the banner of Rupam Films, we faced a lot of problems initially. Though we were making money through membership fees and had managed to set up big office in Muzzafarpur, our aim of making films was not fulfilled. So, one day I had an idea. Along with a few friends, I started an executive committee and asked the managers and owners of all theatres in Bihar to be a part of the advisory committee. We agreed with most of the theatres in Bihar that the members of Rupam Films will get movie tickets without standing in a queue. Thus, the number of members began increasing and we could open up branches in other major cities and towns in the Hindi speaking belt.
Another turning point came my way when in 1973, the Buddhist monk Fuji Guruji, from Japan, visited Bihar. I fixed an appointment with him and convinced him to invest in and fund a documentary film on Gautam Buddha. He was so impressed by the idea that he asked the then governor of Bihar Ramchandra Dhondiba Bhandare to help me with the funding of my documentary. This was a proud moment for me. A clerk’s son was in the news for meeting Fuji Guruji and the Governor of Bihar. Earlier my parents were disappointed in me because they thought I was wasting my time in the film industry, but after seeing my achievements and my photographs with Fuji Guruji and Bhandare they began supporting me in my ventures. I got admission into the Madras Film Institute because I had been recommended by Fuji Guruji and the Governor of Bihar.
Tell us about your first documentary Tribal Women Artist of Hazaribagh. What were the challenges you faced while making this documentary?
I didn’t have a job and was in dire need of money. I received a call from Films Division producer, who offered me to make a documentary on the tribal women artists of Hazaribag. I happily accepted the offer because I needed money. The biggest challege for me was to convince Bulu Imam, an intellectual and researcher from Muzafarpur, Bihar. He had all the documents regarding tribal women artists. Imam was an eccentric person and convincing him was a difficult task. Before me many directors and producers from Film Divisions tried to convince him but in vain. The chief producer of Films Divisions told me that if I could do the impossible then he would sign me to direct the documentary. I like challenges so I took up the task. Imam didn’t permit anyone to make a film on him. What I did know was that everyone had a price. So I booked a vehicle on my own cost and went to meet Imam in Hajaribag. I used diplomatic means to convince him. I explained the monetary benefits he could gain from this film. Finally he agreed. The film divisions provided me with camera, cameraman and the unit to shoot a film. Imam was very happy with the outcome of the film. This film won the Best Art and Culture Film and the Best Director award in 1991-1992.
Tell us about the other films that received National awards.
After my first documentary, I was looking for other work. Fortunately, I came across an advertisement about Health and Welfare Ministry planning to give awards to the short films. I wanted to make short films but I didn’t have the funds. Luckily, my production managers introduced me to Nandini Tyagi (of Manoj Kumar-starrer Poonam ki Raat fame), a former actress who was looking to produce a film. I narrated the idea for my second documentary Waris. She liked the idea and agreed to produce it. The budget of the film was Rs 50,000 but it earned Rs 10 lakh. It also won the National Award for Best Film.
Of the four national award-winning documentaries you made, which one is your favourite?
All the films I make are best films for me.
What do you think of the documentary film making industry in India?
After YouTube, the documentary film market is booming. It might even surpass the feature film industry.
Every director has a role model. Who is yours?
My role model was Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
What type of films interest you and what would you say about today’s cinema?
I like to make films that have meaningful messages to the society while also teaching something to the younger generation. I don’t make meaningless films. Nowadays, most of the movies are full of vulgarity and are meaningless. I want to make films till my last breath.
What would your message be for youngsters and also aspiring film makers and actors?
All youngsters should have an ambition and mission. Apart from these two, they should also check their background whether they are going in the right direction. And last but not the least they should focus on only one thing at a time.