Munnabhai To PK - 7 Things One Can Learn From Rajkumar Hirani

By Aditya Savnal. Posted on December 17, 2014

Though he's got only three films under his belt, Rajkumar Hirani is universally acknowledged as one of the most talented Indian filmmaker.

And it’s not hard to decipher why? In an industry that largely churns out mediocre fare with an amazing regularity and blames it on the apparent lack of good scripts and audiences tastes, Rajkumar Hirani is one of the very few directors whose films have found the right balance of commercial and artistic sensibilities.

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Tackling subjects that concern the society, Hirani is known for making entertaining films that deliver a socially conscious message without alienating the audience.

After doing a course in film editing from FTII, Hirani made ad films as he was unable to get good editing assignments. Following this, he assisted director Vidhu Vinod Chopra on 1942 A Love Story and also edited Mission Kashmir. This enabled him to get his directorial break with Munnabhai MBBS. And the rest as they say is history.

He's not a media personality and one doesn't see him often on TV. So when we wanted to get inside his mind and understand how he makes the films he makes, we had to search far and wide. We came across these two great interviews at Joinfilms and  Science Direct and have summarized his filmmaking theory into 7 neat guru mantras for young filmmakers.

1. Filmmaking Is About Patience 

There are two ways to look at this. After making a hit film like Munnabhai MBBS, I could either make more money by signing five more films or try to better my previous work. I choose to follow the second path. Box Office success and making money is important but only in the short run.

After you hit upon a unique idea, all that matters is patience. You keep writing and rewriting till you are happy. A great script is the real foundation.

At the end of the day, one doesn’t remember Mother India or Pyaasa for the business it did, but for the good stories which told. This is what I always attempt to do, irrespective of whether I succeed or fail at the same.

2. Stick To What You Believe In

The success of Munnabhai MBBS gave me confidence to stick to what I believe in.

It’s been 100 years since the first Indian film was made. So anything you do can induce a sense of déjà vu amongst the audiences. The struggle is to find a new and unique idea. Abhijat (Joshi) (co writer of Lage Raho Munnabhai, 3 Idiots and PK) and I have consciously decided that we will make fewer films, but with every film we will give a unique twist to it. We don’t really have a formula to make films we just do it with our gut feeling. And that’s what every filmmaker must do.

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 3. Include Your Personal Experiences into the Script

I put a lot of my personal experiences into the script. I have had bad experiences with doctors and I wanted to make a film that hit them hard. And that’s how Munnabhai MBBS was born.

A lot of my writing and my detailing of scenes are based on my observations of life in Nagpur. Although I no longer get to travel a lot within India but my early days of Nagpur including my college days still help me, when I need some ideas.

4. Don't Be Preachy

“Both of us have an activist in us, but we do not believe in being preachy,” says Hirani referring to writer Abhijat Joshi. Both of us certainly believe cinema has to entertain.

My principal motto is, ‘I shall entertain’.  Nobody walks into the theatre to be preached to or to learn something. So I ensure that whatever I do, even when I have a message to deliver, it must be done in a manner that is highly entertaining. Cinema is all about storytelling and storytelling is about entertaining your audiences. At the same time, it is also a commentary on reality.

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5. Content Matters, Technique Doesn't

I’ve often been asked why my shot-taking is not stylish, why I don’t think about making visual statements. The truth is, style is irrelevant. I never think of the shot as much as I think of the characters and what they are saying and doing. I have been in advertising for several years and I know my craft well, but ultimately in cinema every scene has to matter, and that has to do with the writing.

6. Let Your Actors Free

Sometimes you leave an actor and give him the freedom to do what he wants . You try to discover an actor’s personality during the initial days. As a director, you are learning the art of man-management all the while. Because all these actors are experts in their own fields and are freelancers. They are committed to doing a very good job. But as a director, my focus is always on the film because ultimately it is the director who gets the credit or the blame for the film.

7. Don't Work In Isolation. Include Your Team

I narrate the story to the makeup man, the hair-dresser, the costume person, the sound recordist and to the cameraperson, often several times, so that everybody is in sync with what’s happening. Otherwise, their imagination will make them see another script. This danger is especially there with the cameraperson who is the second in command during the shoot. If he sees it differently, he will set up completely different frames leading to disputes. Give the team a dream and let them come up with as many ideas as possible. They are masters of their professions and I can learn a lot from them if I give them the freedom of imagination.

We hope these insights give budding filmmakers the much required guidance on making better films.

And before we end, here's an old ad that featured Rajkumar Hirani way before he became a known entity. Watch the ad below to see how far he's come. Have faith and start on your journey :-).


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