This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
It was Diwali and it's only fit that this article should reflect on the film that was playing everywhere from Thursday, Sooraj Barjatya's Prem Ratan Dhan Payo!
The year was 1989, and my good friend the late Anant Balani and I would hang around with Mohnish Bahl at his Colaba penthouse. All three of us had been in school together (Sudhir Mishra often jests that everybody was in school with me, and he is not too wrong), and we used to just sit around and chill because we had nothing to do. Anant Balani and I had made Gawaahi and while it was a worthy first film, we had to go ahead and make another film, a bigger film, and we had no clue how to go about it. Mohnish was also in a position where a few of his films had flopped and he needed to very quickly reinvent himself.
Mohnish Bahl and Salman Khan were great friends and they used to come often to Mohnish's house. He had to live down Biwi Ho To Aisi, which had become a surprise hit, but which was not going to give him a career.
Mohnish's mother, Nutan, not only a legendary actress but a wonderful human being, not just a mother but a friend to her son and his friends would sit often with me and we would drink chilled tankards of beer together and discuss films. She would often ask me to figure out how Mohnish should move ahead and we would discuss it almost daily.
And then like a magician, came Sooraj Barjatya and changed all our lives; Salman got the lead role in Sooraj's Maine Pyar Kiya. It was Sooraj Barjatya's first film as a director. It was his thankless task to make a film that would bring his illustrious banner Rajshri Productions out from the doldrums; their last many films had done badly and this would be their last film if it did not do well.
In a wonderful stroke of luck, and if Salman had a hand in this, I would never know, Sooraj also wanted Mohnish for the main baddies role and Salman was delighted that his closest friend would be on the sets with him. Mohnish had reservations though; it was his wonderfully visionary mother, who one afternoon, sitting with us insisted that Mohnish do the role. And in the same breath she talked to Anant Balani and me and recommended that we meet Salim Khan, Salman's dad for a script.
'Salim Saab and I have just worked together in Naam and he is a wonderful human being and a wonderful writer. Go to him with honesty, go to him and tell him that you would prefer to raise money on the basis of a script, as opposed to raising it on the basis of a star name.'
And Nutanji set up the meeting.
While Maine Pyar Kiya was being made, the foundations for Patthar Ke Phool were also being laid by Anant Balani and me. And a year later, Maine Pyar Kiya (MPK) was the biggest hit of the year, even though it started its journey in one matinee show at the Metro Cinema and no other cinema across the country. Once it took off, it would not stop, establishing Sooraj Barjatya as a top 'A' list director, catapulting Rajshri Productions right back to the top, making Salman and Bhagyashri huge stars and giving a new lease of life to Mohnish Bahl, my old friend who by now has done some superb roles and more than 150 films.
It gave Anant and me a new life because Patthar Ke Phool (PKP) was a distributor favorite and was snapped up instantly; Salman gave four hits back to back, including Baaghi and Sanam Bewafa, along with MPK and PKP, Balasubramanium became the voice of the new superstar Salman Khan and all was well with the world.
And Sooraj Barjatya topped his own feat of MKP with Hum Aap Hain Kaun (HAHK) and now is all set to give us what could possibly be his biggest blockbuster this Diwali. Of course the Rajshri Production team has moved with the times. While MPK and HAHK released in one screen and widened week after week, PRDP is all set to release in a record number of screens and a record number of shows all over the country. While so far, no matter what, Rajshri Productions has always distributed their films themselves, this time they have joined hands with Fox Star Studios.
But the Salman Khan and Sooraj Barjatya partnership has not changed, and audiences are looking forwards to a huge innings!