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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Aamir Khan reels back in emotion

Buys rights to 11 of 12 films produced by his late father Tahir Hussain

Flashback: Between 1969 and 1994, a producer who was always inevitably struggling launched 12 films, many of which didn't exactly set the boxoffice on fire.

Fast forward to June 2011: The beleaguered producer's son decides to buy the perpetual rights to 11 of those films for a few crore, more in a fit of nostalgia and less with commerce in mind. Such a transaction wouldn't raise too many eyebrows in the big stakes environs of Bollywood. Except that in this case the son buying the perpetual rights is a certain Aamir Khan. The producer is the late Tahir Hussain who died last year at age 71. Ironically, the one film whose rights are in dispute and therefore not with Khan is one in which he stars, called 'Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke'. "My father was not a top-notch producer like say Yash Chopra or Gulshan Rai. As kids, we have seen really close the lows of his films failing really close," says a dewy-eyed Khan.

Memories of those times still make the emotions well up inside Khan. In the absence of corporate and institutional finance, almost all producers borrowed money from the market at ridiculously high interest rates. Business wasn't Hussain's forte; that apart, long delays in the completion of films and a string of turkeys at the box-office resulted in a Domino Effect on the Khan family. Khan recalls his and his brother's name being up on the school notice board for as many as six months for non-payment of fees. His mother, he adds, would make their uniforms three sizes too large so that they would last longer. "The toughest times were during `Locket' (starring Jeetendra and Rekha, 1986), which took eight years to complete, or even earlier --- 'Khoon Ki Pukar' (1978) which took three years. Actors troubled him with dates and there would be at least 30 calls a day from creditors calling for their money," recalls Khan. Calling up farflung theatres across the country for collections is a vivid, if painful, memory as the figures were invariably imminently forgettable. Hussain for his part did give breaks to a lot of young talent like Reena Roy, Rakesh Roshan, Raj Babbar and Bappi Lahiri, among others. The rough road his father traversed would explain why Khan avoided wearing the producer's cap for years. "It's a thankless job because after employing an entire unit you get all the brickbats for things going wrong; and when the film becomes a hit, the creative talent gets all the credit, never the producer," says Khan. The reality, he adds, is that if it hadn't been for the producer, the creative talent would not have got an opportunity.

To source the films, Khan says he sought the help of "the only man who could have helped me get back my all my father's films which we had lost." The man is Jayantilal Gada, a veteran with a quarter century in the Hindi film industry and founder chairman of Pen India, which holds one of the largest Hindi film libraries. For Gada, the emotional call from Khan was enough to set to work. He traced the negatives of the films to the Hinduja group. Hussain had mortgaged the negatives of all his films to them, says Gada.

A year ago when the library came into the market, Shemaroo Entertainment bought 11 of the 12 films. So the films rights were all with Shemaroo. "Hiren Gada of Shemaroo (no relation of Jayantilal) did not hesitate when I explained the emotional reason of why Khan wanted to own his father's film library, to gift it to his mom; yet it was a nice gesture on Hiren's part (to sell to Aamir)," adds Jayantilal Gada. The transactionwas worth a couple of crore. Yet, there was a small hitch. Shemaroo had already sold the television rights to UTV Movies for five years. Hiren Gada says he was upfront with Khan about it. For Khan, that was the least of the issues. In fact, he is looking at restoring the films before he thinks of anything further. Can Khan monetize these films? Gada of Pen says when old films have only two resources—satellite rights (TV) which is 90% of the value and another 10% maybe from the home video business. So, if Khan decides he can possibly recover what he bought but that's not his focus right now.

For his production house however, which completes a decade this June 15, it adds value and numbers. "Yes, they 11 films get added to the Aamir Khan Productions library now," says Khan finally smiling.

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