Suneel Darshan started his career as a producer with ‘Intaqaam’ in 1988 and then, became a director with ‘Ajay’ in 1986. During his journey in cinema, spanning more than three decades, the filmmaker has seen many highs and lows but one thing he has done all this while is that he invested in the kind of content he believed in. It has been quite an eventful journey with several memorable films like ‘Jaanwar’, ‘Ek Rishtaa: The Bond Of Love’, ‘Haan Maine Bhi Pyaar Kiya Hai’ and ‘Andaaz’, among others. In this interview, he talks about the long battle he fought and eventually won against YouTube, his 30-plus year long journey in the industry, collaborating with Akshay Kumar on seven films, why the music from his record label is not available on streaming platforms, making peace with his films being viewed on home video platforms and more.
How do you look back at this 30 year plus journey in films?
I was born into a film family and we used to distribute films. I worked in the distribution sector for a very long time and then, ventured into filmmaking. It has been a tremendously satisfying journey but there is a hunger to do a lot more.
What is the kind of cinema you wish to make in the future?
I do not follow trends. After making an action-packed film like ‘Jaanwar’ (1999), I made a social drama like ‘Ek Rishtaa: The Bond Of Love’ (2002). I had a romantic drama like ‘Andaaz’ (2003) and a thriller like ‘Talaash: The Hunt Begins’ (2003) releasing in the same year. I have always been interested in telling compelling stories and not driven by what the market is dictating at a given point of time.
You recently won a legal battle against YouTube.
Yes, it was quite a long battle but I am happy that truth prevailed in the end. I was very particular about not letting my content get infringed upon. You cannot walk into somebody’s house and walk away with anything you wish to take. In law, if you have a store and you keep or sell stolen goods there, you are liable to prosecuted. Let me explain what I personally went through. If Shemaroo had the rights to a particular film of mine, only it can exploit its rights but what I was seeing is that a lot of users or accounts were uploading content of my films, be it songs, videos or the entire film onto their unauthorised channels. Even the songs of ‘Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha’, which my music company holds the rights to, were being uploaded by random people on YouTube. It affected me in several ways including causing financial damage to me. It took me eight years but I am happy the law passed a judgement in my favour. I am nothing as compared to a giant like Google or a YouTube. They are big, established companies and I have a lot of respect for their technology but they have to take effective steps to ensure that their platforms are not misused by people with vested interests.
A lot of companies suffered because of this but you were probably the first one to take a legal recourse.
What I personally feel is that they have all gone and tied up in some way or the other. I was the only person who had not tied up and was functioning independently. I was the odd one out. As a huge company, Google needs to be responsible. The Indian laws are in place but they need to be implemented properly. The IPR guidelines are as clearly written they could be but they are not being pursued in the path.
For the longest time, you were that one producer who was averse to selling satellite and home video rights of his films.
Yes, I believed that movies were meant only for the cinema halls. I know today it sounds like an outdated idea today but I had my reasons for believing in the same. Cinema is something which could last for hundreds of years. Maybe, I was not accepting and adapting to the technology. Eventually, I realised I had no option. I saw my films being consumed on unauthorised platforms. After I sold the home video rights of my films, the video companies benefited hugely from it. The songs from my films ‘Jaanwar’, ‘Ek Rishtaa’, ‘Andaaz’, ‘Barsaat: A Sublime Love Story’ are some of the highest viewed songs on Shemaroo’s YouTube channel. If you want to buy somebody’s content, you have to walk up to the owner to ask for the rights. I did not even file for damages. I fought only in order to reclaim what was rightfully mine.
The music of the films, released by your audio company Shree Krishna International Audio, is not available to be streamed on any online platforms. Why is that?
I am trying to find ways to put together a platform where the music, the rights of which are with my record label, will be streamed. A lot of the websites have been monetising audio and video based content without acquiring the necessary rights. That is the reason I have been wary of talking to these people. There is a lot of confusion about rights and other information between IPRS and PPL which claim to be film bodies. Once these things are solved, there will be more clarity on things.
You gave Akshay Kumar a film like ‘Jaanwar’ which gave a much needed boost to his career after several flops. After that, you worked with him on several successful films together. Would you like to collaborate with him again?
Akshay and I have worked on seven films together. It was a great association while it lasted. I think one just moves on with time. What is important is that we have very good memories of the period we worked together. I tried to give my best to all those films. I had the honour of triggering the career of an actor which was then at its nadir. He had delivered fourteen or fifteen flops before ‘Jaanwar’. The films, which he did with me, also opened up the barriers within him as an actor.
What do you think of the digital boom?
With time, technology evolves. The best thing to do is to accept it. I still believe that cinema itself was something which was very beautiful. Today, there is something called content that is being created for different mediums. Today, people forget a film six months after it has released. A film like ‘Jaanwar’ is remembered even today. I went for a film party after the release of ‘Jaanwar’. There was someone behind me who said ‘this man can win the next election and become the next chief minister of Bihar’. I looked behind and realised it was Mr. Yash Johar who said that. I thought he was referring to Shatru ji (Shatrughan Sinha) as he was into politics but then, I figured out he was referring to me. ‘Jaanwar’ helped him reach out to the smaller centres in a big way. At that time, ticket rates in most theatres in Bihar would be between one rupee and two rupees. There, ‘Jaanwar’ did more than 100 days of business at several theatres in more than twenty-five small towns.
Would you like to create content for the digital space?
I can create content for the digital space but I have not been invited so far by any of the platforms for the same. It is not about ego but about the respect we deserve. Whenever any of these platforms wish for us to create content for them, all they need to do is to reach out to us.
What are you doing next?
I was caught up with the case and its litigations since the last two years. I plan to come up with a lot of films in the near future.