Filmmaker Pahlaj Nihalani was not sleeping when we called him late last night, a few minutes before the clock struck midnight to mark 35 years of the release of his superhit film 'Ilzaam' which launched Govinda. Maybe a mini-celebration was in the offing with the family. Sounding as excited as if the film was about to release today, Nihalani told ETimes, "I don't know why but everything that happened before the film did not throw any spanner in it and the film still went on to become a big success. And, should I really add that Govinda became the nation's heartthrob immediately after that?"
The film was earlier supposed to be made with Mithun Chakraborty whose role eventually went to Govinda. "Rikkuji (Rakesh Nath) brought in Govinda after Mithun opted out. For the female lead, I had signed up Madhuri Dixit who I introduced to Rikkuji and he went on to become her secretary (for 30 years). Even Juhi Chawla was in the race. However, I felt that Madhuri and Juhi did not fit exactly the look I had envisaged for the film's heroine. This happened because when I signed Govinda, I changed the film's screenplay largely. The film was earlier titled 'Rampuri' and had loads of action as Mithun was supposed to be doing it, but later, a dancing champion Govinda had replaced him. I knew that both Madhuri and Juhi were supremely talented. If they had done 'Ilzaam', Madhuri and Juhi would've become big names before 'Tezaab' (Anil Kapoor, Madhuri) and 'Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak' (Aamir Khan, Juhi). But somehow, I signed Neelam. The rest, as they say, is history; the Govinda-Neelam pair became a rage. Several producers wanted to sign them after 'Ilzaam'."
Recalling that Govinda was dating Sunita (who he married a year after 'Ilzaam' on March 11, 1987) even when shooting for 'Ilzaam', Nihalani explained how Govinda stepped into Mithun's role. "Frankly, I had started the shoot with Mithun. who opted out. His dates could not match with Shatrughan Sinha, who was also in the film, and Mithun said that he would rather do a solo film with me instead. Now, Govinda had come to my office and even done a break-dance which was very popular back then. When I later saw the video he had left with me, I was stunned; I never knew one could dance so well with so many expressions. I remember giving him a signing amount of Rs 5,000, which he didn't spend for a long time because he wanted to keep it as a souvenir. I completed the film in four months flat."
Nihalani said that every hit that Govinda delivered thereafter was largely due to himself. "He was a big craze. He was a star, he is a star and he will remain a star," Nihalani asserted, adding that 'Ilzaam' was one of the first films whose music rights T-Series bought. "They followed it up with 'Aandhi Toofan' (Shashi Kapoor, Hema Malini, Shatrughan Sinha, Mithun, Meenakshi Sheshadri) and 'Pyar Jhukta Nahin' (Mithun, Padmini Kolhapure)."
The filmmaker added that though Govinda's recent films didn't get success at the box-office, he was confident that it is just a matter of time before Govinda returns to be on top of the game. "Theatre owners in those days waited for Govinda's films to release as they gave them a lot of money. Today, the theatre lobby, rather the multiplex lobby, has become so strong that it gives justice to the release of only those films which they want. However, the new player in the game, OTT, has changed the dynamics. Star films might not rule the roost if they don't have much in them. The talented actors have come to the fore and there is no reason why Govinda won't be back in the thick of things."