Interview Hindi

10 years of Ek Chalis Ki Last Local: Sanjay Khanduri goes down dark Mumbai lanes

Director Khanduri shares some intriguing tales about the film, including how the film was first offered to Vivek Oberoi.

Mayur Lookhar

Mumbai is the city that never sleeps, but how many are really awake to know what transpires on the deserted streets? Local trains are not only the lifeline of the city, but also a reflection of life in the city. Commuters have many tales to tell, but what if you miss the last train to your destination? Hang around south Mumbai, for there is a world to be explored in the deserted streets, the unholy underbelly.

Director Sanjay Khanduri used a mythical 1:40 am last local from Churchgate to create his dark comedy that was aptly titled Ek Chalis Ki Last Local (2007).

This was a story of Nilesh (Abhay Deol), a North Indian migrant who misses the 1.40 am train and accidentally discovers the city’s dark underbelly, where he meets some of the shadiest characters ever seen in Hindi cinema.

The film was perhaps not meant for the masses, but its realistic portrayal of the city, shown in a lighter vein, was widely appreciated by critics. Many Mumbaikars could relate to the film.

Ek Chalis Ki Last Local was released 10 years ago today (18 May). On the occasion, director Khanduri shared some intriguing tales about the film, including how it was first offered to Vivek Oberoi, who turned it down as he did not want to shoot a scene without his shirt. Excerpts from the conversation follow:

It’s been a few years since the 'ek chalis ki last local' from Churchgate was terminated. Whenever the 1:40 am commuters get a sense of nostalgia they perhaps remember your film, irrespective of whether they have actually seen it. Can we say that both your film and the 1:40 am last local are etched in history?

You can say so. This [1:40 am last local] will be more like a piece of history now which people can remember through celluloid. We are glad we got reality onto celluloid in an entertaining way.

It is 10 years since the film was released. Any plans for a reunion, or would we just see #10yearsofEkChalisKiLastLocal on Twitter?

Now that you have said so, there should be a reunion. We’ll probably catch up with the producers, Abhay Deol, Neha Dhupia and there’s also Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Not many people knew about that.

Nawazuddin? He wasn’t famous then so, I guess, he must have played one of the goons in the film?

He was one of the lead goons. He was the brother of Ponnappa [played by Vinay Apte], the man who runs the club. It was the death of Siddiqui’s character that was the turning point of the film. How the nice adventure [of Deol's character] turns into a nightmare. Siddiqui’s character follows Madhoo [played by Dhupia] and gets killed accidentally in a loo. His character changed the course of the film.

For a guy who hails from an affluent family in Uttarakhand and was brought up in Delhi, how did you conceive of such an idea?

Generally, for filmmakers their first films are the impression of what they have been through. Somewhere, Ek Chalis Ki Last Local is a summation of my initial years spent in Mumbai, where I was struggling to find my footing as a filmmaker.

In this  process, I travelled a lot by local trains, especially in the night when I was working with an agency. I have lived in all kinds of places. So, in this process, I absorbed the underbelly of the city, found some humour in that which we integrated in the film. That is why we could make it into a cult film, which youngsters associate with and enjoy watching.

Since you have said that the film was an impression of your initial years in the city, should I assume that it is impossible to make such a film without having explored the red-light areas of Mumbai?

Yes, I  think so. Had I not seen the underbelly and lived in the streets, been to these bars, seen the body language of such characters, how they would behave, the attitude of cops, I wouldn’t have been able to project the scenes on screen with confidence.

Have you ever disguised yourself as a customer to one of these places?

(Laughs.) I have been to these bars, where I was pulled along by my friends. But beyond that the rest is a flight of fantasy.

It is seldom that we come across a Hindi film where you say the actors were born for their respective roles. While Neha Dhupia had played an urban escort in Julie (2004), never before had we seen her turn into a desi commercial sex worker. Similarly, we never saw Snehal Dabi as a eunuch pimp and Deepak Shirke as a gay don. What made you think these actors could pull off such characters?

First, I had worked with Deepak Shirke while assisting Kundan Shah on Dil Hai Tumhaara (2002). That was the time when I saw the potential and his command of comedy. While he looks so aggressive and violent, having a towering personality at 6 feet 4 inches, his sense of humour is good. That was the day I thought that someday I’m going to use him in my film. That was one casting which was stuck in my mind and I was able to have him play that character, Mangesh Chilkey.

With regards to the other actors, I just wrote the script and after that everything fell into place. I hadn’t thought of Neha Dhupia or, for that matter, anybody. I just created this character who would step out at night on the streets, catching customers, but acting as if she is not a prostitute. Neha loved the script instantly. She is a former Miss India and a very pretty woman. I had to just put what was there in my mind as the character Madhoo on to her, and she just looked fabulous, like never seen before. Even she admits that it is one of her best films. Being a fine actress, she imbibed the role in the right manner as an actor should do.

What about Abhay Deol? Was he the first choice to play Nilesh Rastogi?

Abhay was a natural choice. He was introduced to us by music director Sandesh Shandilya. I wanted the protagonist to be looking not from Mumbai, one who is unaware that he has missed the last local train. He is basically like me when I was new to the city, still grappling with the basic rules. Deol’s North Indian looks suited the role to the T. We were lucky to get him at that time. He had done Socha Na Tha (2005) and this was the first film he signed after that.

As for Snehal Dabi, I had seen him in Ram Gopal Varma films. I had no one else in my mind but him to play the eunuch. He is such a versatile actor who has great comic timing, with deadpan expressions. So, the whole idea was to find somebody who, by his mere expressions, would spill so much humour that people would be entertained even in a dark scenario.

Is it true that Vivek Oberoi was first offered the film but refused because he didn’t want to do the scene where he is stripped and tied to a bed by Deepak Shirke’s character?

True. It was offered to Vivek first. Somewhere that was so critical to my vision of the film. I knew how I was going to treat this particular scene. It wouldn't be gory, but shot in a funny manner. We had met a few other people before we locked somebody. We didn’t want to change our vision, so Vivek politely turned us down saying that if there is anything else, we should come back.

Something similar was seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). Was that your inspiration?

Well, Tarantino influences a whole lot of filmmakers. While there is nothing similar that way except for the ball in the mouth, the treatment is different. It’s like you will see in a number of films where the scenes look similar, but the treatment is totally different in the context of the film and the story that is going on. Yes, you could say that somewhere there is an influence of Tarantino, but it truly came naturally in the film. We used it in our manner.

Is there a plan to make a sequel to Ek Chalis Ki Last Local?

Yes, we are planning to make Ek Chalis Ki Last Local: Reloaded, but we are still looking for a producer.