In an exclusive interview, Gupta speaks about his Raid journey and explains why he is still proud of Ghanchakkar (2013).
Surprised how Raid ended up becoming a family film, says director Raj Kumar Gupta
Mumbai - 20 Jun 2018 13:54 IST
Updated : 17:10 IST
The new millennium has seen filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane and Imitaz Ali come to the fore. Often labelled mavericks, these filmmakers broke away from traditional storytelling and introduced the Hindi film audience to different kinds of cinema.
Like these, another gentleman started his career in the first decade of the twenty-first century. So far, he has made four films, garnering fame and respect for three. However, he is, perhaps, not talked about in the same breath as his contemporaries.
Born in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand, Raj Kumar Gupta wanted to be a banker like his father, but when he grew up, the thirst for filmmaking brought him to Mumbai where he worked as associate director on Kashyap’s Black Friday (2007) and No Smoking (2007).
Gupta made his directorial debut with the critically acclaimed Aamir a year later. He followed it up with No One Killed Jessica (2011) that was based on the sensational Jessica Lall murder case.
Gupta suffered his first setback with the comedy Ghanchakkar (2013). Nearly five years later, the talented filmmaker roared back to form with Raid, another film based on true incidents.
As the title suggests, the film is about a successful income-tax raid carried out by a righteous officer Amay Patnaik (Ajay Devgn). The film made nearly Rs100 crore, the highest for any Raj Kumar Gupta film. While there was no mystery around it, Gupta worked magic with a gripping screenplay, backed by superlative performances from the cast.
Speaking exclusively with Cinestaan.com, Gupta shared thoughts about his Raid journey, expressing surprise how it ended up becoming a family film, and also told us why he is still proud of Ghanchakkar (2013). Excerpts:
After watching Raid, I fear the gods may not let you enter through the doors of heaven for the righteous Raj Kumar Gupta is so good at his job that he may the seize the fortune amassed by the almighty too.
Arey baap re, aisa mat bolo [Oh, please don’t say that]! I am happy the film turned out well. We all gave it our best. I am happy that it worked for all of us.
The audience warmed up nicely to the film, but as the director what does the success of Raid mean to you?
I think whenever one makes a film, one is hoping to do his best and tell the story in the best possible way. Raid was more important for me as I was returning after a gap of four-five years. I was hoping for it to do well. We had a good story, script and with Ajay Devgn, we all gave our best.
I think it was important for this film to work in a way that it is not about the box office, but how the film works out when you see it as a complete film. Of course, after it is released, when it does well, it has a different meaning. But when you are watching it with people who have worked on it, there is a general satisfaction. This satisfaction was there when we watched our film.
Before it was released, I wondered with a film that is titled Raid, what could it really offer, except for a raid with pots of cash, seized valuables. Then I saw the film and was floored by the drama. The raid became secondary, but the drama made it every bit of a family film.
I was also surprised it became a family film. I watched with the audience a couple of times, and I could see the kind of audience that was coming to the theatres. I have not seen, at least for my films, such kind of family audience, from kids to 70-80-year-olds, especially females. It was kind of a surprise for me as well how it came out as a family film.
But while making the film, or even while writing with Ritesh Shah, there was drama in it for sure. But when you have a film which is 60-70% in one space, you are also looking at how you are going to create that drama. That becomes a challenge. You have limited characters, you can’t go out of that space. So, you have to create that drama through craft. Of course there is context, written material, but when you go into shooting you still have to create that drama, those moments. I think they came out nicely.
While the privacy of the real-life officer has been protected, did you imbibe his/her qualities in Amay Patnaik or were the character traits purely a work of fiction?
In terms of traits, I won’t say they were copied. It is just the personality and the incident. We did not go into the mannerisms, or how the real person spoke. While Ritesh Shah wrote this film, I also understand that while writing you need to bring in a couple of things when you are discussing fact or fiction. One needs to bring in lot of elements of fiction to make it appear more cinematic. You take the spirit of the person or that incident and try to bring in your elements as well.
In Raid, we took the incident, the spirit of it, and the rest — in terms of mannerisms, personality — we added fiction. Also, the film is not inspired by just one person. While researching, Ritesh and I met other officers too. These people also live in an environment which is surrounded by individuals. So, it will only be partial, or you would be exploring just one point of view if you listen to that one person. You have to listen to the other people’s points of view too.
Devgn was brilliant, but to me it’s Saurabh Shukla who chips in with a virtuoso performance. From the time it was first conceived on paper to the final product that played out on screen, as a director what impression did Saurabh Shukla leave on you?
Both Ajay Devgn and Saurabh Shukla are such fine performers. As a director, I always wanted to work with them. This was something which really lent itself beautifully to doing that. The duo are not just actors, but they are directors too. Shukla has also been a writer. It was a great experience of working and interacting with them. The communication was two-way. There was so much to learn from and share with them. There were suggestions by both, but they, too, understood my point of view, in terms of how I was trying to explore this film. Also, when you are working with good actors, things get easier as you are then mainly concentrating on the narrative or the drama.
When you first told Saurabh Shukla about this script, what was his reaction?
He really liked what he read. He did have a couple of suggestions, which we discussed. He had a certain kind of look he had in his mind, but it didn’t work for me. I explained to him my point of view, and he was happy with the approach I had taken. With such artistes, it is never about egos. It is just about how I am seeing the film and how I am able to convince them about it.
And how was it with Ajay Devgn?
With Ajay, I think we were on the same page as far as the script was concerned. He is very natural. I don’t think he likes to prepare too much, and neither do I.
Coming back to Shukla, I felt intimidated by him. This character is going crazy, he is becoming an alcoholic. I thought this man was really drunk. Was that the case?
No, he wasn’t drunk. There was a process which he went through to appear like that. He looked very human at that point of time in the film. He is such a brilliant actor that he doesn’t need to be drunk. He [Rameshwar Singh, Shukla’s character] is someone you are not able to read. He is very unpredictable. On the screen, this persona helps. There was a fear that Rameshwar Singh might end up doing something [nasty].
I was told that in that scene where Rameshwar Singh shoves a jalebi down his aged mother's throat, that was Shukla’s improvisation.
If you talk about improvisation, there was a lot of it. There are other scenes too where Saurabh Shukla added a lot. I think there was another dialogue which he had improvised. You are in that moment, when an actor suggests something. As a director, you have to be open about it and also see through how is it going to impact [the scene]. You don’t need to kill or hurt someone to appear threatening. That scene [jalebi] is my favourite. That line, ‘khana khate waqt baat nahi karte [don't talk while eating]’ was added by him.
Then there was Pushpa Joshi, who played Rameshwar Singh's mother. I don’t think I have seen such a natural performer like her.
I also don’t think I would have ever got to work with someone with that kind of energy, especially at her age. She was such a natural performer. I didn’t expect it would turn out that way. When she was on the sets, I realized that this is a special talent, a special person that we are working with. How it would transform on screen, you don’t know till the time it comes to the audience.
Did she panic in that dining table scene where Saurabh Shukla shouts at her? It can get intimidating, and even dangerous for octogenarians to be shouted at like that.
No. In fact, she was the one who used to cheer and encourage us. She understood that process. Her energy was more like a teenager's. At her age, she comes across as such a positive person. It is not easy to remember long lines at her age and perform them naturally. She would say, 'If you want one more, then let’s do it’. It was a pleasure to work with her.
You said the film was inspired by one incident, but Rameshwar Singh’s character appeared to be inspired by the raid on former Congress leader Sardar Inder Singh...
No, not really. The film was inspired by other incidents too.
The arson bit was inspired by two separate incidents involving two Uttar Pradesh businessmen. Isn’t a politician a more convenient villain?
No, it was not a convenient villain. It was a politician and all I will say is that he was not from that part [of the country]. The core story was inspired by one person, one incident, but there were other incidents, not stories, that we thought were needed to be brought in this form. When you are telling a story of a particular department or individual, you also want to pay homage to other incidents.
I was told by a source that one businessman had threatened to throw an officer into a cement mixer, but it was a speech by the officer that moved him, and so he spared his/her life...
He didn’t just threaten, he was about to throw them. By the way, that was a female officer. She gave an inspirational speech that really stopped him from doing that. It was a tough job, especially in the 1980s.
It took five years for you to come up with your next film. When was Raid conceived?
The idea was given to me by my producer. They were aware of the story. This was around early 2017. We took about three months for research. I don’t know how much time Ritesh put in separately. The producers had first hired Ritesh to write the script.
Moving to your last film, Ghanchakkar (2013) didn’t do that well. Can that be considered just an aberration?
I don’t know why it didn’t work. Not every film of yours will work. I am as passionate about Ghanchakkar as I was while making the film. People come to the theatres with certain expectations. They have a film in their mind that they have created, but it doesn’t turn out to be the film that they were expecting. That can be a good or bad thing. In this case, it was bad. If you give them the same thing, then they would say why are you repeating yourself. And when you give them something different, it becomes too much for them.
No One Killed Jessica, Raid, and now India’s Most Wanted, too, is said to be based on a true event. Does a real incident bring the best out of you?
I make films that really inspire me. Even Ghanchakkar was a story that inspired me. But that didn’t work. Aamir (2008) and No One Killed Jessica (2011) were films that set trends. One for small films, the latter for female-orientated films. Before No One Killed Jessica, there were not many female-orientated films that did well.
I don’t want you to tell me the story, but the moment you hear India’s Most Wanted, you are reminded of former TV show anchor Suhaib Ilyasi and his show India’s Most Wanted. Does the film have anything to do with that?
I don’t want to say anything right now on that film. I’m doing that film and it is inspired by a real-life event.
Finally, through Raid, I guess people with disproportionates assets will thank you for now they know where not to hide their money, valuables.
(Laughs) Chalo accha hai, kuch toh bhala ho Raid se. The audience has blessed us, I guess they must have learnt a few things from Raid. We were thinking of hiding some valuables in bathroom pipes, but logistic issues didn’t make it happen.