‘India’s Most Wanted’ Brought Arjun & Me Together: Raj Kumar Gupta
Filmmaker Raj Kumar Gupta on the making of ‘India’s Most Wanted’ and saluting India’s real heroes.
Last year, filmmaker Raj Kumar Gupta returned to theatres with the Ajay Devgn starrer Raid, and the film went on to become a Rs 100 + crore super hit. Gupta is now all set to unveil his latest titled India’s Most Wanted with Arjun Kapoor in the lead. Based on true events that lead to the capture of ‘India’s Osama’, India’s Most Wanted looks like a taut thriller that promises to be a mass entertainer.
I sat down with the filmmaker to chat about the making of India’s Most Wanted, his penchant for films rooted in reality and working with Arjun Kapoor.
Q: Your trailer of India’s Most Wanted says that’s it’s a film which is inspired by true events. Now, any film which is inspired by true events also runs the risk of becoming controversial because there are people associated with that event who may or may not want the film to be made or would want the film to be made in a certain way. As a filmmaker, how do you ensure yourself against getting into a controversy when you’re making a film which is based on real events?
Raj Kumar Gupta: The idea is to make a film... the inspiration comes from incidents, and one tries to be true to it. You’re not thinking about what could get you into a controversy or what could not get you into a controversy. What you are thinking about is the true nature of the event that you are inspired by, and you try and be as true to the event, as true to the subject as true to the people involved in that telling of the story. And apart from that being in the zone that the film is in, it should have that representation of the reality or the sense of the space that it is in. As you know, we have become so hypersensitive that anything can be said or politicised. But as a filmmaker, as a storyteller you have been inspired by something and then you are trying to tell that story. That is what runs through your mind, nothing more than that.
Q: India’s Most Wanted is being publicised as the hunt for ‘India’s Osama’ and the ‘Ghost Who Bombs’, and according to reports the ‘Ghost Who Bombs’ nickname was given to Yasin Bhatkal of the Indian Mujahideen, who was responsible for several bomb blasts across India and was captured in Nepal. Is your film based on Bhatkal’s arrest?
Raj Kumar Gupta: To this I would just like to say that this has been inspired by true events. People have to come to watch India’s Most Wanted to see what the film is about, what is the time span that one is talking about, what is the relevance or the context of ‘India’s Osama’ in the film, what is the context of a ‘Ghost Who Bombs’ in the film. I would leave it for the film to answer all these questions and not say more on this topic.
Q: Professionally Arjun Kapoor is going through a rough patch, his last film Namaste England was trashed by both critics and at the box-office, while Mubarakan was a mutli-starrer, his solo films be it Half-Girlfriend or Ki & Ka haven’t exactly been big hits. How much does the box-office history of an actor matter to you when you cast for your films?
Raj Kumar Gupta: It’s a very tricky question, we agreed to work together purely on the basis of our love for the script and wanting to work together. When he signed India’s Most Wanted hadn’t even released, but it doesn’t matter because you want to work with actors who are as passionate to work with you, who are as passionate about the script.
So I guess what we came together was not on box-office numbers, we came together on the love for the script and working together. Numbers matter, but these are things you can’t control or can’t keep thinking about. As a filmmaker, you can’t do that, you have to come together and collaborate with someone over a subject which one is equally passionate about. India’s Most Wanted is a film that is very gritty, shot in real locations, shot under circumstances which are very difficult to shoot in, so I needed a passionate actor who could do all the things that I wanted and Arjun was up to it, so I think this is what brought us together.
Q: There’s been a lot of appreciation for the trailer. Any memorable compliment that has come your way whether it’s for the way Arjun Kapoor has been used in the film or the way the trailer has been cut?
Raj Kumar Gupta: I think people have loved it. There are two compliments which have come forward. One is a compliment, one is I don’t know what to. Seethe compliment has been that people have found it very real. People have said that it looks true to the world that it is exploring.
Second one, I don’t know whether it’s a compliment or not but a fellow filmmaker of mine said that he loved everything about the trailer but the VFX shot of the birds passing by in the background that I have put in, that’s something that he didn’t think was well done. So, I asked him which VFX shot he was talking about and he said the shot of the birds flying. So, I told him that it wasn’t a VFX shot, it was a real shot. We were shooting in Nepal and some migratory birds crossed so I don’t know whether it’s a compliment but these are the two things that remained with me.
Q: One of the main criticisms about your last film Raid was that there were songs that punctuated the narrative and sort of took away from the realistic thriller zone that it was set in. Also, the presence of the heroine which probably wasn’t needed. From the trailer of your new film it’s clear that there is no heroine in India’s Most Wanted. So, was there no pressure to have a female lead in your film this time?
Raj Kumar Gupta: I think that it’s a misconception that I had any pressure in Raid to have an actress. I think that story was set in a time where those things were important in terms of a family life, in terms of a man who had a wife and that world required that. It came very organically there. In this film (India’s Most Wanted) it didn’t come that organically, it was something which was not required. It is a film that is spaced in a timespan of 4 days, apart from what we see when the blasts happened.
Q: But looking back do you accept the main criticism a lot of people had with Raid, which is the songs there were not well placed?
Raj Kumar Gupta: The thing is when you are shooting the film, you don’t try to force anything into it. What you try to do is to bring in certain elements, so the songs while we were shooting it were not meant to forced into the narrative but when one looks at it in retrospect because many a time one loses perspective since you are too close to things, so looking at it in retrospect, I would say that I should have paid more attention to that.
Q: From your films, whether it’s Aamir or No One Killed Jessica or Ghanchakkar or Raid, your most memorable ones have been No One Killed Jessica or Raid, which are based on true incidents, even Aamir for that matter, was rooted in real locations. And now you’re doing India’s Most Wanted, which is also based on a true event. Do you think your forte lies in doing films which are based on real events, and which draw a certain inspiration from reality?
Raj Kumar Gupta: I won’t say it is my forte, I guess I try to make films about something that touches me, something that inspires me. Maybe emotionally, intellectually, something that I have read or seen or could be real or is real. So those are my inspirations. I want to try and tell stories, write stories and direct stories that inspire me. It might not be something that has made a big headline, but something even small, something that has an emotional connect to it. Something which makes me feel that this could happen in this world, the world that we live in, the people that I meet, the situation that I could have been in as a human being. So those are the things that give me a sense of reality, gives me a sense of identification with these characters.
I have also done a film called Ghanchakkar, which received extreme reactions. Some people loved it, some people hated it, but that was a different space. So it’s not that I go out looking for subjects like this, but something that inspires me and makes me believe that these kind of people exist, these kinds of situations happen, and these are the kinds of emotions that a human goes through. Those are the things that inspire me to write and direct these films.
Q: In the trailer we see that an assorted group of five people including Arjun Kapoor are going on this really dangerous mission to capture India’s Osama, and they all look like everyday people you see on the street. But these are special officers, probably belonging to the Indian intelligence or the RAW. It sort of takes away from the image we have of a secret agent that we’re so used to seeing in James Bond kind of films, who are supposed to be these macho men with a great physique and have the perfect abs and the looks.
Raj Kumar Gupta: Arjun and his team play intelligence bureau officers. The IB officers in my film are very regular people, they are not the popular perception of what the intelligence bureau or RAW or military intelligence people should look like. Isn’t James Bond a fictional character? I think the perception that is there of these people has somehow made them very unreal. In the sense, people have stopped distinguishing between intelligence people and military forces, and commandos. They also do great jobs. But when you’re dealing with an intelligence bureau person or a RAW person, their basic requirement is to be discreet. If you’re on a mission, you can never let people know. You can’t announce your arrival, because once you announce your arrival, the departure won’t be certain. They’re very real people like you and me, very next-door guys. They might be living next to you and catching terrorists or criminals, but you might not know. You might not know that they are the people who have saved a lot of lives. And those lives could’ve been mine, could’ve been yours. On a different note, as a civilised society we must acknowledge this and stop body shaming people with the stereotypical criteria that we have wrongly created in our minds.
So, for me what was fascinating was these every day people, we have not seen the right representation of these people. As they say, the ground reality is very different from what we perceive. That’s what you see in the trailer. That’s what you see that these people are very real people, they pool in their own money to go and catch one of India’s most wanted terrorists. And that is what was fascinating.
Q: You must have researched when you started making this film about how the whole intelligence machinery worked within this special group to capture ‘India’s Osama’. What are some of the findings that took you by surprise or were really significant for you?
Raj Kumar Gupta: I think what was significant for me in this story was that these 5-6 ordinary men, very unlikely men went and caught this guy without firing a single bullet, without guns, without ammunition, by pooling in their own money. And there was a certain human emotion attached to it. The kind of work these people do, the kind of situations they face, the kind of money crunch they face, the kind of personal lives they have where they can’t even tell their families that they’re going on a mission. They would have to say that they’re going for a vacation with their gang of boys and actually come back after catching India’s most wanted terrorist, and their families might not even know that they are the ones who have caught him. They are brave people who are passionate about working for the country. They come in all shapes and sizes, they are real people. They are heroes without six-pack abs who really rise to the occasion.
Q: The look of your films always complements the world that it is set in, the cinematography does not overwhelm the narrative or the story that is being told. The same is the case with what we have seen in India’s Most Wanted. Is that a conscious choice to not make your film overtly “beautiful”.
Raj Kumar Gupta: This film’s DOP Dudley and I have been wanting to work together for a while now, he comes from a background where he has done big and glossy films (Golmaal3, Singham Returns, Chennai Express, Dilwale), so I told him that my films are more real, rooted in reality and I don’t want the cinematography to stand out. As far as I go, for me good cinematography is when no one is pointing out what how great the camera work of a certain film is. He came up with two tests, of which one looked very glossy and when I looked it I was taken aback and he told me “this is not your film” and then he showed me another test which was very real, very raw and he said, “this is your film”. I need cinematography that’s close to reality, a lot of times there may be frames which are not very finely composed but that’s life, it’s not finely composed, and finely coloured all the time. So that’s what I keep in mind whenever I do films, the cinematography shouldn’t stand out, it should seamlessly blend in.
Q: You use real locations in your films, there’s always been this debate about what’s more economical for a filmmaker, shooting on real locations or creating a set where you have a controlled environment. For India’s Most Wanted, you shot in Patna and Nepal, and these aren’t places which are used to film shoots. I am sure you must have faced a lot of pressure in terms of crowd control, in terms of getting things right on the ground, whereas if you would have probably shot in Film City or Ramoji, you would’ve probably shot for lesser days and saved a lot of money and time. What are the factors you think of while choosing between a real location versus a set, and what makes you favour a real location instead of a set?
Raj Kumar Gupta: I think there’s no substitute to a real location. From my first film onwards, like if you see Aamir I have always loved the energy that a real location gets you, the imperfectness that the real location gets you when you’re shooting, because nothing is under your control. It’s not that you don’t get what you want, you get what you get. And in that getting you have to make sure that you’ve got what you wanted. It is very difficult, it is not easy to shoot and with Arjun Kapoor, who is fairly well-known, even Rajiv Khandelwal was well-known. So with them it becomes very difficult. But, I always get charged when I have to shoot in a real location, and I am very dull when I have to shoot in a studio or a space which I am not used to, which doesn’t give me a sense of reality.
It was very difficult shooting in Patna, because not many films have been shot there, at least not with a star who has a well-known face. Not many films have been shot extensively in Nepal either. A lot of times you would see that the shot might not look perfect but that is what makes that frame special, that is what makes that scene special for me and that is why I always prefer it.
Q: Whether it’s Aamir or No One Killed Jessica, or India’s Most Wanted, these are films that you’ve written yourself. You’ve also co-written Ghanchakkar. Between being a writer and a director, what do you find more challenging? And do you find it difficult as a director to shoot scripts that have not been written by you?
Raj Kumar Gupta: You know when you’re writing a film, you are visualising it. Both writing and direction have their own challenges, but when you are directing a film you have written, you have already visualised it once. So, you’re pretty much clear in your head in terms of what you see. Although I must tell you that when you’re writing, it’s still within the confines of four walls and you have imagined a space. But I think when you’re writing it you are already picturing it, the film. So, in that sense,it is more organic.
But, when you are taking someone else’s script and reading it, of course it takes time to internalise it. There is something already on paper, that has been written in a certain way. As a director, it’s also challenging, and I love to take that challenge because a lot of times as a filmmaker you are writing and directing, so the process is that you live the film once, then you live the film twice when you are directing it, then you live it thrice when you are at the editing table, where as when you direct a script written by someone else it’s still fresh.
Q: With ‘Raapchik Films’, you have also turned producer with India’sMost Wanted, it’s been quite a long journey from Aamir to India’s Most Wanted. What are the new responsibilities or new challenges that you have to take as a producer?
Raj Kumar Gupta: I think me and my partner Myra under ‘Raapchik Films’ have co-produced India’s Most Wanted with Fox Star Studios. I think I am primarily a writer and director. I firstly look at myself as that. The rest of the producer responsibilities are shouldered by my partner Myra. I think challenges for me are the same. Because for me it is more about how I don’t want to compromise on that vision. That is why I let my partner take the producer’s responsibilities. I concentrate on writing and direction. But again there are challenges, you become more responsible in terms of how you perceive things. But having said I do not compromise my vision as a writer-director. I would like to say I am a writer-director in that sense, rest of the responsibilities are handled by my team and my partner.
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