He started his career as a director in the early ’90s. Since then, film-maker Sanjay Gupta’s Bollywood journey has been no less than a roller-coaster ride. However, that hasn’t dampened the 45-year-old’s spirit. Here, he talks about the slump in his career, his kids, and more.
You have been part of Bollywood for more than two decades. Do you feel you have managed to do the kind of work you wanted?
I’m now getting close to doing what I always wanted to do. When I started out, I was too young. I started shooting for Aatish in 1992. I was only 22 or 23. Still, I used never-seen-before styling, colours, music and action in the film. However, I didn’t do all that with the intention of showing off. I made all my films the way I wanted to, but not to prove any point. After a couple of films, there was a slump in my career until Kaante (2002) happened. With each film, I throw a challenge at myself.
There was a gap of seven years between Zinda (2006) and Shootout At Wadala (2013). Did that hurt your career?
Of course it did. During that period, I tried to wear the producer’s hat, and back multiple films. I tried to do everything that I shouldn’t have been doing. I am a director who belongs on a film’s set. I don’t belong in an AC office, where I can have meetings. For a brief spell, maybe, I took the easy route, and I wanted to play godfather. Then, of course, there was a fallout (with Sanjay Dutt), and I sat at home for three years. Also, I realised that you have to do what you do best. So today, I won’t suddenly say that I will make a children’s film or I should make a rom-com. As someone said, “Chalti gaadi ka bonnet mat kholo (Don’t open the bonnet of a moving car).” Why fiddle with something that’s working?
You have two kids, Shivaansh and Dalai. How have things changed for you since you became a father?
Everything has changed. My kids are my driving force. Now, there are two things I can’t take for granted — the kind of lifestyle they have, I have to work really hard to maintain that, and that I have had kids in my 40s, so I have to keep making money for them till I am at least 70-75. I have set goals for myself. Today, my son and my daughter are five and three, respectively, but when they are 13 or 15, they will understand the relevance of their father. And when they do, I have to be relevant, and at the top of my game. I have to be 10 times better than who I am now, so that they can be proud of their father.
You have been part of Bollywood for the past 20 years. Are you content with your career graph?
I am very happy today. Whenever my career has gone downhill, it happened because, maybe, I didn’t work hard enough; I took my success, or myself, for granted. Today, a lot of other factors come in, like socialising, and the star in your film etc. But I have reached a stage where I have realised that no one can take my talent away from me. Secondly, all the actors — from the Khans to the new lot, like Varun (Dhawan) and Tiger (Shroff) — are looking for a combination of two things: a good script, and a good director. And all I want are good scripts.
After so many years, do you still get sleepless nights due to work?
Fortunately, that stage is behind me, where the fate of a film would decide the fate of my career. Yes, we all say that one is as good as one’s last film. But when you have a body of work, then people also know, that even though one film has gone a bit astray, he or she has done a lot of work and knows the job.
Do you feel that the talk about your work being unoriginal, and you ‘lifting’ stories has hurt your image?
Of course, it has. I have never claimed to be original. There are 10-12 top directors today, who didn’t make a single original film in their careers, but they haven’t admitted it till date. I have always been brutally honest, and admitted it. Due to that, I became the poster boy [for such talks]. But where were Shootout At Lokhandwala (2007), Shootout At Wadala (2013) or Dus Kahaniyaan (2007) copied from? I guess this criticism is something I will have to live with, and take it in my stride. But, I will always be positive.
You have worked extensively with Sanjay Dutt. Why haven’t you done so with other actors?
That was my loyalty to Sanju. When I was working with him, he was at his peak. Then other actors, like the Khans, or Akshay (Kumar) and Ajay (Devgn), overtook him, and became bigger. I was always with Sanju, so even if any one of them wanted to work with me, they didn’t, as that would have looked like they were taking Sanju’s director away. It was an unwritten code between yesteryear stars, and they valued it. But, would I give that advice to my nephew who also wants to be a director? No. I will say, ‘Don’t stick to one actor. Go and explore.’ You don’t have to prove your loyalty through your work; you can show, it as a human being, and as a friend.
What keeps you inspired?
I work for posterity, respect and legacy. And that will happen only if you do good work. I have made a name for myself. And now, the journey will start all over again.
Many directors who started working at the same time as you are no longer making films. What has kept you going?
You can’t take yourself for granted. You have to keep going, and getting better. It’s the same for films, literature, poetry and fashion. I am also a keen observer of the way cinema and TV is evolving, and also of the advent of the digital medium. Things are changing, and you have to keep yourself updated.
How has the industry changed?
When it comes to the star system, nothing has changed. They are as good or as bad; or as spoilt or as professional. Yes, a certain level of professionalism and the number of people in their entourages are some new additions (laughs).
What is your next big goal?
The only thing I want to achieve is relevance now. I have got homes and cars. I am not doing my next film so that I can make a holiday home or a bigger bungalow. Now, it’s about securing my career and my legacy.
In terms of films, what’s next?
For 2016, I have three films lined up.