Anand Kumar, the director of this year’s surprise hit, Tanu Weds Manu, has changed direction with his next film, Zila Ghaziabad. The film revolves around a gang war between two criminals, Dharmvur Gurjar and Prakash Fauji. To those from Uttar Pradesh, it’s obvious that these two characters, played by Vivek Oberoi and Arshad Warsi, are modelled on Satbir Gujjar and Mahender Fauji, a farmer and an army officer respectively, who turned into rival outlaws and were active in in Ghaziabad district between 1985-97.
Sanjay Dutt also plays a significant role of top cop Pritam Singh in this Vinod Bachchan production.
"He was an amazing cop, a ‘zamindar’(landlord) who risked his life and that of his family to become a police officer," says Sanjay, adding with a laugh. "I’ve been told that when on his rounds, if he came across a youngster with long hair, he would forcibly give him a hair cut, cribbing that because of Sanjay Dutt and Khalnayak (1993), the ‘laundas’ (boys) of Ghaziabad were beginning to look like ‘laundiyas’ (girls) with their long locks."
The actor sports a short crop and mustache in the film but admits that this apart, the look isn’t all that ‘different’ because Zila Ghaziabad despite the real muse, is an "out-and-out commercial Hindi film with songs and action". Sanjay even points out that while there is a little bit of the local dialect in the dialogues, he speaks his lines in Hindi rather than Haryanvi so as not to alienate the pan-India audience.
In contrast, he admits that Ram Gopal Varma’s Department, in which too he plays a cop feared in the underworld, is "more real". The film revolves around the Anti-Terrorist Squad and talks about politics in the police force and the pressures on the personal and social lives of cops. Sanjay’s character, Mahadev Bhosale, apparently has his muse in encounter specialist Pradeep Sharma, with shades of another headline-grabbing cop Daya Nayak too. "I knew Pradeep and Daya. We’ve sat together and talked," says Sanjay who’s played a cop in Mission Kashmir (2000), SSP Inayat Khan, and ACP Shamsher Khan in Shootout At Lokhandwala (2007). "Ramu (Ram Gopal Varma) and I have done Daud (1997) earlier. It’s good to have ended the 14-year ‘vanwas’ (exile) with a convincingly real cop drama."
It was reportedly recently that he suffered a heatstroke on the sets of the film and then broke down during an emotional scene, and couldn’t stop crying. That draws a guffaw, "Why would I cry? I’m not such a great method actor that I will suddenly start howling on the sets or stand hours in the sun and collapse. Nothing like this ever happened. It’s unbelievable the kind of fantasies that are imagined in print."
Director Sanjay Gupta is in the middle of pre-production for a sequel to Shootout, that’s reportedly inspired by Manya Surve’s story, the first underworld gangster to be gunned down in an encounter. Will we see him in khaki in Shootout At Wadala too? Sanjay retorts, "Who’s Sanjay Gupta?"
The Badshah of Bulandshahar was a Robin Hood-like character in his district, feared by the local land mafia for his unorthodox methods of maintaining law and order. In 1998, Thakur Pritam Singh was gunned down, a police-mafia connection is suspected. Thirteen years after his death, he continues to be a ‘hero’ in the Ghaziabad district.
A sub-inspector with the Mumbai police force, Daya Nayak is awaiting reinstation after being suspended on corruption charges. Also a member of the Mumbai Encounter Squad, he has eliminated more than 80 gangsters. Ram Gopal Varma’s Ab Tak Chhapan (2004) was reportedly inspired by him.
Originally from Agra, UP, Pradeep Sharma is still serving in the Mumbai police force. An ‘encounter specialist’, with the Mumbai Encounter Squad, he was involved with the deaths of 112 criminals, including those belonging to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. On August 31, 2008, he was dismissed on charges of corruption that earned him Rs 300 crore. He was reinstated on May 9, 2009, after he was proven innocent of those charges.