Zeishan ‘Definite’ Quadri may seem like a reel-life import from Gangs of Wasseypur (GoW), but if you spend some time talking to him, you realise Quadri isn’t a case of reel influencing the real. Quite the opposite. The sort of no-fuss, jagged-around-the-edges, PR-unsupervised conversation that almost makes you suspicious if all this brusque honesty is a meticulously crafted selling point. A bit like guilt-tripping on Pulp Fiction even when you’re aware that you ‘should’ have a more ‘evolved’ sensibility about cinema.
Walking the talk: Zeishan Quadri has been there, done that. And he’s ready to give the audience a vicarious peek into the very murky world of crime and punishment.
But who cares? It appeals to a dusty old instinct inside you, which is mostly how Quadri and his work have achieved phenomenal success in recent times. His brand of cinema, with ladles of violence and an acid portrayal of a lawless society in GoW (2012), propelled him into the limelight.
Quadri wrote the story of both parts of GoW and went on to act in Revolver Rani (2014). Now he’s ready with Meeruthiya Gangsters, his directorial debut which he’s also co-produced.
However, Quadri, born in Wasseypur, Dhanbad, has memories of teasing his school friends who visited nearby Asansol for theatre classes. "How’s the acting going? Show us what you’ve learnt!" is what Quadri remembers demanding of them as a joke.
"As a kid, I was always into sports," he says and adds, "I was a good batsman and loved cricket. I am also a black belt in karate, which I learnt while I was in Dhanbad, Jharkhand." So did he ever flex his muscles or try his moves on others? Not too many times, he says: "In school/ college fights, you usually tell the other guy, I’m the Amitabh Bachchan of the college, so don’t raise your voice with me!"
But Quadri clarifies that most of the fights he got into were because of his friends. "Warna main toh bahut shareef ladka hoon yaar... meri sharaafat ki vajah se do-teen baar school badalna pada mujhe!"
Quadri takes a casual jog down memory lane as he talks about the time he was in class 6 in De Nobili school, Dhanbad. There were some ‘issues’ with some boys at school he says. "I locked them in a classroom and sorted out the doubts that they had. So worried was the principal with this that he showed me the door!"
Next he went to a school in Saraidhela town, also in Dhanbad. "By the time I completed class 10, the principal said, ‘I don’t want to admit him into class 12!’ So, I’m a good boy as you can tell." Chip off the coal block
Growing up in Wasseypur, it was hard to remain unaffected by the violence all around. Any incident that was particularly striking and has remained with him?
"Tough to single out just one! There are too many of them," laughs Quadri as he narrates tales of gang-wars which were normal in the town. In Wasseypur, says Quadri, by the time kids realise it isn’t appropriate to do "susu in the bed", they also realise "ke bhaiya goli chal gayi aur aadmi mar gaya, issliye chutti hai school mein!" There’s a stark reality beneath Quadri’s humour and tales. He says that after GoW, Wasseypur has been in national and even international limelight.
Shades of grey: Quadri with Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a still from Gangs of Wasseypur II.
One might think the gory portrayal of mob wars and gunfights would’ve changed the region. But it hasn’t. "In the last three years there have been about 30 murders," he says and explains how top rung officials are, in real life too, helpless at the relentless onslaught of corruption, gang-wars and coal money.
"Paisa kha kha ke baithe hain bhaiya! Nayi baat thoda hai?" chuckles Quadri with steely cynicism evident in his voice: "Wasseypur is the land of coal... the police, the gangs all want the money."
There’s just one police officer Quadri still remembers, Suman Gupta, who had made a brilliant effort to control the coal mafia and it had worked. But only for a while before Wasseypur relapsed into the same vortex of violence that Quadri depicts in his stories.
Quadri says he wanted to become a businessman and his parents thought if he sticks around in or even around Dhanbad, he’ll just end up fighting and wasting his time. So, to pursue his business dreams elsewhere, he completed a degree in management at a college in Meerut and came to Delhi in January 2007, and got himself a call centre job in HCL.
Did Quadri, too, have his share of big city struggle, then? Quadri says he did, from having just thousand-odd rupees when he landed in Delhi to sleeping on the pavement. But he doesn’t like to call it "struggle" he says. For him, it’s always been about enjoying the journey of life with all the ups and downs that it brings.
Dial m for Mumbai
Soon after shifting to Delhi, he decided he might as well try his luck in Mumbai where something may just work out for him in Bollywood. So he landed up in Mumbai in 2009, again with another call centre job.
He talks about how he tried meeting Anurag Kashyap at his office. Every time he visited Kashyap’s office, he was told the director wasn’t in. One day, angrily he asked the staff where the hell he was, and why he’d opened an office if he was never in.
Then, while storming out he noticed a poster for an Anurag Kashyap play. "I think it was called The Skeleton Woman with Kalki Koechlin in it, at Prithvi Theatre," recalls Quadri. He landed up at Prithvi, met Kashyap, narrated the script of GoW to him, and Kashyap approved instantly.
The success of Gangs of Wasseypur also brought with it some clear and present danger. He got threat calls from local politicians and the mafia after the film released.
How did he deal with it? Promptly Quadri declares, "Galat kaam karta nahin hoon, aur kisi ke baap se darta nahi hoon!" Asked to explain further, Quadri says that he hasn’t shown anything inaccurate to begin with, and it’s fiction at the end of the day. Some "powerful leaders" felt names such as Ramadhir Singh were being used in a bad light. But, counters Quadri, "even my domestic help may be called Ramadhir Singh! I asked if they have a copyright over names?!" Later the same leaders came forward to say that "cinema ko cinema ke madhyam se dekha jaaye." Quadri wasn’t impressed: "Did I tell them ki cinema ko documentary ke madhyam se dekhiye!?
His selection of stories might confine him to just the crime genre. But Quadri says he is quite comfortable with that. How about a different genre, say, romance? "I think I will suffer from a massive nervous breakdown, and I am afraid of what I’ll end up actually producing!" laughs Quadri, who says he’s a very big fan of filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorcese, Majid Majidi and Fateh Akim.
Changing landscape: A still from Quadri’s directorial debut, Meeruthiya Gangsters.
For the time being, Quadri is working on the script of GoW part three, and is excited about Meeruthiya Gangsters which he says, "is based on some real-life incidents that happened in Meerut in 2011, featuring six youngsters and a lot of dark humour."
Kashyap reportedly didn’t want to see the film but once he did, he liked it so much that he agreed to do the edit and present it as well. That’s also when he decided that Quadri should direct the third installment of GoW. The film has already generated the right amount of buzz by way of Kashyap’s positive endorsement. It also happens to be the first time Indian cricketer Suresh Raina sings in a Bollywood film!
So impressed was Anurag Kashyap with Meeruthiya Gangsters that he decided Quadri (right) should direct Gangs of Wasseypur III.
Quadri says that he was ready with the script of Meeruthiya Gangsters in 2013 but didn’t work on it until recently. This film too, he reveals, had its share of trouble while shooting. The sons of a local gangster were told that the film is based on their father’s life.
Disruptions followed, but Quadri says it was resolved eventually. Now it just remains to be seen how much of an impact Quadri’s debut directorial venture has on the audience.
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From HT Brunch, September 20
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