His debut film, Aamir, has been getting rave reviews since its release last week, but the 30-year-old filmmaker seems unaffected by all the hoop-la. Not that he is arrogant; Rajkumar Gupta says he always had faith that it would do well. Faith, incidentally, also happens to be central to this film.
Set in the seamier side of Mumbai and narrated in a “stream of consciousness” style, Aamir is a compelling tale of a foreign-returned Muslim doctor.
A thriller, it explores the ideological extremes represented by the film’s two leading men — “one says you believe what is being told to you and the other says I will only believe what I see”.
At another level, it explores ideas of destiny (do we choose our destiny or does destiny fashion us?), choices (individual versus communal), fundamentalism and hope. Gupta maintains that the story has been sculpted out of collective circumstances, “It’s our current state of affairs — it could be about any religion, any common man and his situation.”
Gupta, who has no starry antecedents and quite like his protagonist, too had no idea what direction his life would take. “I was like any other teenager, who doesn’t know what he’s doing. There were no idealistic influences or inspirations to speak of.”
Son of a banker, he was born and brought up in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand, and graduated from Delhi University. This was followed by a course in film and television at St. Xavier’s, Mumbai, which allowed him to explore his artistic side. “I found that I was good at creative writing and would often write scripts for myself.”
Gupta started out by assisting film-maker Anurag Kashyap in Black Friday and No Smoking.
The two share a warm friendship, though Gupta is quick to point out that they are “very different people”. He adds: “But I’ve tried to imbibe his sheer passion and courage for film-making. The fact that you need more heart than a big budget to tell a good story.”
With films like Bheja Fry, Johnny Gaddar and Manorama Six Feet Under being appreciated, it seems that scriptwriters in Bollywood are finally getting their due.
“More writers are turning directors now, which is good because it’s always the script which is the backbone of a film.” Gupta is now working on his next film with production house, UTV.
What is his take on films as well as television looking at real life for inspiration (the latest being the Noida twin murders)? Says the young film-maker, “You can’t exploit a tragedy commercially. There has to be real inspiration, not exploitation. We all draw from life around us but one should be clear that there actually is a story to be told to the audience.”
Made with a budget of Rs 2 crore, Aamir, a film without the glamour of big movie stars, leading ladies, lavish sets and marketing frenzy, is a reflection of the maturing tastes of the Indian audience. “It reinstates one’s faith in the viewers. Producers can no longer be arrogant and take the audience’s intelligence for granted. You can work with any genre in Bollywood today but the story must crackle. It’s a good phase to be in,” says Gupta.
Aamir has been compared to the 2005 Hollywood film Cavite, but Gupta is quick to retort: “Aamir is not a copy or an adaptation of Cavite or Phone Booth or Nick of Time! It was written much before Cavite was even made or released. When we got to know of the similarities, we told the makers about it and they were very generous, saying that two works of art can co-exist and ‘we wish you all the best’. That’s why we have thanked them in the first frame of the film.”
His favourite film, however, is from an older era, Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief, though he admits that among the current crop, he likes Chak De! India and Life in a...Metro for their “strong stories”.
With Aamir, several people make their film debut: television actor Rajeev Khandelwal (who plays Aamir Ali), a Chennai-based wildlife cinematographer, Alphonse Roy and music director Amit Trivedi. UTV launched its second motion picture brand “UTV Spotboy” with Aamir.
So, what was the energy like with so many first-timers coming together? Says Gupta, “It was tremendous! Everyone associated with the film came together for the script, not because they wanted to work for someone. There was no baggage, just fresh ideas bubbling everywhere.”