He’s not an insider in the industry. Neither did he have a godfather. Yet he dared to do what most industrywalas wouldn’t – make unconventional movies with elan.
Director Raj Kumar Gupta’s first, Aamir, was unique in script, treatment and presentation. But the surprise was that it became a hit. Now, his second film, No One Killed Jessica, is just as unusual. Based on the real-life incident of the murder of model Jessica Lal in Delhi, the movie is a great mix of fact and fiction. And, like his first film, this one is also a hit – even beating biggies like Tees Maar Khan at the box office.
We caught up with the maverick director for dinner at Sampan, the Chinese restaurant at Hotel Novotel Mumbai Juhu Beach. Over delicious Chachu Prawns, Dry Red Chilli Chicken and Vegetable Pot Rice, Gupta explained that he had expected the film to be a winner, but added that the victory margins are surprising even him.
Are you happy with the collections of the movie?
I will confess that I was fairly confident about my script and film. I had told myself that even if 60 per cent of people appreciate the film, I’d be happy. But the huge success is overwhelming. I had everything that could have been a problem – no hero, two heroines who weren’t doing jhatkas, and an ‘A’ certificate. But the fact is that in spite of this the film has done well. I think people connected with the film brilliantly.
The film did have some controversies. The characters, especially the Page 3 people, are said to be caricatures, and your treatment like Madhur Bhandarkar’s.
Tell me if I am really off the mark in their portrayal. Some people feel I put in certain scenes for cheap thrills, such as the woman offering Sabrina cake in a five star hotel or another one asking for an air conditioner to be switched on in the police station. To them I ask, how do you know these things didn’t happen? And what of it being Madhur style? He is known to be a realistic filmmaker, and I was dealing not just with a real incident, but also the real people involved in it.
Considering you were dealing with real people, weren’t you apprehensive about their reactions?
At no point did I want to be judgmental in my film. I simply presented people’s actions and reactions to a certain incident. The human psyche is very strange. All the characters in my film had their share of dilemmas and insecurities and acted according to that. Vikram’s character says it best. He says, when the choice is between Rs 1 crore and one bullet, you are stumped. Most people in his place would have reacted that way.
Aamir had no star. What made you pick Vidya and Rani for the two leads?
I have never really bothered about people’s star status. I simply bother about the script and look for people to suit the roles. For Sabrina’s character, I needed a certain amount of vulnerability in spite of all the strength. Vidya fit perfectly. She was the first to be cast. Rani has mostly played docile, soft roles and I wanted to alter that. She did brilliantly as the hard-hitting journalist.
But her hard-hitting character hasn’t gone down well with some people in the media.
(Smiling) All I can say is, do a reality check, guys. How long do you want to live in denial?
It was rumoured that Rani and Vidya didn’t get along...
You know exactly how much screen space the two share. They had just about four days of shooting together. How can anybody, forget two grown-up, well-established heroines, even have long conversations in the middle of gruelling shoot schedules, leave alone fights and cold vibes?
How do you react to Vidya getting the most appreciation, while Rani is being termed ‘okay’?
I have written both roles, so it would be very unfair for me to privilege one and prejudice the other. Personally speaking, both ladies have been brilliant. Having said that, I feel that Vidya’s character has been accepted better because of the conservative society that we are. Rani’s character has that certain aspirational edge.
Two hits. Does that add up to a lot of pressure?
I feel any sort of benchmark or expectation is the biggest trap one can get into. When I was making No One..., I had removed even the smallest poster of Aamir from my house. I can’t work under pressure, so I stay away from it. It may sound cliched, but I make films that I want to make, and have to stay honest to my subject. Thankfully, both times it worked for me. I am a happy man.
Favourite character: Vikram Jaisingh
Rani or Vidya: Won’t answer that one! I’ll get killed!!
Next film: Raapchik Romance (love story) or Ghanchakkar (thriller, black comedy)
Actor you want to work with: Naseeruddin Shah
Favourite film: Goodfellas
From HT Brunch, Januray 23
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