Quiet and unassuming, filmmaker Raj Kumar Gupta is a man of few words. But, these, he chooses carefully, all the while keeping an observant eye on you. The director of Aamir (2008), No One Killed Jessica (2011) and this year’s dark comedy Ghanchakkar, Gupta is one of the few in the Hindi film industry to taste success in the initial run.
At Taj Chandigarh on the second day of the three-day Chandigarh Literature Festival that has been organised by Adab Foundation, Gupta lets us in on what makes him a commercial success, his favourite actress and what he is writing next.
Though he hails from Hazaribagh in Jharkhand, Gupta has, in his words, “been all over”, including Delhi, where he studied. It reminds us of actress Vidya Balan’s portrayal of a typical Punjabi girl in Ghanchakkar. Where did that character receive inspiration from? “When developing a character, many elements are explored. I wanted to bring in something that I have seen – having studied in Delhi and known many Punjabis. In Ghanchakkar, both Vidya and Emraan [Hashmi] evolved into characters not previously seen. These were also inspired from real-life husband-wife equations,” Gupta explains.The director surprises us when he reveals that the plot of Ghanchakkar was first brought to him by a new writer. “I liked the story, so we co-wrote it and I made the film,” he adds.
It might sound simple, but Gupta’s entry into Bollywood wasn’t as smooth. “It took me almost two years to make Aamir, my first film, after I had written the script. People liked the story, but didn’t want to back it with finances since it didn’t have a star. But, I didn’t even approach any mainstream hero because I wanted a non-star to act in it,” says he. The role of Aamir was finally played by TV actor Rajeev Khandelwal. While Aamir was critically acclaimed and No One Killed Jessica - which was based on Delhi-based model Jessica Lal’s murder – was a commercial success, Gupta admits that Ghanchakkar got mixed reviews. “For Ghanchakkar, there was an extreme reaction from the audience. People either liked how it ended or said that they wanted it to end in a particular way,” Gupta says. “In life, there is nothing black and white, there is no single layer. The characters of my films have a grey element.
Sometimes, you start with something and you discover something else along the way. Just like life, my characters are complicated,” says Gupta about how his films’ characters come to life.
We remind him that a common thread in all his three directorial ventures has been an off-beat storyline. But, Gupta says it wasn’t intentional. “I don’t think I make off-beat films. I make films that are different and then they also end up making money and turn into commercial successes,” he smiles his rare smile.
His next, interestingly, will be an adaptation of Chetan Bhagat’s novel, Revolution 2020. Is there a pressure to deliver a hit film made on a Chetan Bhagat novel? “There is no pressure, but doing justice to someone’s written word is important,” he clarifies. And, does he hope to rope in Vidya Balan again? “Vidya is one of the best actresses we have, and a very humble person. She is my favourite actress and I would love to work with her again, but it has to be a film that we both agree upon.”Just when we thought we had elicited all there is about him, we realise that Gupta has saved the best for the last. “I would like to explore the Neerja Bhanot incident. [Twenty-three-year-old Chandigarh girl Neerja had bravely faced gunners’ bullets while trying to save passengers in a Pan-Am aircraft in 1986 when the plane was taken hostage]. Whenever I have time, I would like to make it into a film,” he signs off.