On a mission
Writer-Director Raj Kumar Gupta talks to BOI about his cinematic journey so far and his upcoming project, ‘India’s Most Wanted’ with Arjun Kapoor.
Your first film Aamir released in 2008. What changes have you seen the industry go through in the last decade?
I see a change in terms of technology, varied platforms and how films are being exhibited. But when it comes to making films, the passion that filmmakers have is the same. The technicalities have changed a lot and there are a lot more revenue platforms.
My first film Aamir was a very small film. At that time, there weren't many small films being made. Now there are more opportunities to make smaller and bigger films. Things have opened up for newer talent and there is some very exciting content being made. At that point too, the audience was looking for newer subjects but they are much more receptive of the content and subjects that we have now. This is what has changed in the last 10 years, when I started out.
Your last film Raid was your first 100-crore film. From its first show to its second, occupancy in theatres doubled purely due to word-of-mouth. Did you anticipate such success?
When we make a film, the first attempt is to make a good film. We all wanted to make a good film and there was a certain sense of positivity. But you cannot hazard a guess with box office numbers; it is all up to the audience. It was a content-driven film and it was the kind that was bound to generate word-of-mouth publicity.
We did not expect a number like that but we did try very hard to make a good film. And if you can achieve that, people will come, and they will spread the word. But, as I said before, we never expected this number when we began shooting the film. Our goal was to make a good film which the audience would appreciate, and they did.
In an industry like ours, where success is equated with having a 100-crore film in your kitty, do you think the perception of the industry has changed towards you as a director?
Of course, when you have a successful film, there are people who look at you very differently in terms of what you mean to them. It is a business, after all. But for me, as a person, a creative filmmaker or as a writer, I don't think it has changed how I approach my work. Of course, the perception of people, from Aamir to No One Killed Jessica to Ghanchakar, keeps changing. There are extreme reactions. For people who are looking at you as a filmmaker, there are things that change. I would be lying if I said things do not change. For me, as a filmmaker, the attempt is the same. It never changes. The struggle to get a good story and tell it with utmost sincerity never changes.
Except for Raid, you have written all the other films you have directed. How is it different when you direct a film that you have not written?
Ghanchakkar was a film I had co-written. I had not entirely written it. But, mostly, I have written my own films. The dynamics are very different when you are given material compared to the material that you have written. As a director, when you write, you always see the film in your mind because you are writing, you are imagining the scenes. When you see the script written by a director, it will have a different approach compared to when it is written by a writer.
When I write, I see the film. And the difference is that, when I get the material, like when I got Raid, I still have to internalise it. I have to see where and what I can add as a director. It's a challenge. When you write your own script, it becomes very easy because you already see the film and when shooting, it is about taking it to another level. But when you have not written the film, it is a different kind of challenge and I deliberately take that challenge because I want to see how good I am as a director with somebody else's material. That's the journey that I go through when I am writing or not writing.
What is your process of zeroing in on a project?
The core of the story, the soul of the story, should connect with me. It should be inspiring. When you think of a story or when you hear a story, or when somebody narrates a story to you, they are usually not actually narrating a script. Often, you just hear an idea or you hear about a story or somebody tells you about some incident. That really resonates with you in terms of the emotion.
The first connect should be as a human being and not as somebody who is just listening to stories to make a film on it. You should see whether that story inspires or connects with you or grips you in any way. That's what I follow. If a story appeals to me emotionally, then it will appeal to 80 per cent of the audience in the same form.
Your upcoming film is India's Most Wanted, where you are also a co-producer. Can you shed some light on the subject?
We have been prepping for the film and it is going very well. We are starting the shoot soon and are going full steam ahead. This script has been with me for the last three years and I'm very close to it. I am close to the subject and I really wanted to be a part of it. That's how I decided that I wanted to tell this story, regardless. I wanted to be a part of it, not only as a director but I also wanted to see it through as a producer. When I narrated the script to Fox Star Studios, they were also very keen on doing the film, so that's how it happened. We will start shooting next month. I am very excited.
How did Arjun Kapoor fit the bill for this?
Arjun and I have been keen on working together for a long time. We have been talking about it and recently, before Raid, we connected again and I told him about this script. Arjun was as excited as I was about this story. That's how he came on board. I was looking at somebody who could look like him, who could look real and play that part. That's why we chose to do this project together.
What was the inspiration behind the story of India's Most Wanted that made you want to convey this story on the 70mm canvas?
This is a story that is inspired by real life and when I heard it, it appealed to me instantly. After listening to it, I got very emotional because it touched me. It took me quite some time, about one and a half years, to research, to meet people and get this story out. It took 8-9 months to write this script. Of all the stories I have heard in my entire career, this one stayed with me for the longest time.
As you said, the film is based on real incidents. Your previous films, No One Killed Jessica and Raid, have also had a real-life connection. Is there a special appeal that these realistic films have for you as a filmmaker?
It is about real people and real situations. It is something that you, or I, or anyone of us can face in life. Ultimately, in these stories, it is about the human spirit. That really appeals to me. I am not saying these are the only kinds of films I want to do but the human connection and spirit gets to me and I am drawn towards these stories. Also, the heroism in these real-life situations is unique. That's how I want to approach my storytelling, at least for subjects like these.
The films you have made belong to diverse genres. Is that a deliberate choice?
You don't select your genres consciously because, when you are listening to a story, you are not thinking about its genre. Whether fictional or a real-life story, you are only thinking as a writer-director, what is the best possible way to tell this story? What format or structure do you want this story to be in? That will dictate the form it takes.
Since you are a co-producer now, how much do box office numbers matter to you?
It's not that numbers did not matter when I am only directing a film. Of course they matter, because when you are making a film, there is money put in by investors and producers. Your attempt is always to make sure that nobody loses money. For me, whether I become a co-producer or producer, my attempt will always be to tell a good story because if you tell good stories and if they are appreciated, the audience will come and watch them. That's the benchmark for me as a writer-director too. Even if I am only directing a film, I want my producers to make money because they are the ones who are investing and taking the risks. If they lose money, I will have no producers left, so it's better that my films work (Laughs).