Team Meeruthiya Gangsters– director Zeishan Quadri, producer Shoeb Ahmed, actors Aakash Dahiya, Jaideep Ahlawat and Nushrat Bharucha – in conversation with Team Box Office India.
How did the story come about?
Zeishan Quadri (ZQ): After Gangs Of Wasseypur(GOW), I wasn’t working on anything. I went to visit my sister in Ghaziabad and to catch up with some of my college friends in Meerut. My friends told me about a kidnapping of six friends that was making the headlines in Meerut. A bunch of six youths and their journey into the world of crime – that one-liner stayed with me. After about three months, I went back and started researching on the topic and that’s when various things came into focus, with various characters cropping up. So I decided to write this story.
When I was done writing, I started looking for a director. I first approached Amit Sharma, who later directed Tevar. I also approached Abhishek Chaubey, who was busy with Dedh Ishqiya. So I decided to direct the film myself but obviously I needed a producer. Then I met <g data-gr-id="317">Shoeb</g> (Ahmed) <g data-gr-id="318">bhai</g> and narrated the story to him. It took me 25 minutes to narrate the story and he said ‘yes’ immediately.
Shoeb, what is it about the story that hooked you? If we are not wrong, this is your debut film and you were involved from the start.
Shoeb Ahmed (SA): What attracted me was the bonding between the boys. We have seen male bonding stories earlier but nothing on these lines. Also, it was about a city which has not been explored very much in our Hindi cinema. It was the rawness of the story that attracted me.
Was there a fixed budget allotted to the film?
SA: Since this was our first production, we hadn’t planned on a very high-budget film but we also did not want the quality to be affected. I was prepared to invest, so I asked Zeishan who would feature in it and he said, ‘The story is the hero, so we really don’t want any big names’. When your story is strong, no one can eclipse the film, so he got Jaideep Ahlawat and Aakash Dahiya. Then he got Chandrachoor Rai, Jatin Sarna, Shadab Kamal, Vansh Bhardwaj, Sanjay Mishra and Brijendra Kala on board.
Did you (actors) agree to play the characters because Zeishan is your friend?
Aakash Dahiya (AD): He wanted me to do the casting for the film, so he gave me a brief and said that he wanted people who knew the language. I wanted to tell him main hoon, <g data-gr-id="326"><g data-gr-id="369">na</g></g> but he only spoke to me about casting. After six to seven months, he called me to talk about the film again and I said, Haan casting <g data-gr-id="327">karni</g> <g data-gr-id="333">hai</g> and he said, Casting <g data-gr-id="328">vagera</g> <g data-gr-id="329">kuchh</g> <g data-gr-id="330">nahin</g>, <g data-gr-id="331">tere</g> ko acting <g data-gr-id="332">karni</g> hai. (Laughs)
Nushrat <g data-gr-id="334">Barucha</g> (NB): Zeishan gave me a 15-minute brief and he said, ‘Okay, you’re final.’ I was taken aback because directors usually ask for auditions or they at least look for other <g data-gr-id="366">actors</g> but he was adamant about casting me.
What about you, Jaideep?
Jaideep Ahlawat (JA): It’s difficult to say whether I did the film for my friend Zeishan or because I loved the script because both are true. He wanted someone from Meerut. I hail from Haryana, which is close to Meerut so I am familiar with the people of Meerut, their language and mannerisms. I thought it was very interesting and we had already done GOW together. So I was familiar with his style of writing and way of thinking. I knew he could pull it off. I didn’t even ask for a narration because I knew he would offer me a good role.
<g data-gr-id="229">Zeishan</g>, since you have written and directed the film, and you also love acting, were you tempted to act in it too?
ZQ: Several times. When it’s your debut film as a director, there is a lot of pressure. The funny part was that we didn’t even have <g data-gr-id="268">script</g>. I only know how these people have worked before.
JA: We had a script only for the first two days.
ZQ: Yeah, they were given the dialogue on the first two days but, on the third day, they rejected it, saying it was of no use as we always improvised when the camera began to roll. We had barely 20 days of pre-production, so we didn’t really have a script in hand.
SA: <g data-gr-id="269">Zeishan</g> had told me to take two to three months before starting the shoot but tab <g data-gr-id="270">tak</g> <g data-gr-id="271">toh</g> <g data-gr-id="272">baarish</g> ho <g data-gr-id="273">jaati</g> <g data-gr-id="274">aur</g> schedule disturb ho <g data-gr-id="275">jata</g>. So I decided to go on the floors although we had no story with us.
ZQ: We had a <g data-gr-id="226">story</g> but we didn’t have screenplay and dialogue.
SA: We said a prayer and went on the floors. Also, as they say, the director and actors have to be good. So, when I met <g data-gr-id="297">Zeishan</g>, I knew he had a passion for <g data-gr-id="298">story telling</g>. Besides, since he had written the story, he knew every last detail. We had 58 days of shooting and everyone stayed together like a family. Even when some of them had three to four days off, they did not go home.
Aakash, once you got the role, you lost out on casting for the film?
ZQ: That was my call. I didn’t want him to do both, casting and acting, as it would be difficult for him to manage both and also stay in character. During GOW, Mukesh Chhabra was acting as well as casting and it was very hectic for him. But, of course, that film was directed by Anurag Kashyap and I am a newcomer.
Speaking of Anurag Kashyap, what were his influences while you made this film?
ZQ: None. I always like to work in my comfort zone and I wanted to prove my mettle. After GOW released, I left Anurag sir’s office with the intention of doing my own work. That was back in 2011. After that, I wrote a couple of film scripts, one of them being Madamji for Madhur Bhandarkar. I also acted in a film. So I kept busy. I launched my own production house for films and then another one for television. So I had no contact with Anurag sir. I thought I would make a film before I met him again.
When the first cut of the film was ready, I called him and asked him if he could watch the film but he was very busy. So it was Vasan Bala (writer) who watched the film first. Vasan called Anurag sir and told him that he must watch the movie. Anurag sir asked me for a DVD copy and he instantly loved my work. It was a huge compliment when he kept asking me whether it was really me or someone else who had directed the film. In fact, Vasan and Anurag sir also sat on to edit of my film a few times. He later came on board as a presenter.
JA: He would often ask us, Sach <g data-gr-id="240">mein</g> <g data-gr-id="241">issi</g> ne <g data-gr-id="242">banayi</g> hai film? (Laughs)
How have the city tours been so far?
ZQ: We went to the maximum number of colleges and the response was great. When you know exactly the kind of audience you are catering to, it becomes easy to market a film. We knew our film had the right <g data-gr-id="295">flavour</g> that would appeal to the young audience. While marketing and especially on the city tours, we knew exactly where to go and what to do.
How has the industry responded so far?
ZQ: The response was quite positive. Nishikant Kamat and Madhur Bhandarkar have watched the film and they both liked it as have many other directors. Basically, when Anurag Kashyap comes in as a presenter on a film, you know why he is associated with it, especially when he is not even a part of the film. He came on board as a presenter simply because he liked the film.
Coming to your characters, how closely did you relate to them?
ZQ: They all are exactly like their characters.
JA: Zeishan saw my character in me. Now, my character Nikhil is the leader of the gang but he never says that he is the leader in the film. Nikhil doesn’t say <g data-gr-id="300">much</g> but the audience will know that he is the leader from the way the other five react and relate to him. The final decision is always Nikhil’s.
AD: I am a very good guy, so I am nothing like the character I play.
JA: You are Shakuni, everybody knows.
AD:(Laughs) Well, yes, I am like him, in a way. I had a lot of fun doing this character. My character Amit would constantly be pulling pranks. You will notice in the trailer how he does something <g data-gr-id="277">aur</g> <g data-gr-id="278">kisi</g> <g data-gr-id="279">aur</g> ko <g data-gr-id="280">thappad</g> pad <g data-gr-id="281">rahe</g> <g data-gr-id="282">hai</g>. I like the character of Shakuni in Mahabharat. He was my inspiration for everything.
SA: You must have watched Shadab Kamal in BA Pass. When Zeishan selected him, he was, like, Kya <g data-gr-id="337">bhai</g> <g data-gr-id="338">maine</g> <g data-gr-id="339">kabhi</g> <g data-gr-id="340">kisi</g> ko <g data-gr-id="341">mukka</g> <g data-gr-id="342">nahin</g> <g data-gr-id="343">maara</g> <g data-gr-id="344">aap</g> bottle <g data-gr-id="345">phodne</g> <g data-gr-id="347">bol</g> <g data-gr-id="346">rahe</g> ho. But he has acted very well.
ZQ: Earlier, when we had psychotic <g data-gr-id="307">villians</g> in Bollywood, they would have scars on their face and this crazy attitude but in real life, they appear normal and sweet, par <g data-gr-id="308">aisi</g> band <g data-gr-id="309">baja</g> kar <g data-gr-id="310">jaate</g> hai <g data-gr-id="311">ke</g> <g data-gr-id="312">pata</g> <g data-gr-id="313">bhi</g> <g data-gr-id="314">nahin</g> <g data-gr-id="315">chalta</g>.
I had seen people like that and when we were discussing the casting, I told Vicky (<g data-gr-id="370">Sidana</g>) that I needed a very sweet boy for the character of <g data-gr-id="371">Sanki</g>. He told me about Shadab and then I got him into the look…
JA: When you watch him on screen, you will not be able to tell that he is that kind of guy. Also, the way <g data-gr-id="372">Zeishan</g> has portrayed him, it is amazing to see the changes that he brings about in his characters.
ZQ: You will see him sitting quietly and then he suddenly does something atrocious before he once again sits quietly in a corner.
NB: If I was like my character in real life, I would have been in jail by now.
JA: There’s not much difference, though.
NB: Shut up, it’s a blessing my brain doesn’t work like that of Mansi but, yes, the thing I like about this character is the edgy <g data-gr-id="364">flavour</g>. <g data-gr-id="355">Zeishan’s</g> thinking itself is edgy. Actresses usually don’t get to do much in a <g data-gr-id="362">film</g> but here there were no restrictions on what I could do or wear. In fact, I loved the fact that I got to hold a gun. I would have loved to be Sanki, I would have got a chance to break a bottle on somebody’s head.
SA: Then, there is Sanjay Mishra’s character. We didn’t think of a particular character when we approached Sanjayji. <g data-gr-id="267">Zeishan</g> narrated the story to him and he asked who was playing the character of ‘Uncle’. We <g data-gr-id="320">said,</g> you are. He said he would love to do it. Here every character takes the film forward as the story is connected to each one of them.
Speaking of characters, did you do any pre-production workshops?
ZQ: We did a 15-day workshop.
<g data-gr-id="292">JA:On</g> the first day, we <g data-gr-id="293">memorised</g> the script, came on the sets and then, something else happened. On the second day too, the same thing happened but on the third day, we decided not to do any preparation. We were shooting 10 scenes a day and after we reached the sets all prepared for the scenes, everything would change. During those first 12 days that we all met, all we did was spend time with each other, nothing else. We decided that we would address everyone by their characters’ names instead of their real names.
AD: Even today, we call <g data-gr-id="294">Vansh</g> by his character’s name, Jagan
JA: We grew so comfortable with each other’s character names that I didn’t <g data-gr-id="285">realise</g> he was Aakash. When you go through this process for three months, the lines don’t matter when you arrive on the sets. Lines matter when you are not in character. But, here, we were all so similar to our characters that having no script didn’t matter at all.
AD: When audiences watch that on screen, they will think this is called ‘real pace filming’. <g data-gr-id="253">Usme</g> actor ko <g data-gr-id="254">bhi</g> <g data-gr-id="255">mazaa</g> <g data-gr-id="256">aata</g> hai.
JA: We had a 4-minute action sequence and it was so chaotic that nobody knew what was happening as everyone was punching everybody.
ZQ: Aur Anurag sir <g data-gr-id="260">issi</g> <g data-gr-id="261">baat</g> <g data-gr-id="262">se</g> <g data-gr-id="263">khush</g> <g data-gr-id="266">hue</g> ki <g data-gr-id="264">itna</g> sync <g data-gr-id="265">tha</g>. There was an action sequence where they are running and it went on till 2 am. You will see some of it in the trailer, where they arrive, rob and run.
While watching the film, if you notice that some scenes are shaky, I am to be blamed. But I had so much fun while filming. Even he (<g data-gr-id="316">Shoeb</g>) used to wait till 2 am for us to finish shooting so that we could all eat dinner together. I haven’t seen this in any producer.
JA: Yeh koi producer <g data-gr-id="213">nahin</g> <g data-gr-id="214">karta</g> hai and the main thing is that he was there till 2 am and wouldn’t say anything. He would be, like, Karo <g data-gr-id="219"><g data-gr-id="215">karo</g> karo</g>.
NB: He (<g data-gr-id="251">Shoeb</g>) used to have a karaoke machine in his room, so they were always in his room, singing. It didn’t seem like he was the producer; he was like part of the crew.
ZQ: When a producer gives the director so much freedom, 90 per cent films turn out well. When it comes to creativity, I told you I have stopped writing. I don’t write for other people because, today, they don’t need writers, they need typists who will type up whatever they want. But when you are given the creative freedom you need, you have films like Meeruthiya Gangsters, <g data-gr-id="375">GOW</g> and Manjhi: The Mountain Man.