‘Compelling stories keep me going’

Director Raj Kumar Gupta on the lure of real life events, being sensitive to protagonists and piecing together realistic worlds

There’s warning posted on Raj Kumar Gupta’s office door that reads: “Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again.” Chuckling, the director shares that he found it on a visit to Germany and goes to his desk to show me a pen-stand. “Due to recent cutbacks the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off,” says this one. Gupta’s sincere and soft-spoken manners hardly betray his dark sense of humour. But it’s a side that he did indulge, with the 2013 Vidya Balan and Emraan Hashmi-starrer Ghanchakkar before returning to his tighter thrillers with last year’s Raid. This week he’ll be serving up the Arjun Kapoor-starrer India’s Most Wanted (IMW).

Action adventure

The upcoming espionage thriller is based on true events and follows an intelligence officer (Kapoor) and his team as they hunt down the country’s most dreaded terrorist. But Gupta steers away from the sleek avatar usually associated with the genre. “Because the job is done by people who might be living next door to you,” he says, before explaining that Kapoor for his ability to pull off that unostentatious, discreet look.

The film unfolds on the streets of Patna and in Nepal, and describing the experience the director shares, “It was not easy, 95% [of the film] is shot on real locations, so it was my most challenging film after Aamir (2008) in that sense.” Gupta’s debut film, Aamir, was filmed guerrilla-style in the neighbourhoods of Mumbai, and the unpredictability of an on-location shoot is what made the filming of both difficult. In creating a restrained cinematic world for IMW, Gupta focused on avoiding bringing familiar faces and contrived sets to IMW. The cast includes Asif Khan, Devendra Mishra, Sandeep Dhabale and Ashish Khare. “They’re brilliant theatre actors,” says Gupta, “But we have not seen them in cinema much. I have always [enjoyed] working with newer, very talented [actors].”

Fact meets fiction

Gupta’s decisions to create a realistic film are rooted in honouring the true story he has based it on. But the director remains tight-lipped about how much fiction and fact are woven together. On what inspired him to undertake the project, he says, “That unlikely people went and captured [a terrorist] without firing a single bullet. [They] didn’t have money, [so they] contribute their own finances. That is selfless, and something which needs a milestone.” He continues without offering names for who his characters might be based on, “As far as how much is fiction and how much is reality, I can’t quantify it,” is the mysterious response.

This isn’t the first time Gupta has turned to real incidents for inspiration. Whether Raid, which was inspired by income tax raids in the 1980s, or No One Killed Jessica (2011), which was a biographical (of sorts) film based on the Jessica Lall murder case, the director says he ensures he is responsible and sensitive when handling true stories. But the heavy realities often make the process “emotionally exhausting” shares the director. “When you are shooting it, you are also thinking about the person who might have gone through this tragedy and lived it,” he says, “but the compelling nature of [getting to] tell these stories keeps me going.”

Gupta’s next is also based on real incidents. “I’m in the process of writing a film on one of India’s greatest RAW agents called Ravindra Kaushik – the ‘Black Tiger’.” There’s another unlikely romantic film Gupta has had in the pipelines for years, but all he shares about that is that it will not be, what it seems.

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