Arjun Kapoor blended well into role of a regular, discreet officer, says India's Most Wanted director Raj Kumar Gupta

Arjun Kapoor blended well into role of a regular, discreet officer, says India's Most Wanted director Raj Kumar Gupta

Fifty-two bomb blasts between 2007 and 2013. Many deaths. A public enemy number one and five men on a manhunt to capture India’s most wanted criminal. Based on true events, writer-director Raj Kumar Gupta’s latest film, India’s Most Wanted has the makings of a compelling thriller.

Seated in his Mumbai office, where his friendly Beagle is running around freely, Gupta talks about his third film inspired by true events (after No One Killed Jessica and Raid), what it was like working with Arjun Kapoor, and his next script.

What attracted you to the story of ‘India’s Osama’ and his arrest?

What struck me most was how five men, who captured this most wanted terrorist without firing a single bullet, pursued a man who was responsible for the death of so many people. It sounded a little unbelievable and interesting. When you start thinking about how true it is and start peeling off layers, getting details through research, you realise what they pulled off. I had to build on the narrative by creating scenarios of their personal journeys to give some emotional connect. As a filmmaker, I do need to understand this. But it does not mean I need to show these things in the film. I do need to make their world believable and for that, I need to be accurate with mannerisms, behaviour with one another, and the world they inhabit.

What is the challenge of writing a story that straddles the line between fact and fiction?

When you are writing something inspired by real life, there are a few important things to consider: to bring in a certain sensitivity and responsibility to the material and to the people involved and, as a filmmaker, to maintain a certain integrity to the subject. With respect to India’s Most Wanted, I cannot quantify how much is fact and how much fiction, but I would say it is inspired by real life event and what you see will not be incredulous. Of course, for cinematic purposes, you bring in some dramatic moments and fill in some blanks. The truth is that reality is stranger than fiction. I gravitate to these stories because they give me a sense of reality and keep me connected to the world I am living in. 

Is it easier to do a true-life story than create something fictional? 

Not at all. In fiction, there are many things you can get away with. In terms of representation on screen, both are difficult but in fiction, there is still some leeway in terms of the commercial factor that we have attached to our films. When making a film inspired by true events, there is a thin line. You either go in the direction where the cinema is too real, or you go the other way where you have diluted that reality. So you have to find that fine balance while keeping in mind that you want certain cinematic elements introduced. In other words, it's not easy making any film!

What was it like working with Arjun Kapoor?

I started working on this story in 2013 and finished it before Raid (2018). Arjun called me after watching the trailer of Raid and I told him about this script. He read it and called me the same day saying he was excited to do it. For me, working with Arjun was instinctive. While writing this script and meeting the kind of officers etc who are involved, I saw how regular these people were. The officer could be the guy next door. They are discreet and don't boast about their achievements. I felt Arjun could see this and blend into the character.

I have shot guerrilla and put the actors in real locations, perhaps more so than I did even in Aamir (2008). We shot on highways, in traffic, on the streets of Patna and all over Nepal. It was candid and I wanted an actor who could give me that. I told Arjun that there were many places where vanity vans would not be available and there may not be scope for more than one retake. And he was on-board. In that sense, the process became collaborative.

Tell us about the other cast?

Yes, there are mainly about eight actors, five of whom are in the team. Rajesh Sharma plays the senior officer. Aasif Khan, Pravin Sisodia, Devendra Mishra, Bajrangbali Singh are the other key cast members. Whether it was Aamir, Ghanchakkar (2013) or Raid, I love giving theatre actors a platform for their talent.

You have said that there is an emotional cost to recreating emotions on film. Please explain.

Many times you write the scene and then come on set, and say let’s do this. What happens is that you are living that moment, as it may have happened. For example, in No One Killed Jessica (2011, about the Jessica Lal murder case), you are living the emotion of something that happened to someone. It's not easy to recreate those emotions and you cannot be disassociated from them either. While recreating the blast sequences in India’s Most Wanted, one is aware of the responsibility and that there are people who have experienced this in reality. As a filmmaker, you get visuals in your head and suddenly, you become numb. There is empathy and then you get depressed also, but you cannot be so deeply affected otherwise how will you bring an objective perspective. That's the emotional cost and that responsibility constantly plays on your mind. It takes me one year to make a film, but while making it, I think I aged by two and a half years.

Have you begun work on your next script?

Yes, I have got the rights to make a film about undercover agent Ravinder Kaushik. I am in the process of writing it and, contrary to reports, there is no cast attached yet. My process is to first finish the script and then approach actors.

India’s Most Wanted is slated to release on 24 May.