If you don’t know Manish Gupta, you’ll really wish you did. The writer of a number of critically acclaimed films, with Sarkar taking top honors in his career graph, is one of the most real and honest filmmakers around, as I very quickly learnt. When he realized that other directors weren’t doing justice to his films, the writer took it upon himself to start direction. It was then that Gupta wrote and directed the murder mystery, The Stoneman Murders. The film didn’t do as well as it should have at the box office but gained Gupta much critical acclaim. Next in line is Gupta’s film on the heinous 26/11 Mumbai Terror Attacks titled, Mumbai v/s Ajmal Kasab. The film intends to fully divulge the real reasons behind the 26/11 attacks and incidents leading up to the horrific night that lasted over 60 hours long. Manish Gupta talks to BollySpice in a tell-all interview as he talks about his progression from writer to director and the details on his upcoming venture.
What made you make such a vast career change from Mechanical Engineer to scriptwriter and eventually director?
I used to write stories since I was very young. I had written my first story in the first or second standard. But I never really thought of taking it up as a profession because at that time, and even six or seven years back, Indian cinema didn’t really excite me because Indian cinema largely was largely dominated by Yash Raj, Karan Johar and Sooraj Bartajya. Those kinds of films didn’t interest me at all. Then came a time when Ram Gopal Verma came into the scene and I saw Company. I was deeply influenced by it. It just turned my world around. I said, “Okay, this is what I want to write!” And then Ramu came up and many other independent filmmakers came up. The whole scene changed. Then I thought that the kind of stories that I write, which are based on real events, real characters, real cases, they are getting recognition and such kind of movies are being made. So that’s when I thought I should get into films and I should take up this hobby of mine and make it into a profession.
How was that transition from writer to director?
I have written many films; Sarkar, D, James, Darna Zaroori Hai for Ram Gopal Verma. But except for Sarkar, I don’t think justice was done to my scripts. So I started feeling that I had written my script in a certain manner but the film wasn’t getting made that well. That is because it’s my vision; I have written something but the director is thinking in a different way. Our thoughts are not gelling. And then neither of us are happy with the final product. So I thought it would be a better thing to write your own stories and direct them too. You’re then in charge of everything and the movie gets made exactly how you want it to be made. That was one primary reason why I changed over from writer to director.
Secondly, as a writer you don’t have so much control over the casting, over the way the film is made, over the shots, over the edits, music and so on. So sometimes, the film, the way you’re imagining it, it goes into a different space. You don’t have control and then you start feeling helpless, ke maine kya likha aur kya ban gaya (what did I write and how did it turn out). I didn’t want to remain in that kind of a position where I was on the receiving end all the time. I wanted to come into a position of power where I can dictate terms. So that is why I became a director.
And the third reason is that sadly in the Indian film industry, the writer is not really given the due importance that he deserves. The writer is always treated like a second grade citizen by everybody including the actors, the producers and even journalists like yourself and the general public! It’s a fact.
Please don’t say that!
I’ll tell you what I mean. Now you’re interviewing me because I have directed Stoneman Murders and I am directing Ajmal Kasab now. But when I had written Sarkar, that time nobody bothered to interview me and it was such a big hit. The writer is nowhere in the picture. The actors, the directors, they get all the hype but the writer is nowhere in the picture; koi poochta hi nahin hai, chahein picture superhit hi kyun na ho (no one will ask for you even if the film is a hit). But the director, even if your film doesn’t do well, you still get that kind of respect. So from my experience, I observed that you would rather be, a not-so successful director rather than be a successful writer! (Laughs) You even get paid more! I’m telling you very bluntly and very frankly; main inside information de raha hoon (I’m giving you inside information)! Somebody else may not tell you. Scriptwriting is the ideal way to step into the industry. It’s a good way to start off. I started off as a scriptwriter. You can’t just wake up and be director; you need to have some experience or have done something before. So I think it’s a good way to start but it’s not a good career option to continue as a writer for many years especially in Bollywood. That is the reason each and every writer has eventually become a director. I’ll name all of them: Anurag Kashyap, Abbas Tyrewala, Milap Zaveri, Anees Bazmi, Rumi Jaffrey, Manoj Tyagi and myself. You name the writer, he has become a director. Why? If a writer would get the respect, the hype, the money, the power; everything an actor, director and producer gets, why would they want to be a director? They wouldn’t want to be. But they don’t get it so they say, screw it, we’ll direct it ourselves. Then we get what we deserve.
Your style of movies is honest and real especially since they are based on real life incidences. Why are all your films based on real life events and factual rather than fictional?
I find it very hard to relate to movies which are not in tune with reality. Only which relate to reality or are based on reality in some way really intrigue me; it’s a personal choice. For example, Company was a movie which deeply influenced me. It was based on Chota Rajan and Dawood. It was based on all true events. It really moved me because I find it very easy to connect with. I feel that this is believable; it can happen. It has an impact on me. That is why I always get drawn to movies that are based on true events or true people because I can really relate to that.
How much research goes into making a film that’s based on real events?
A lot of research! Actually in such movies, a major part of the work is in the research. A lot of research went into Sarkar also. Sarkar is based on Bal Thackeray. A huge amount of research goes into it.
So now you’re in the midst of making Mumbai v/s Ajmal Kasab. What made you realize that such a film was necessary?
I had met a Times of India journalist, Kartikeya Tripathi. From him I got such shocking revelations about the whole 26/11 episode. What happened was when the attacks happened, they seems like the most illogical event ever. Somebody just coming and shooting innocent people for no rhyme or reason; there was a logic missing somewhere. Because whenever an attack happens, there is usually a cause and effect. Whenever a bomb blast has happened, it has had a very strong reason behind it. So with the 26/11 incident, I wanted to tell people what was the actual truth and the actual fact behind it. And when I find out why it happened, it was shocking. The public or you won’t be able to imagine it was like this; it’s that shocking. The press has not really come out with it, for some reason. The journalists that have guided me, they know but they haven’t really come out with it.
You’ve said two things that are interesting in previous interviews. Firstly that the film is “through the eyes of Kasab” and secondly that the film a “drama-documentary.” How do you feel your audiences will feel when they see the film?
It’s a docu-drama. It is going to be a revelation to the audiences. They are going to react by saying, “Oh! I didn’t know this!” This is how they are going to react.
The topic is rather sensitive; one that people would much rather not be reminded about and sentiments are not hurt? And how are you ensuring that all the information is credible?
I’m taking care to ensure that religious sentiments are not outraged. For example, Kasab killed a lot of Muslims deliberately. The taxi he sat in and planted a bomb in, the taxiwala was Muslim. And he killed so many Muslim people who were obviously Muslim with burkhas and on. It has nothing to do with religion. Why the attacks happened, it has nothing to do with religion. It’s all international insurgency. It’s all on a higher level of international politics. So religions sentiments will be hurt; that I’ve taken care of. And anyway, I’ve shown and depicted exactly what has happened. There is nothing fictitious; it is exactly what happened.
What are you basing the facts of the story on?
From various journalists, books, Internet research, from news footage. A lot of journalists have helped a lot. And then I met actual people. I met Mrs. Salaskar, the cop who died, Vijay Salaskar, I met his wife. I took her point of view on the entire matter. This way I met a lot of people related to the attack and that is how I gathered a lot of information. Then my team, my assistants, they went out, spoke to victims and eye-witnesses. They got back a lot of information. We then found varied inputs about the events. So what I’ve done is cross checked because I have researched so heavily, that I didn’t put anything in the script that I have no cross verified from at least four to five different sources. I’ve verified whether something is true or not. When five or six different sources say the same thing, then I’m sure this is correct; this is the truth. When I find some inconsistency, then I understand that these people are saying it from their point of view. Then I got hold of Kasab’s confession which I somehow managed to pull out. It is a confession in front of the magistrate. He’s given his thumb impression and has narrated the entire episode about how he started off, where he was in a village, how he got into it all the way until the last detail until he was arrested. He has admitted to everything. That has formed a basis for the story.
When does shooting start?
In two months time. We’re in preproduction now.
And the casting?
There won’t be any known names in the film; there mostly theatre actors. And I’m looking new face to play Kasab.
As a journalist, you look for directors who are as honest and passionate about good filmmaking. Talking to Manish proved to be one of the most inspirational moments during my time as film journalist. We’re sure that Manish will do justice to the film. As soon as we have more information about the film, you can be sure BollySpice will bring it to you hot off the press!