By Subhash K Jha
MUMBAI: All of Sunday Sanjay Gupta was busy trying to soothe frayed nerves and hurt sentiments in Punjab over two dialogues in Shootout At Wadala (SAW) which spoke flippantly about the author of the Ramayan, Valmiki.
Revered in Punjab as elsewhere, Valmiki supporters were up in arms against the film until the offensives lines were removed.
Speaking on the night of the tumult in Punjab, Sanjay Gupta said, “We had to remove the film from theatres in Punjab. We’ve made the required cuts and now the film will be back in the theatres from Monday. But on Sunday there was a major law-and-order situation in Ludhiana, Moga, Jullandhar,Bathinda, Amritsar and Moga…It was bizarre. Specially one line, ‘Har chor Valmiki nahin hota’ had Punjab up in arms. How ridiculous is that! Anyway,we’ve knocked off the offensive line. But to get it done all prints all across Punjab on Sunday was a killer.”
Gupta admits the film’s raw content is potentially volatile. The director basking in the walloping weekend collections is unfazed by the criticism against SAW.
“That’s just one section of the media. To them, it’s not cool to praise a Sanjay Gupta film. Maybe it’s to do with my track-record as a filmmaker. It will take more than just one film to make my critics realize I am now making original films. These critics came in with the intent of slamming me. But the fact is, for every scathing review there are eight positive reviews. I got 4-star reviews across the board. As for the rest, too bad. Better luck next time. The fact is, there are audiences dancing in the theatres, cops are being called in to control crowds in theatres. After a 7-year hiatus as a director I couldn’t have hoped for a better welcome-back.”
Description of Shootout At Wadala as a single-theatre experience doesn’t go down well with Gupta.
“I don’t buy that. The multiplexes are just as happy with the film. I agree there are over-the-top dialogues and aggressive action. Why presume multiplex audiences don’t enjoy it? The thing is, audiences in single-screen theatres are a little more uninhibited and demonstrative. But the fun part of the film is, even the hoity-toity multiplex audiences are enjoying it. And never mind if it’s guilty pleasure. Take it how you like. Everyone is having a good time. And honestly , I am enjoying the backlash. For any artiste it is important to get a reaction from the audience. Like I said, it isn’t cool to praise a Sanjay Gupta film. On the other hand, there are some notable filmmakers who are seen as God’s gift to cinema and who get 4-star reviews even when they make crap. I am taking the praise without blushing I am also taking the criticism without flinching. ”
A retired Mumbai police officer named Iqbal Shaikh has vocally opposed the release of Shootout At Wadala and accused Gupta of maligning the police force.
Getting worked up, Gupta counters, “This particular ex-cop is an old dear friend of another cop who has a problem with our film…(Gupta is referring to Isaque Bahgwan the cop on whom Anil Kapoor’s character is modelled. Bhagwan first collaborated with Gupta and his writer Hussain Zaidi on the film but finally disowned the project completely)…And the funniest part of this cop’s outburst is that he spoke against my film on Friday. So he must have gone and seen the film as soon as it was released. He says he had a problem with the first Shootout film (Shootout At Lokhandwala) where we showed a phone call come in from Dubai. But that information was given to us by the cops only! Likewise, there was much information regarding the police-force that we kept out of the film because we wanted to keep Anil Kapoor’s Khaki-clad character on the right side of grey.”
About the violence in Shootout At Wadala, Gupta defends, “Those were the times in Mumbai when gangs were chopping one another on the streets. I didn’t write their history. They wrote it themselves.I’ve shown exactly what happened. My only regret is, I had to remove my announcement at the beginning which said, ‘Everything you’re about to see actually happened.’ Every incident that is seen in the film has been researched. FIRs were recorded, cops and gangsters’ statements were studied. In fact there were a few scenes in the film that made me uncomfortable. Lekin wohsachchai hai. I can’t help it.The scene where Anil Kapoor’s son’s tiffin box has a bomb seemed like a South Indian potboiler in the 1980s. But this incident actually happened. That’s why I treated the sequence as cinematically as I could.”
About John’s character’s gruesome killing, Gupta protests, “People want to know why John Abraham was shown being shot so many times. The fact is, Manya Surve was shot 11 times. That’s recorded in his FIR and post-mortem. My questions to the cops is, ‘Maara kyon? Why did you kill Manya Surve?’ No answer is forthcoming. Hundreds of ‘encounters’ have happened after Manya Surve.Why? Who ordered these encounter killings? Who made them the judge, jury and executor? There’s no answer. One is more scared of the Mumbai police than the underworld. There are 200 unsolved murder cases in the city and they were after me for three days for an innocuous spoof-invitation that mentioned the police. Senior officers were standing outside the sessions court waiting for the judgement so they could take me in. And yet there are fantastic cops like Rakesh Maria and Niket Kaushik. So I am not bothered by some disgruntled ex-cop who thinks my film demoralizes the Mumbai police. Sorry, I don’t think any recent film has shown the Mumbai police as heroically as I have.”
Gupta admits that he had to finally fictionalize the names of the real-life cops and gangsters to avoid threats and litigation. “That certainly diluted the impact of the film. There’s a certain power that comes with artistic authenticity. But authenticity comes with a social responsibility.I’ve to say the legal system in this country leaves much to be desired. I spend 50 crore rupees to make a film based on a non-fiction crime chronicle. All it takes is someone to get a lawyer for 500 rupees and get me embroiled in a legal situation. So what do I do? I have a co-producer (Ekta Kapoor) to be answerable to.”
Concluding sarcastically, Gupta says, “For all those who are ocally opposed to SAW I apologize and I promise to make it up to them.”