Sanjay Gupta ambitious project had recently been released in cinemas just before the spike in cases resulting to a closure of cinemas again. Yet, half of the audience for the film has yet to see the film as the due to most cinemas around the world yet closed and the audience in India were still hesitate at the time to step out. Mumbai Saga will now see a release on Amazon Prime soon. Mumbai Saga will be Gupta’s 13th released film, marking his 27 years in the film industry as a Director. Gupta is one of the few directors from the 90s that is still on the Hindi cinema block now. He had maintained his relationships over the years in the industry, hasn’t lost his conviction in storytelling and sets himself to reinvention with every new venture.
Raised in the area of Khar, Gupta during his study age fell in love with cinema and decided to take up Assistant Director Jobs to earn cash but also fulfil his passion in order to learn the craft. Being an assistant to senior directors like Raj Sippy and Pankaj Parashar, Gupta at a mere at of 21 gained the confidence in being the captain behind the camera. Gupta worked with the wealthiest producers, finest technicians and bankable stars throughout his career.
Gupta carved a niche for himself, known as the ‘The Yash Chopra of Men’ brought a fat slice of masculinity and testosterone to the big screen and portraying men in a particular style. Gupta comes from the school of thought from the Stallones, Schwarzenegger combined with Sunil Dutt and Dharmendra where masculinity was inbuilt into his films. Opposing to the trade at the time of his beginning, Gupta had a fasciation of moulding his heroes as the on-screen ‘Bad Boy; the portrayal of the protagonist and the hard body was the style that brought to recreation of his method of filmmaking.
With the support of the biggest producers, actors and technicians of the industry, the blind trust in the young visionary artist led him to prove his stance. Before, which a majority of that have yet to see Mumbai Saga in the coming days,, let’s take a trip down ‘Gupta’ lane and revisit the films that made him grow as filmmaker over the years and how his journey as a filmmaker has been.
Gupta’s directional debut which was launched and mounted on a huge scale at the time. Gupta, a 21-year-old when launched and eventually a 23 year old when released was one the youngest directors in the Hindi film industry to get everything on his Wishlist for his debut venture. Aatish was backed by the Sippys, Gupta has earlier worked with the Sippys with producing the background score for their feature Patthar Ke Phool in his own studio in Khar. Sippys being happy with his work and forming a relationship.
A story that has been doing a round, yet unclear, about a so-called VHS and involving Sanjay Dutt, Aditya Pancholi and Gupta, which eventually got into the hands of Sippys – was the story of the formation of Aatish. The Sippy’s being so pleased with this mysterious film on the VHS, they decided to produce this venture and Dutt instantly agreeing to act in the film. This was basically the beginning of how Gupta’s first film had started.
Aatish was a plot about Baba, a soft-at-heart man and how is decisions from childhood lead to his rise in his illegal profession and later his decisions in his adult personal life lead to his fall. The relationships Baba has in his life as a son, brother, lover or friend result to his good and bad, right or wrong decisions while battling with his ill fate. Aatish is about Karma yet about being in the moment and how the fire within is the force of making one move forward to make a better tomorrow.
At the time of release, Aatish worked at the box office for various reasons. Sanjay Dutt, at the time was at a peak post his Blockbuster Khalnayak and his image as the ‘bad boy’ became a trend at the time. Despite Dutt’s stardom, Aatish completely worked on merit. The casting of course we could say was a plus; similarly was the music but Aatish was joyable fare and over the years has found a cult.
When it came to casting for Gupta, it was a no-brainer for him to cast his best friend at the time, Sanjay Dutt in the main lead. Gupta had assisted on films in the past which starred Dutt and not only did the star and director form a professional relationship but a very fond friendship too. Even Atul Agnihotri, who was his colleague to Gupta from his assisting days, at the time was struggling for acting roles. When things were turning a little sour for Agnihorti at the time and Gupta being a true friend requested Sunil Shetty to step down from the film so his friend can fill in his shoes.
Aatish for its time was seen as a stylish, new-on-block technique in filmmaking. Gupta, when being an assistant director was technically wise. Gupta came with a certain version and technique of filmmaking; this could be because Gupta was frequent watcher of International cinema and absorbed news ways in development with the camera. At the time of Gupta’s debut, various other filmmakers stuck to the style that had been consistent but because Gupta came with a certain freshness in his style that stood out.
Aatish released with much fanfare especially with the Sanjay Dutt case going on (If you have seen Sanju, this was the film he shooting in Mauritius before being arrested for the 1993 Bombay Blasts on the airport runway) being one the biggest openers of 1994. Gupta, grown up in the area of Khar and his cinema classroom being the famous Gaiety Galaxy had snuck in on the day of the release and broke down seeing the ‘Directed by Sanjay Gupta’ credit.
Not only Gupta, Aatish was the beginning of a few other careers too. Atul Agnihotri and even Daboo Ratnani. Daboo Ratnani began his career in photography with this film when Gupta had made an excuse to his boss that he would return from a trip from Mauritius, little did Ratnani know that this venture would launch his career too.
Aatish is an ode to the yesteryear gangster films – from India and around the world. The film will always be remembered for its performances, the action sequences, the emotional ‘Nawab Akele Akele’ scene, the Haji Ali attack moment, the ‘Dil Dil Dil’ in Mauritius and the gory climax.
RAM SHASTRA (1995)
Before Aatish was ready for release, Firoz Nadiadwala, one the most high-profile producers in the trade at the time signed Gupta after seeing rushes of Aatish for a big budget stylish action film. Anil Kapoor was called for a trial in Bandra for Aatish in which the makers were hoping to sign him for the film, but things didn’t work out. Jackie Shroff was then approached and was signed later.
Gupta’s best buddy, Sanjay Dutt was serving a sentence at the time hence he would not participate in the film but Gupta’s other buddy, Aditya Pancholi joined the cast as the supportive friend for Gupta and playing the role of the supportive cop to Jackie.
Jackie plays a flamboyant cop who has his own method of bringing criminals to the Law. Ram, the protagonist, has his life turned upside down when he crosses roads with Dongra – the city Don who is turning his black ways to white. Things turn soar, lives are lost and our Ram is behind bars, losing his family and reputation. Years later, Ram released from prison is now out to gain his reputation as well as settling scores with Dongra.
Irony lies in the film tackle of the bad turning white – a sneak hint of the powering forces at the time in Bombay, domestically and international that were taking their forces into the white limelight of a sense of camouflage of dignity. Many are aware of the international terror pressures in the film industry at the time that saw a dignified conversation in the glamour of cinema. Anupam Kher’s Dongra was a puppet-handler, seeking refuge yet not commencing his ways out of the dark.
Ram Shastra for its time was a heavy budgeted film and when seeing the scale and the technique, the money evidently shows on screen. Not only was Ram Shastra an expensive film but it was ready quicker than most films at that time – Firoz Nadiadwala was impressed by Gupta’s skill of finishing the film with such organisation that it didn’t seem there ever was an issue during the making. The film was mounted high on the action sequences – it’s Unique Selling Point was the making it to be scaled on International level in terms of action.
Many may not know but Ram Shastra was actually first Hindi film to be officially mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1. Dolby Digital had just arrived to India, previously with 1942 A Love Story being the first Dolby Digital film, things in India in terms of technology were beginning to go from analogue to digital. Ram Shastra being that the first film to carry out the digital 5.1 sound mix for Hindi cinema, which lasted for years.
Ram Shastra on release, unfortunately, did not find many takers. Despite action films being big sellers at the time, it didn’t bring much luck to this one. Sanjeev Shridhar, trade analyst at the time said “Its an expensive film. Recovery for the film was going to be hard for a post Diwali release. Jackie Shroff seems to be going through a lean phase. Otherwise technically, Sanjay Gupta’s film – with the music and the action is not a bad fare – just suffered because of the timing.”
Gupta even had gone on record post the release of the film stating he personally hated the film. He mentioned that many things had gone wrong creatively and the end result was not what he had visioned. In fact, still to date, Gupta acknowledges he film as his worst film to date.
Gupta had many times spoke about how he does not connect with ‘the fluffy stuff’ on screen, he has been very direct of how his films are and who is audience is. After two actions films, Gupta took a chance and even gave a shot at changing lanes. Being confident in his craft and at the age of exploring, he wanted to make a saga of unfinished love. And going with the Gupta style, it wasn’t going to be a subtle one.
Gupta reunited with the Sippys and made it clear that he wanted it to be a love story with the touch of reincarnation. The set up was clear, he wanted a new-age boy and the girl who has the way with people’s hearts, that he found in both Saif and Kajol. Both actors at the time but had already established themselves in that genre making it a familiarity with the audience.
The subject of reincarnation became the ‘in-thing’ again at this point during the mid-90s after the gracious box office numbers of Karan-Arjun. Reincarnation films actually get reincarnated in the industry several times, there is only one shining soul and several that follow to imitate that suite.
What made Hameshaa stand away from the other reincarnation films was its ‘Hitchcockian’ yet gothic touch to the ambience of the structure of the film. The film is based in two different time zones, the 1970s and later in the 1990s. The blossoming romance between Saif and Kajol in the 70s with the Shammi Kapoor influence unfolds as a rather mystical brewing of unease tensions behind the couple.
Aditya Pancholi and his menacing act as a modern prince from a powerless kingdom, obsesses over the ‘already-taken’ Kajol and literally waits a ‘lifetime’ to gain her. There had to a small dose of male chauvinism and riding ego, which later unfolds in the second act of the film of the possessive-yet-silent character who tried to change the ways of the universe to gain which he isn’t destined for. One hand we have Pancholi’s character fighting with the impossible and the couple making their impossible to possible. The film’s basic premise of stating of love lasts over lifetimes – if it is incomplete.
Hameshaa did suffer at the box office, possibly for its theme playing its foe. Despite the theme, too many expectations were riding on the film – Riding on chartbuster music and Kajol’s stardom – maybe people were expecting something a little sweeter for their taste buds. Its hard to place a film like Hameshaa, as it almost covers everything yet doesn’t stay consistent on a mood – either call it innovative or lost.
Interestingly, Gupta and Saif had bonded very well during the course of the filming. The duo even shared time outside the work space. Once the film fared insufficiently, Saif went back his friendship stating it was only a ‘work relationship’. A heartbroken Gupta, who looks beyond the work ethics with Saif, had learned his lesson. Gupta, generally being fond of his friendships, knew from here onwards where to draw his line.
Gupta rejoiced when Dutt served his sentence and made it back to showbiz, Gupta had waited for his exit in order to start their next project together. Dutt had signed Khauff not too long after serving his sentence and continuing work. It was evident to many from the industry that when Gupta and Dutt were to join forces then we knew what to expect – Dutt’s masculinity and Gupta’s skill of styling.
Khauff revolves around Manisha Koirala’s character, who swears to give her statement to the honorary court after witnessing the slaying of a senior cop. Between her and murders stands fear in the form of Babu, played by Dutt, a spinless assassin on the verge to stop this witness – but his mind develops two ways when his long died human emotions resurrect as he begins to feel for the witness.
Khauff means fear – as Gupta had stated at the time mentioned it is about the common man’s fear to the on-goings in the city of Bombay. Power and Terror have begun to play a vital role in the city’s development leaving behind many bloody footprints. The fear of the on-going in city which are not spoke about, the fear of the jurisdiction system of the country and the powers of a certain anonymous lethal higher rule.
The film ran into various of problems from production right till the release; which caused several delays that many argued had damaged the potential of the film. In terms of production, it was evident on seeing the continuity in most scenes of Dutt’s appearance – changing from scene to scene resulting to comprising with the outlook of the film. Gupta, at the time, mentioned the delays were beyond his control. His duties as a director were prompt but certain issues during the production were left unresolved.
Dutt’s long hair and the delay of the film actually became a curse for the film as several delays and bitter talks between the director and producer led the film being delayed continuously. At a point, both director and producer were not seeing eye to eye. When delays occurred in production, Gupta felt some portions could have been reshot in order to correct the continuity problem which again caused more conflict from the producer’s side. A furious Vijay Tolani fearing to go into debt before the release had flinched; eventually deciding to release the film the way it was.
Though the film opened at centres because of the Sanjay Dutt pull – but of course the main problem which people had point out – was its weary continuity. A source close to the film said that a decent portion of the film had not even been filmed, the producer had made some compromises despite having the final script and at a later stage began to cut various corners and decided not to shoot certain portions which can be noticed in the film that built this sense of incompetence.
Gupta almost disassociated himself with the film by the time of release even stating he had felt of walking out of the project on many occasions. Surrendering to his discomfort, Gupta just let the film be what Tolani wanted it to be.
The film being infamous for its controversial fall out between Gupta, Dutt vs Satish Tandon and possibly being one of the most talked about films at its time – that too for the controversy that surrounded the film.
Ironically – Jung was about seeking desperate measures during the roughest times. An honest cop, played by Jackie Shroff, has to compromise with a psychotic criminal, who he had imprisoned, for his son’s bone marrow. Dutt playing a dreaded gangster begins to play a game with the cop by his rules after he settles score with his partners. Aditya Pancholi plays the rival cop to Shroff who joins the race to kill Dutt.
The film deals with the desperation of a father and a mother for their son’s life but at the expense of the ego of a criminal. The cop now burying everything he has learnt in the police department has to face the world with his decision of letting go of his morals for his eight-year-old son. Every character is Jung is grey, out for their own selfish way. Jung takes you into this dark world outside the sugar-coated family life which involves crime and the law. Bali, played by Dutt, a selfish-spinless criminal who first love is money; toys with the minds of the family into ensuring he is their saviour and later leading them to believe that there is a price and years yet to pay for his freedom.
The controversy surrounding the film began bitter that later went sour. Every coin has two sides, Gupta had his version and so did Satish Tandon. Many of the industry confused who to back and who to decide was right. Satish Tandon, a Punjabi distributor-turned-producer accused Gupta of going over-budget however Gupta had mentioned the film was incomplete and the producer wanted the release the film as it was. Not only that but Gupta had accused the producer for the late payment of remuneration for the crew members of the film and despite lowering his own price for the budget of the film, he still hadn’t been paid.
Gupta’s buddy, Dutt even stepped down to back his friend to say the film is incomplete and what had been narrated to him has not yet been filmed – completely taking a hit to the producer. Tandon sticking by his guns was happy with the product and decided to release it however it was – without Dutt dubbing for the film and filled his place with a dubbing artist.
Going by the film, it seemed something was not right. The producer apparently was ill-advised by a friend from industry after they had seen the film saying it was complete. The producer stating to Gupta, only the songs need to be complete – and he only could shoot from Film City to Link Road to film these songs. This caused the rift. The producer, at the time was producing another film, Ek Haadsaa, had got the main leads from that film to fill in the shoes of Dutt and Shilpa Shetty during a song sequence. The song ‘Bali Di Gali’ was to be filmed on Dutt, as goes by his character’s name – but the situation had escalated by this time, the song was later filmed on Bali Brahmbhatt, which had no relevance to the plot but just a similar ‘Bali’ instead.
Dutt, Gupta and the Kashyap brother (Anurag and Abhinav had wrote the film) did a press conference in which they ‘demoted’ it by telling people not to go the cinemas and see the film. Dutt went on to talk about the unprofessionalism of the producer and how he had ‘hijacked’ the film away from the director. When the stars are against the film – there is no way, it would survive at the box office. Satish Tandon was banking on the controversy that people would see the issue surrounding the film. But the audience felt it was safer to stay away. Jung is a fine example of how two distinct visions of one product can completely spoil the entire dish.
Gupta found a new lease of life when he turned producer. Possibly the two issues in the past with producers made him feel that he wanted to make films from his own conviction. The ‘Jung incident’ was enough for Gupta in wanting to have complete control over his own projects. His rules and his way. Kaante, earlier was pitched to several producers but it seemed none of them just didn’t get the premise of six men with the insolent talk and dark humour – most producers where looking where the sugar can be added in the herbal remedy.
This left Gupta and Dutt establishing White Feather Films. Gupta’s first hesitation was that the film being dark, the characters being grey and foul language used – no known star would even consider being apart of the project. But it was Dutt’s conviction in the script, he told Gupta he would manage to get the cast once he pitched it to them.
Gupta was clear that it was going to completely shot in the US, with none of the routine song and dance numbers. That changed one night after Anand Raj Anand had met them both for a few drinks and sang a few songs, they had decided then the film would have songs but not with the routine formula. Dutt alongside with Pritish Nandy and Sharad Kapoor (Hollywood producer, who took care of the production of the film in LA also happens to be Kumar Gaurav’s brother-in-law).
With Aankhen releasing earlier in the year, many were cynical of another heist film – that too with Amitabh Bachchan in the cast. Comparison between both films were made; it was clear from Gupta’s side that Kaante is no Aankhen in any way. Kaante, for its time had reinvented the action genre for the Indian audience in terms of scale. But many had mentioned that the film is not exactly an action film or even a thriller of such but stylish heist film with just a lot violence. Possibly one of the first Hindi films to show this level of gore and violence singly in one film
Gupta for a first, even stylised his actors with his personal supervision. All the characters in the film had a set look which Gupta had envisioned, from their hair, clothes, accessories etc – Gupta stylised his actors according to how he wanted his characters to look. Each character in Kaante, although all the six men were leads, brought a different presentation to the ‘on-screen’ protagonist. Usually in Hindi cinema, our ‘heroes’ are represented to good, moral men – here we have men who are foul mouthed, selfish, violent and shrewd. To this was Gupta’s vision of how men deep down actually are – there was no fake representation of themselves.
It was simple – six men behind closed doors just being themselves, below-the-belt and passive judgemental comments on each other’s character was a part of who they were. The beauty in Kaante was no one was exactly righteous, but yes, each character was not moulded representation for the screen, they were real.
Kaante rocked Gupta’s world. It rocked the box office despite his adult certification and the less frequent commercial aspects. There was no looking back for Gupta this point – it was a point of a new turn for him as now producer as well as filmmaker, it was like the filmmaker had been born again.
Celebrated for bringing the original Khalnayak and Nayak on screen for the first time – despite the rivalry over the years and the odd few controversies the two leads had, the association of the two actors in this film went to prove there was no issue between the two stars. In their prime days, both being the favourites of similar directors had their issues in the past for working together as they competed neck to neck with each other at the box office. The infamous controversy was the Trimurti episode, when Anil Kapoor had replaced Sanjay Dutt in Subhash Ghai’s mega budgeted festive release, which was an assumption of rivalry.
Sanjay Gupta had approached Anil on two projects before Musafir, both in which did not work out but this time he didn’t have any issues coming on board with Gupta and Dutt’s second production after Kaante. Anil was a little hesitant at first – but Dutt convinced him that Anil was the lead and Dutt had a passing role, meaning he would come go but the film revolved around Kapoor.
Gupta shot the entire film in Goa and sticking with a similar feel of Kaante, he presented this as very hip noir action thriller based on the drug mafia in Goa – showing that Goa is not all ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ but it has a dark underbelly filled with corrupted officers, gangsters and perverted men. Similarly to Kaante, Gupta here too designed his characters personally too. Dutt being the stylish drug lord with his fiddle blade, Anil who usually played safe with his roles – was styled as this drifting, blonded, down to death drug peddler who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
An interesting Aditya Pancholi, playing the role of Tiger, a ‘bold’ Goan cop that had a peculiar balance of honestly and corruption, was more curious in the affairs that did not concern him. His business or not – Tiger made everything his business. Later the film dips into the marriage problems between Mahesh Manjekhar and Sameera Reddy, in which Kapoor has to choose a side which he thinks is true.
The film leads Kapoor’s character going from point to point on the edge of his life. Aditya Pancholi’s character Tiger mentions earlier in the film that Goa is not what it seems, it’s a tourist spot but doesn’t always entertain its guests. Travellers come and go in Goa and some get lost in the under-belly. The feel of unease and insecurity is evident throughout the film – similarly how Kapoor’s character throughout his journey is feeling. To keep the basic idea in mind, that no one or nothing can be trusted.
Musafir opened well at the box office and did decent business. The music at the time was playing at every corner. The soundtrack was remembered for its uncommon release approach. The soundtrack was split into two – lounge and club. The composed tracks were done by Vishal-Shekhar and Anand Raj Anand but the remixes and the club vibes were done by lesser-known DJs at the time in which Gupta had provided a studio for to play around with the music. This tactic paid off as Musafir was the seventh most sold album of the year.
Before the Hollywood guys attempted it several years later, we in India got there first. Zinda was an adaption of Korean film Old Boy (2003) which told a story about a man locked in prison for 14 years – unlawfully, without the knowledge of his crime. When released, the man has 5 days to find his captor and know the reason of his crime. Dutt played the role of the rugged, lost, broken man out to find the man who ruined his life which was played by John Abraham, the film did keep the original feel intact with the ending changed (for obvious reasons why – for the Indian audience).
Zinda, was the first film to go with the black and white grim look which Gupta had opted for, similar with the colour palettes used in Kaante, Gupta purposely gave Zinda that similar ‘coloured’ flavour. Zinda was that grim, dark and gritty enterprise that made the audience feel the discomfort the protagonist was feeling.
Akshaye Khanna, Gupta’s friend in which they had a very brief opportunity working together in the mid-90s which never really worked out – had approached him for the role of Rohit Chopra, the rich ‘devil-in-a-suit’ entrepreneur. Things did not materialise and Khanna had his issues. Gupta then approached John Abraham who agreed straight away, forming a long-lasting relationship which is thick even today. The relationship between both director and actor stood thick even through the director’s lean phase, in which the actor stood in for Gupta.
Zinda didn’t work wonders at the box office but surely was praised. Many has mentioned it ‘being the first of its kind’ and ‘fresh turn to the thriller genre’ has nothing even similar had been attempted before. Regardless of the film’s fate, many still consider the performances till date. Dutt’s performance as the mean machine out to kill in the emotional scenes as well as the integral violence moments – one would think it’s a performance of the veteran that is overlooked.
Zinda arguably did more for John Abraham than Dhoom or a Water had done. Zinda moulded Abraham into a better performer letting go of the glamour that usually his role would carry with the performer stepping outside his comfort zone. Zinda at the time was seen as too gritty for then the audience, possibly because commercial cinema was at its peak and the comfort of the gloss cinema possibly made people look beyond Zinda.
DUS KAHANIYAAN (2007) segments “Matrimony, “Stranger in the Night, “Zahir”, “Gubbare” & “Rise & Fall”
Earlier Ram Gopal Varma had a made an anthology of stories with the Darna series, commercial actors acting in different segments adding to the final feature. But Gupta’s anthology varied over different genres unlike RGV, the genres varied from Drama, Thrillers, Horror, Noir and Action. Gupta’s anthology of short stories was made at a much larger scale with 30 actors, 6 different directors, 12 writers and 6 music directors – yes that all in one huge feature film. Each story served a purpose and each story came with an intention. Gupta had directed 5 out the 10 stories.
Three of the stories that Gupta had told in Dus Kahaniyaan were about marriage. The flaws, the dysfunctional aspects and the power of trust amongst the two individuals. Many had mentioned these stories were Gupta’s opinion and thoughts with his rocky marriage at the time. Matrimony, the first story projected in the feature, is told a story about a woman’s satisfaction but the real people toying with her satisfaction are the two men in her life who actually taking her for a ride.
Strangers in the Night is based on a night of anniversary for a couple where they decide to reveal their darkest secrets, with a somewhat distrust for one another – the story plays with the idea of cheating and lust but rather the story leads to how some secrets are not woven by guilt or sin.
Gubbare was about a young couple with the issues in their relationships come across an elder man during their journey, the man who has an obsession with his wife’s love for balloons. The story explored love and the lasting of the emotion in a relationship, the idea of presence of the opposite person being present or not but how the emotion is the fuel for the relationship.
Zahir was possibly the heaviest in the five stories told. Zahir dealt with the idea of consent and awareness of communication in a relationship. Between a male and female, despite the level of understanding – how important respect and consent is for one another. Zahir also dealt with issue of HIV and how responsible both the male and female should be with consensual sex, being aware of illness and being protected.
Finally, Gupta’s final short was his return to the gangster genre. Rise and Fall was the complete guilty pleasure of Dutt and Gupta’s space of the action genre. Rise and Fall shows two stories of the same characters with their rise as gangster as children and their fall as elder, mature men. Rise and Fall was a somewhat return for Gupta to the Aatish universe with his protagonist being called Baba and Nawab respectively; this too being Gupta’s last film to date with Dutt.
Dus Kahaniyaan, despite having some very well written short stories didn’t quite make its mark with the audience at the time. Many of the audience members appreciated each story individually but as a totality as a feature film, it may not have worked. It was an attempt for White Feathers as a production house to venture in a newer territory with the USP of the company being attempting different avenues.
SHOOTOUT AT WADALA (2013)
After a six-year hiatus, Gupta had returned to the director’s chair. Prior to the hiatus, Gupta was on the streak with his production house fulfilling his ambition in areas as a producer. When things were getting soar in his personal space which later affected his career – Gupta decided to take a break. He mentioned that he went on for years without work before coming back to the industry, which all began with a phone call to Ekta Kapoor.
Ekta Kapoor expressed to Gupta about her desire in moving the ‘Shootout’ series forward. Gupta unsure about how to find another shootout in the history of Mumbai, that was as shocking as the one at Lokhandwala in 1991. A team had dug out the first ever encounter that took place in Mumbai (then Bombay) in which the police played Judge, Jury and Executioner.
The story of Manya Surve, an educated boy passed out of Kirti College, later forming a gang that rubbed shoulders with some of the most dangerous gangsters in Mumbai at the time, in which formed the rival D Company after Surve had murdered the infamous Shabbir Kaskar, that had changed the city forever.
The premise of an encounter, which only exists in India, where the police encounter the criminal and take their lives into their own hands – is now a known practice by the police but Manya Surve’s shooting was the first recorded encounter by the Mumbai Police ever. Unlike Shootout at Lokhandwala, where the soul of the film was the shootout, here most of the film sees the rise of Manya Surve and his rivalry with others gangs, covering the underworld in Mumbai during the 1980s and later leading to what lead the shootout to happen.
The film was an exposure or even an exploration into what made what made the police force take out a criminal during broad day late in one of the busiest areas of the city. It tapped into what made the police in Mumbai cold blooded killers to take the law into their own practice, leaving the court jurisdiction out of the map and the police dealing with the matter solely.
Controversy did play a spoil sport for the film in which Gupta had to alternate some changes a lot later into the production but it didn’t curve away from the intention of the film. The film released and the success had placed Gupta back onto the map and the support from the industry was astonishing.
Despite being a Non-Fiction based film, the film was a large-scale Hindi film spectacle and even as the film used heroism and machoism as pivotal part of the plot of the film – it won hearts amongst the public. The dialogues and moments amongst characters brought back the drama and intensity the moviegoers had been missing for some time.
The only minus for some was that many argued the bad language and on-screen sex scenes had numbered the audience members, but it was a lesson that Gupta had taken away with him.
An actress and a director from two different film schools. Gupta, known as the ‘Yash Chopra for Men’ where is films were mainly male based, raised eyebrows when he announced he was making a female centric film with the comeback of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to the big screen. Gupta mentioned that had Aishwarya rejected the film he would scrap it. His friend, Abhishek and husband to Rai did a lot of convincing for her coming on board.
Jazbaa revolves around an attorney forced to defend an unpleasant criminal after her daughter is kidnapped. The story progresses with the trail of the criminal, our protagonist coming across criminals, gangsters, corrupt politicians etc throughout the route to get back her daughter with the help of her friend, suspended and shady Yohan played by Irrfan Khan.
For Gupta, Jazbaa is amongst of many firsts for the filmmaker. The most evident first is his two central characters in the film are female – Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Shabana Azmi are the two most important characters in the plot. Gupta central element to the plot, with going with the title, is the sentiment of a mother. Gupta explores this sentiment with a grey touch, two mothers in edgy circumstances, amongst evil minds yet going to lengths for their daughters. Even Jackie Shroff’s character’s draw towards his son – it dealt with parenthood and the lengths some go for their children – within or out of law boundaries.
Yet Jazbaa still lives in the Gupta world. The character of Yohan is still the quintessential, no-nonsense cop who works on his own rules – a character that can easy be identified as Gupta’s man to handle the dirty work in the plot behind closed doors. The dialogues too, by the character add the weight to the persona – the leather jacketed cop saying ‘aaj kal wohi sharif hai kiske phone pe password na ho’.
It’s interesting to see with every venture how Gupta toys with the city of Mumbai in a different tone each time. Each time Gupta’s portrayal of the city makes one wonder who is an alien to the city that how could the city be explored different. Jazbaa’s incorporation of the city shifts from the city comfortable family life to the shift of the grim, large unknown fearsome sin-city.
Anuradha and Yohan both see the city with unalike eyes. In the latter half, Yohan introduces Anuradha to the underbelly of the city – the city that has given her everything similar has snatched everything away from him. A city ran by the vicious and toyed by the powerful – no one but yourself can be trusted.
A lot had mentioned how Gupta had toned down the violence as he became little more friendly to a section of the audience.
Regardless how people felt about it – its highlight had to be the cast Gupta had put together and absorbing the right performance from each as well as giving them importance to the screen time. This move was appreciated by many as a reinnervation of the director.
A tale of talented blind man vows revenge on a political family who are responsible for the suicide of his wife in a manner unheard of. Kaabil is a tale of physically handicapped man in a dark world, seen as the weaker opponent – shows his rival how ‘Kaabil’ he is in this battle. The man without sight yet sharp at mind uses all of his other strong senses to take revenge at the same time leaving the law many lengths behind him.
It was interesting to see a collaboration of two established filmmakers joining hands, where on was on the producer’s chair and other on the director’s. Rakesh Roshan and Sanjay Gupta both came from different film markets and completely parallel from each other. But Gupta had one meeting with senior Roshan and convinced him, later Hrithik to act in the film and both father and son in that one meeting could see Gupta’s vision and the potential of the film and both completely came on board.
Revenge drama with the angle of disability had never been tackled before in Hindi cinema – that too in the action genre. To Hrithik, it came as completely new extension to the actor as it was the film was his quickest film completed yet a character he extensively researched. Hrithik had locked himself in a room, walked around blindfolded and even worked on his vocal cords for his character as a dubbing artist. The newer light we see in Hrithik wasn’t the typical him of either looking like the Greek on-screen god or flexing his muscles during the action sequences – it was a newer Hrithik we saw as a common man with an extraordinary mind.
With Gupta’s toying of the city of Mumbai comes into works in Kaabil too. The colour palettes were not extensively used to portray the city here but there was a tone of darkness in the film. The idea of blind man’s world become darker in the claustrophobic metropolitan city. Though the dark angle doesn’t come in till the Roy brothers play the villainous Maharashtrian political lead family – with one brother dominating a city and the other attempt to dominate Rohan Bhatnagar’s life – eventually leading darkness into the lives of both brothers. The plot and shift of darkness take place in the latter half of the film with Rohan Bhatnagar already living in darkness, his vow of vengeance is to bring his darkness to their lives with his figure being unseen to them – though without sight, he can be anywhere at any place for them.
Kaabil brought a new side to Gupta altogether. Gupta mentioned that Senior Roshan was very active on the film and he learned from the new and almost unlearned from everything from the past. Gupta not only got the reassurance but reinvented his style of storytelling while even being a friendly commercial filmmaker to the audience at the same time.
Kaabil was appreciated and very successful making it a win case for everyone involved. Kaabil has taken Gupta to new heights. The director who now has found his place in camp of the Roshans but Kaabil has even made Gupta the festive/holiday release director. Gupta’s streak with Kaabil has made him expose and shown his capability to a wider range of audience which will make him work alongside in the future.
Gupta had mentioned somewhere that he never intended to become a producer, but due to some bad experiences with producers in the past and his issue with producer’s not seeing his vision in Kaante, it was Sanjay Dutt the one who backed his vision which eventually led to the formation of White Feather films. The intention behind the company was to make films both Dutt and Gupta believed in. They intended to make diverse genres, bring forward newer talent but being out of the box. The idea was to do something that has never been done before in Hindi cinema. Gupta had mentioned he was never one who simply had financed the films under the White Feather films banner, but he had immense input into the projects as well being a Creative Producer and being involved till the final stages of the venture. Gupta was even the mind behind some of the projects from White Feather Films, where he either wrote or simply had given the idea to another writer or director to helm. Gupta’s intention was to branch out and grow as a company. The various different projects with different directors seemed to have halted after Dutt’s exit from the company in 2008 after fulfilling his final pending work. Now Gupta and White Feather Films are only apart of the films that Gupta helms as director and Gupta doesn’t wish to branch out with different directors but solely for his path.
Although Kaante was foundation stone for White Feathers, Plan was the first film where Gupta had donned the producer cap and backed the project helmed by his then assistant Hriday Shetty. For those who aren’t aware, Hriday Shetty is Rohit Shetty’s half-brother, who had debuted as director with this film. Plan was a medium budgeted but high on style mounted film which came in a similar zone as Kaante. Plan was about a gang of young boys who accidently kidnap a gangster (played by Dutt) later to realise that the accidently kidnap was beneficial for all. Many at the time had touted Plan as ‘Kaante based in India’. Plan was little toned down in terms of the violence and bad language in comparison to Kaante, Plan was more market and commercially friendly. It was Dutt’s role as Musa and the chemistry of the four boys that made the film worthwhile.
SHOOTOUT AT LOKHANDWALA (2007)
The beginning of the Shootout series was never intended to be a series and neither was the film to be simply just produced by Gupta. In fact, around 2005, Gupta had researched and wrote Shootout which was then tentatively titled Zinda with the intention of directing the venture himself. After Dutt had seen OldBoy, he persuaded Gupta to do that project instead and the OldBoy remake was then titled Zinda. When Gupta began to venture more into production, he gave the job to Apoorva Lakhia to direct the film after taking a fancy to his liking. Shootout at Lokhandwala had worked at the box office as well as gaining a fair amount of response from the press but Gupta himself wasn’t impressed with the shot footage from Lakhia. In fact, Gupta had revealed that he had to take over creatively in post-production to accommodate his vision, which got lost in translation with Lakhia. Nevertheless, despite Gupta’s feeling about the end product – the general public didn’t really mind the first film to start the franchise.
THE GREAT INDIAN BUTTERFLY (2007)
Gupta attempt to tap into the art house scenario which is intend to be made for the International Film Festival circuit, hence the film was made in English for the global appeal. While making films for India with the commercial aspect, Gupta also wanted to explore the global market with smaller yet large with content films. The Great Indian Butterfly is the story of a typical bickering modern Indian couple and their journey to Goa in quest of a magical insect. During their journey they explore peace, love and happiness in life which they are trying find with it already been intact. Made in 2007, the film was screened at the Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival and later at the Asian Festival of First Films in Singapore where film found its acceptance and a decent response before being commercially released in India in 2010.
WOODSTOCK VILLA (2008)
Just when we thought White Feather Films have done it all, they literally have when you realise the company had even did a ‘quintessential star kid’ launch too. Sikander Kher, son of Anupam and Kirron Kher made his debut with this Dutt and Gupta backed production. Neha Uberoi, was back after her debut in Dus Kahaniyaan, the daughter of Dutt’s manager at the time Dharam Oberoi, who was also handling activities in White Feathers at the time – also got the platform for her second time around. The film was of course in the limelight for Kher’s son but also the rehash of Mika Singh’s ‘Sawan Mein Lag Gaye’ gained popularity and became a somewhat re-hit. Unfortunately, the recession had hit India terribly by this point of the time and no film at the box office was making any mark due to the low cash in the pockets of moviegoers at the time. Times changed and the economy recovered but sadly the film suffered due to the global climate.
ACID FACTORY (2009)
Gupta returns with the Noir Multi-starrer thriller bringing back the zone of Kaante for the audience. Acid Factory did bring back memories of Kaante with firstly with its style – Gupta brought back the green/grey colour palates used in Kaante. Secondly, of course the multicast but also setting of the warehouse in Kaante – with a base in a similar-like factory. Gupta, not exactly pleased with his last multi-starrer production, this time was very much involved with the creative and production process. The end product of the film did look and feel like it had the ‘White Feather films’ stamp. Despite being in the producer’s chair, Gupta had a big hand in the casting of the film. Originally Dutt was to be apart of the project but due to the fallout between the duo, Dutt was replaced by Irrfan Khan. Aditya Pancholi was said to have also bowed out of the project for some reason which many had mentioned it was due to his relationship with Dutt at the time. The biggest problem with Acid Factory was its eventual release date – one week before the major three Diwali releases that year. Prior Diwali, especially with big release on the festive weekend was a no-no for most filmmakers and this is where Acid Factory had got lost in the crowd.
In a sense this was final film from White Feather Films with an outside director and was Gupta’s final film for the White Feather to venture into production – since Pankh, Gupta has only ventured into his own directorial projects. Pankh was another art house feature for the production house which they constantly had focused on its festival route for the film. The film was based on the real-life actress Ahsaas Channa who had passed off as a young boy in two major films in her early career and how she grew up with the trauma of confusion amongst people while dealing with her own battle. Director Sudipto Chattopadhyaya, had originally stated he based the film on the trauma child artists suffered when they eventually became adults and spoke how unfortunately the graph of their lives have been – from the short-term success, to the issues with their parents to their later drug addiction in their teenage years. It’s sad but Pankh went unnoticed at its time of release; possibly due to being such a sensible off-beat topic maybe out audience didn’t have the stomach for it at the time.
Unfulfilled Dreams of Sanjay Gupta
Each Director has their share of projects that never materialised, either on paper or it being stalled during the production stage – unfortunately some projects just stay as dreams. At times, when a particular film doesn’t have its fate, the people involved too lose their interest which dampens the enthusiasm to complete the project. Gupta, has a section of films that didn’t take off, many of you maybe aware of and many may not but his ambitious projects someday may even see the day of light in a different form. Who knows!
The Bodyguard (1994)
Near the completion of Aatish, Gupta had set of this project to make with his buddy Sunil Shetty – who was originally was supposed to be part of Aatish and Gupta in his mind wanted to collaborate with star considering they shared a good rapport. This was rumoured to be the remake of the Kevin Costner starrer The Bodyguard (1992) – Sridevi came on board reprising the role earlier played by Whitney Houston. In 1994, the film was to take off and a look test was done with the lead pair, which also became a story in the December 1994 issue of Cineblitz. The discussions and pre-production were taking place but due to the Sridevi’s other commitments, the delay continued. In 1995, Ravi Raja’s Angrakshak was released which was too was inspired from The Bodyguard. It was said because of Angrakshak’s release and debacle, many in the team had lost interest in the film and moved onto other projects.
Another project planned near the time of completion of Aatish, this was to star Dutt, Sridevi and Kumar Gaurav. The film was to be a remake of John Woo’s The Killer (1989), with Dutt playing the role of the hitman, Sridevi playing the role of a woman who is accidently blinded in a shootout from the hitman and Kumar Gaurav was to play the cop on the chase for the hitman. Dutt’s jail sentence played spoilsport here as this was to be the next venture for Gupta-Dutt collaboration after Aatish, eventually it was later shelved. The Killer was eventually remade in the same year with Hum Hain Bemisal (1994) with Sunil Shetty and Akshay Kumar.
Launched in 1995 with a three-day schedule, the film was supposed to star a then ‘yet-to-be-launched’ Akshaye Khanna and then newbie Twinkle Khanna. The premise of the film was to be about a street fighter played by Akshaye. Due to scheduling and Akshaye’s supposed launch Himalay Putra (1997) was delayed hence the other projects too got delayed and the commencing shoot for this film happened after Himalay Putra. Recently, Gupta mentioned on Twitter that an action sequence was shot in 1997, after the action sequence was canned there was no sight on a second schedule. Gupta himself mentioned he doesn’t know why the film never continued.
Around 1997, this pre-shoot was published in Cineblitz as Gupta’s next venture. Very much has been speculated about this film on the film’s premise. Firstly, Jung’s original title was Khaleefe and that this film was that but Gupta had changed Jung completely down the line. There was talk that this film was originally what Khauff had supposed to be but slightly on the lighter edge with a triangle love story involved – eventually in the final version of Khauff, it didn’t have a second male lead if going by this speculation. There was also a speculation that this was supposed to be Cop-Criminal chase film on the lines of Demolition Man (1993) but an Indianised version. So much speculated but either way, it never really materialised as Gupta eventually moved on with Hameshaa and Khauff.
Post Jung and Khauff, Gupta was planning Dostana with Dutt, Fardeen Khan and Shilpa Shetty in the lead roles. Nothing was much speculated about the film and the film didn’t materialise for some reason known best known to Gupta. But it was speculated that unlike Gupta’s last ventures, this was film was more on the brighter side.
Eventually the title was used for his venture with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, but with this venture was being planned to be shot in Chicago/LA entirely. With an ensemble cast of Sanjay Dutt, Arjun Rampal, Fardeen Khan, Aftab Shivdasani and Suniel Shetty, was said to be a remake of Four Brothers (2005) which was about a group of foster brothers avenging the death of the woman who raised them, suspecting she was killed by a dreaded gangster. The film was to be go onto schedule August 2007 but it said the reason behind the film not materialising was the fallout between Dutt and Gupta.
Gupta’s infamous stalled film that was the final blow to his relationship with Dutt. Gupta had planned the project way back in 2007, said to be Gupta’s closest film to his heart as it was based on a life experience of his own and planned it to be a moderate simple budgeted film. Taking a break from action and attempted to experiment with the slice-of-life genre, Gupta had worked on every detail on the film and even had the art director reconstruct the set on the prime location various of times. The film boasted a huge cast of Sanjay Suri, Rohit Roy, Manasi Joshi Roy, Mandira Bedi, Gul Panag, Sameer Soni, Sudhanshu Pandey, Dia Mirza, Tisca Chopra, Parvin Dabbas and Masumeh Makhija. It was said the performances by Suri and Roy really stood out and presented them like never before.
Some personal and finance issue got between both Dutt and Gupta eventually leading the film to be incomplete with Dutt’s exit from the film. Years later, Gupta mentioned it was his ‘responsibility’ as a director to revive the film. He had replaced Dutt with Irrfan Khan and the shoot had resumed. Due to some issue with Eros International, the producers of the film, it was stalled again. As of 2013, no news has been mentioned of the film and we hope Gupta does get back to reviving the film.
Training Day Remake (2007-8)
In 2007, news had come out that Gupta has taken Aftab Shivdasani under his wings by signing him in 3-contract film deal. Aftab at this point had already signed Jazbaa by this point which was looking ahead to shoot for the summer – here Gupta had signed him for the role originally enacted by Denzel Washington in the official Hindi remake of Training Day (2001) to be helmed by Tigmanshu Dhulia and produced by Gupta. Aftab was going through a complete character makeover to suit the role while working on his body as well as tattooing his forearm to get into the character. The last heard about the film was due to some issue with the remake rights, the film didn’t exactly take off from that point onwards.
Khote Sikkey (2007/2014)
Originally was planned and conceived by both Dutt and Gupta in 2006 and was to go on floors. The cast then being Sanjay Dutt, Nana Patekar, Fardeen Khan and Arjun Rampal. It was said to be a film in the similar zone as Kaante, about four Indians pulling off a heist in America. Neither it was to be sequel or a spin-off from Kaante but it was said it was a heist of a different sort from Kaante. Due to the fallout between Dutt and Gupta, it didn’t take off and it was said Dutt was to make the film independently with Sohum Shah. Years after no news on the project, after Shootout at Wadala, Gupta had planned the project with Anil Kapoor, John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan with another few additions in the casting. Since 2014, there has been no news. Gupta has recently mentioned that he hasn’t forgot about the project and plans to revive it soon as he has revisited the script and worked on it for the betterment.
So What’s Next?
Shootout 3: The Gang Wars of Bombay (Expected 2022)
Gupta returns to the Shootout franchise one more time, again, this is based on a true incident that took place in the city of Mumbai just like the other two films of the franchise. The third film is apprenlty based on the Shootout that took place at JJ Hospital in 1992, the shootout marked was the fallout of the murder of Dawood Ibrahim’s brother-in-law Ibrahim Parkar who was gunned down by four Arun Gawli gang members. In a bid to avenge Parkar’s murder, Dawood’s gang attacked the two assailants — Shailesh Haldankar and Bipin Shere when they were admitted to JJ Hospital for treatment. Rajat Arora has been signed to write the film and Ekta Kapoor is on board producing. Currently, Gupta is looking for a younger actor for the main lead and many names have been flying around but no names have been confirmed as of now. Gupta is to start work on the film later this year.
Rakshak – A Hero Amongst Us (Expected 2023)
Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Gupta has required the rights to adapt the graphic novel to the big screen. Rakshak is about an ex-Army Marine Commando, Aditya Shergill, on the return to his home being traumatised about his past becomes a vigilante with superpowers. The graphic novel is a superhero based in the grim side of India. This would be Gupta’s first superhero film and already he has signed John Abraham for the leading role. Gupta with Shamik Dasgupta, the original writer of the graphic novel, have already completed the first draft of the film. It seems that the film will take off soon and Gupta has said it will be made on a huge scale as its based in a world never seen.
Krrish 4 (Expected 2024-25)
Rakesh Roshan has apparently given the responsibility to Gupta for the fourth instalment of the Krrish franchise. Gupta was asked about this and he never denied directing the project but sure has agreed to be apart of the writing team. The talk of the town is, due to Rakesh Roshan’s recent battle with cancer he may not be fit enough to carry out a big project so the responsibility has gone to Gupta. Gupta and the Roshans have shared a great rapport in Kaabil; being impressed with his work they feel he the best for the job. The film is said to be mounted on a higher scale than the last three film and will be high on VFX and will be budgeted on a 250 Crore budget. As of now, its too early to talk about as the film is still in scripting stages.