Of late, several Bollywood films based on true events have faced backlash online for hurting public sentiments but director Sanjay Gupta, whose newly released film Mumbai Saga is purportedly inspired by the lives of late gangster Amar Naik and his brother Ashwin Naik, is unfazed by all the hullabaloo. Gupta, best known for helming movies like Kaante, Shoutout at Lokhandwala, and Kaabil, has said that he never tries to make any political statement through his films, adding that he had written the script of Mumbai Saga much before this “recent spurt of intolerance”.
Mumbai Saga, which spans a decade and a bit from the mid-1980s to 1995, stars John Abraham as a menacing gangster Amartya Rao and Emraan Hashmi as an encounter specialist Vijay Savarkar. The film also features Mahesh Manjrekar, Suniel Shetty, Rohit Roy, Gulshan Grover, Prateik Babbar, Kajal Aggarwal, Anjana Sukhani, Sameer Soni, and Amole Gupte in key roles.
In this interaction, Gupta spoke to us on how he’s feeling about his directorial Mumbai Saga finally releasing in cinemas, his fascination for making big tentpoles and whether fans could expect an all-female gangster actioner from him.
The film has finally released in cinemas after a long wait, so what is the feeling right now?
I’m feeling a great anxiety because these are not ordinary times. Nobody can predict what is going to happen; whether or not people will come. Everyday lockdown restrictions are increasing in different cities which means we are losing our evening and night shows and those are the main shows wherein maximum crowd comes to watch the films. I have made the movie that I set out to make and I’m very happy with it. But my only concern is whether the audience will step out of their houses to come to cinemas.
Are you worried about the box office revenue of the movie considering most cinemas are functioning with only 50 per cent occupancy?
When we announced the release date of our film we knew that cinemas were allowed only 50 per cent occupancy and we were mentally prepared for that.
You have a fascination for ensemble cast, but is it easy for you to keep the entire cast happy?
Most of the cast members in Mumbai Saga are my friends and they trust me a lot and it becomes my responsibility to not let their faith down. Except for Emraan and Prateik, I have worked with everybody before and it’s been a very long association. Suniel Shetty and Gulshan Grover have special appearances in the film but I made sure that even in that limited screen time, they were memorable.
Of all your characters, who was the most fun to write?
I had a great time writing John and Emraan’s characters. It will be really difficult for me to choose between the two. But writing both the characters have been very creatively satisfying.
Mumbai Saga is inspired by a series of real incidents. At a time when stories based on true events are held up to the scrutiny, how did you go about exploring this subject? Were you conscious while writing the script?
No, not at all. Because I wrote this script some seven or eight years ago. I polished and finished it later but it was written much before this recent spurt of intolerance. So, I didn’t have any of this in my mind. In any case, I don’t get into provocation. I have never tried to make political statements or send out social messages through my films. I’m very transparent in that sense that I’m making films to entertain.
All the movies you’ve made lately have been pretty big in terms of scale and scope. What keeps you engaged? What keeps your enthusiasm going as you’re on the road to making and releasing a movie on this scale?
That is my cinema. Those are the kind of films that I enjoy making. I have been around making films for more than two-and-a-half decades now, so the point is that I constantly need to up my game and evolve as a filmmaker and find new and different ways to tell my stories and keep going, and most importantly, stay relevant. That is the biggest motivation factor.
What do you do when you’re hit with writer’s block?
The main thing for any filmmaker is to constantly observe what’s in the news or the book you read or the film you watch. That is the way you feed the beast in you and as long as you are doing that it will automatically manifest into what you write. Moreover, I have not really faced writer’s block as such so far.
Is there a big gap between the movie you make in your head and the movie that gets made?
As a matter of fact, there’s absolutely no gap. When I’m about to start a film, I always keep a narration for my producing partners, marketing executives, and studio executives. I narrate the whole script and I do it personally. I don’t like my writers or anybody else do it and they always tell me that ‘sir, picture dekh li.’ I pretty much stick to a certain vision that I have and which I also share before I start shooting the film. I know precisely what it is going to look like or what the locations or clothes will be.
Could fans expect an all-female gangster film from Sanjay Gupta?
One hundred per cent! In fact, I would absolutely love to do that. I’m just waiting for the right script to come along as we know that we have never had women-led gangster actioners in India. You never say never.