The antagonist of Mardaani is not your typical ‘Hindi picture ka villain’ – Gopi Puthran
“When I started writing Mardaani I was very clear that I wanted to base the protagonist on real people,” says writer Gopi Puthran. Gopi speaks to Pandolin about the factors that differentiate Mardaani from other films of the genre, his collaboration with director Pradeep Sarkar and Aditya Chopra and the process of writing this crime thriller.
You come from an advertising background. What prompted the transition into films? How did you bag your first film project?
I always wanted to be a film writer. Initially I didn’t know how to go about it and realized that writing for ads could pay me well and also satisfy the writing aspect. During that period I was meeting film directors who were directing ad films too and happened to meet Anurag Kashyap. He took a liking for my writing and got me in touch with Manish Hariprasad from UTV Spotboy to write the dialogues for a film called Peter Gaya Kaam Se but unfortunately it got canned. I was then introduced to filmmaker Navdeep Singh and wrote the dialogues for a film of his but sadly even that didn’t take off. While all this was happening, Dada (Pradeep Sarkar), whom I’d worked with on several ad films, was looking out for someone to adapt one of his scripts and offered me that project. We eventually didn’t go ahead with that script but I ended up writing Lafangey Parindey for Dada and Aditya Chopra in 2010.
And how did Mardaani happen considering there is a significant break after your first film? What gave birth to this crime drama with a woman protagonist?
All my learning has been concentrated in these four years between 2010 and 2014. In 2008 I left my job and till 2010 I did write a couple of films, one of which was going to get into production but got shelved at the last minute. Meanwhile Dada was on the lookout for a writer again as he had this subject (Mardaani) which was given to him by Hussain Zaidi and Vibha Singh. And that is how I came into the picture.
They had a rough story line where there is this woman cop on the lookout for a girl and in the process unravels a huge racket. This story was set somewhere else completely, and in fact didn’t even have the characters that you will see in the film. Basically, I took the germ of their concept and turned it into a story with my own characters. While doing my previous film, I had done a lot of research on cops, met a lot of of them from Mumbai and even though it was a different kind of research it helped me for this film. The case studies and events were there in front of me and so were the names and profiles of various criminals who had committed such crimes. So I used that research and weaved the story around it and that is what Mardaani eventually became.
Any sources of inspiration to model the protagonist’s character?
One of the most important things that I was very clear about when I started writing was that I wanted to base her (the protagonist) on real people. That is when my actual research on Mardaani started. I met cops, spent a few days with them and a couple of them were actually from the Crime Branch and were doing fantastic work. It was such an eye-opener. I have based Shivani Shivaji Roy’s character on a few women cops that I came across and taken traits from all of them to make this one character.
According to you what are the factors that differentiate Mardaani from other films in the crime – action – drama genre?
If you take the ‘single cop fighting against crime’ genre, there are several sub-genres in that itself starting from Zanjeer where a cop is actually exorcising his own demon to Ardh Satya, which again is the catharsis of a cop, to a Sarfarosh where they are out to accomplish a mission. Then there is an Ab Tak Chappan which is based on encounter cops or a Singham, which is less of reality more of fantasy. What differentiates Mardaani is that it is based on real case studies, and it is something that is not just related to the Mumbai police. This is a racket, which is happening all over the country but places like Mumbai and Delhi are the hubs.
Another key differentiating factor of this film is the antagonist who is not your typical ‘Hindi picture ka villain’. He is your regular boy next door, someone who could be your neighbor for all you know. Also, there are no songs in the film apart from one song, which also comes in the end. So we have not digressed anywhere in the film and stuck to the core.
What were the elements that you had to bear in mind while writing this film? Please take us through your writing method.
Let’s take the example of Mardaani. If I would have just put the research as is, it would have turned into an episode of Crime Patrol. As a writer my responsibility is to make it film-worthy. So one of the first steps is creating characters that are outstandingly compelling on the basis of the research. The next step was to figure the genre am putting this film into. Once that was done, I’ve added quite a few elements of fiction to the film and then it turns into a thriller. So I thought that this has to be an edge of the seat thriller. Every scene should be like a cog in the machinery, if you remove even one part, the machine won’t work, but everything will lead you to something more. As a writer you should be clear about, ‘What am I writing, why am I writing this and who is going to convey this message of mine to the people, which essentially refers to the characters.’
You have earlier worked with director Pradeep Sarkar and Aditya Chopra. Did that ease the level of comfort during Mardaani? What were their expectations for this story?
We were all clear that it has to be a thriller and one that was neither a Crime Patrol episode nor some melodramatic story. We had to reposition Rani in a way that she looks real as well as has a dramatic persona. The fantastic part about working with these two outstanding individuals is that they give you your space and their outstanding inputs in their own way. Pradeep Da is a director who is so sure about his own craft and most importantly knows how to get people to do their best. He gave me all the space to figure out my characters and then added his own inputs to it. Aditya Chopra is undoubtedly one of the genius minds we have in the country. He knows his business and his soul and I’ve learnt so much from him while we were editing. I always enjoy working with these fabulous people.
So did you write the film keeping Rani Mukherjee in mind? Also since Rani is doing a film after a significant gap, was there any expectation to create a certain impact?
Once Dada and Adi had decided that they would be making this film, the two of them concluded that the best person for the role would be Rani Mukherjee. At that level there was no script in hand but Rani agreed to the idea and was principally on board. While I was writing the story, it helped me to know that I had an actor who would deliver and so I went all out. The only expectation was to write a good film.
How long did it take you to write Mardaani? Were you present for the shoot as well to improvise on the spot?
The research took a few months but the actual writing was done in about two and a half months. One of the reasons I love to work with Pradeep Da is that he believes that the writer will partner him on a film. I too don’t believe in just writing the script and considering my job done. Additionally, I’m also the associate director of the film and was involved in all decisions, be it costume, on-the-spot improvisation with actors, post production and so on.
Any challenges/limitations faced while writing this crime drama?
The biggest challenge I faced was my own limitation. You have certain idols in mind and as a student of cinema you have seen so many movies and read so many books that you would want your work to reach somewhere there. The challenge is always to up your craft with every word that you’re writing.
Your expectations from Mardaani? Does the fact that a Singham Returns which has a similar police officer – action – drama concept released just a week before Mardaani cause any apprehensions?
What I would like is for people to give the film a fair chance and the rest we can only hope that they like it. But such films should at least get a proper viewing because a lot of effort has been put in figuring out the correct thing to do and then painstakingly put on screen. Watch it and then if you don’t like it, spread that word around. It is kind of unfair to be compared with Singham Returns because it has a different audience base and a different purpose.
So is advertising completely off the radar? What are your future goals and projects in the film industry?
I keep doing advertising projects because it is important for a writer in this line to figure out his means of running his house. It takes a long while to become a star but you need to sustain till then. Talks are on for other projects but nothing concrete yet.