I always wanted to create this one detective in Hindi cinema – Kaushik Ghatak
“We would like to make an entire franchise of Samrat,” says director Kaushik Ghatak who has put his heart and soul into the making of the detective drama, Samrat & Co. On the eve of its release, Kaushik speaks to Pandolin about growing up with this genre, the meticulous detailing involved in designing the world of Samrat and how he is thrilled that other filmmakers too are exploring detective films.
You have been in the industry for a significant period – directed television shows, ad films etc. How did the transition to films happen?
To be very honest I had come to make films. It is not that television is any smaller but I always wanted to do films. And I had to begin somewhere so I started with television and it has since gone well. Anurag Basu was my first guru, I started assisting him and then got independent projects. I had done a couple of serials with Rajshri Production including Woh Rehne Wali Mehlon Ki, so that is what also led to my first film – Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi.
After a family drama – Ek Vivah Aisa Bhi, what attracted you to the suspense genre? How did this idea germinate?
This is not just about a genre for me. I grew up with Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Feluda and Byomkesh Bakshi. Being a Bengali, Feluda and Byomkesh are like my best friends from childhood, I’ve read so many of these books and always loved the genre. It’s not only films, I guess am more of a storyteller than a director so this is something I wanted to do even before I entered the industry. When I entered the industry and assisted Anurag Basu, he was doing Thriller at 10 and Saturday Suspense. So my training was also predominantly in that. My first serial as director happened to be Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and then I did a couple of other good shows too. When I was doing the show Sanjeevni, I was writing a script with Rajkumar Babu (Sooraj Barjatya’s father). Though that film never took off I got to learn a lot from that script. It was during this time that I was introduced to Kavita Barjatya who was planning to produce Woh Rehne Wali Mehlon Ki. And that is how the show happened. Post that I did a few more shows with Kavitaji and then Sooraj (Barjatya) called for a film as he knew that I always wanted to do one. Ek Vivaah…, too, falls in a genre I love, but as I said I always wanted to create this one detective in Hindi cinema.
And I say so mainly because there is a scarcity of detectives in Hindi cinema. If you see cinema as a whole, every language’s cinema is inspired by its literature. Sherlock Holmes was written 125-130 years ago, Feluda was written much before that and so on. If you search Hindi literature there are a few thrillers but in serious literature there is no detective as such. The word ‘Jasoos’ stands for spy and is not exactly a synonym for a private investigator. So you don’t have a private investigator in Hindi literature and that’s why you don’t have one in Hindi cinema. And that is something I craved for. So I thought why not create your own detective. I started creating this world of Samrat, where he was born, his childhood, cases, how he met his Watson i.e. Chakradhar. Everything has been put down, of which you will see 10-20 per cent in the film. But for that 10-20 per cent to look real I had to do a lot of work on the back story of Samrat. I spent four years in writing and at that time there was no announcement of any detective film, infact we were the first to announce the film and then 2-3 more announcements were made.
You have had a long association with Rajshri Productions. And the Barjatyas are known for their family oriented films. How easy/difficult was it to convince them to venture into this new genre? Did they have any apprehensions?
After writing the film I went to a couple of producers and they were apprehensive of whether such a film will work in Hindi. Then it so happened that Kavitaji was interested in producing films. At first I didn’t narrate this subject to her because I thought that she is from Rajshri and would not be interested in this genre. We were working on a love story but one fine day I thought why not try to sell this story because I strongly believed in it. And I know that Kavitaji belongs to today’s generation of Rajshri and she actually wanted to bring some change somewhere. So I narrated this story to her, not from a film’s perspective but just as a story. She was excited about the idea. She has supported me in every way and was very clear that we have to do whatever the film demands. You can’t go the typical Rajshri way where the hero can’t smoke etc. We have a song called ‘Tequila Wakila’ which would never have been there in a typical Rajshri film. Since I had the bound script we went ahead and narrated it to Kamal Babu (Kavita Barjatya’s father). He said just two things – yes, it is entertaining and it is commercial. So to our relief and surprise no one had any apprehensions.
What is the kind of pre-production/preparation that has gone into Samrat & Co?
In the writing stage – I wrote this with one of my friends – Manish Shrivastav and we wrote full time. We would sit every alternate day, some days we wrote a scene, sometimes just a situation and at times nothing at all. At times we would sit and see old Sherlock Holmes films or read books and just discuss them. We started by preparing the ground for the film. We very clear that we did not want to copy anybody. It was a big challenge for me as I have grown up reading these books and seeing these movies so I could have easily fallen into the trap of copying someone. But I was very conscious about making my own hero, who stays in Mumbai, is today’s boy but will have all the traits of an authentic detective. When I say authentic detective, I mean that he has to be very intelligent, a little eccentric and will have some mannerism which specifies his eccentricity. Also this is not Samrat’s first case, when the film starts, he is already an established detective. Then we had to create the case which also took time because this is not a straight murder mystery. You cannot make a film with a straight murder mystery. So this is a very interwoven case with multiple criminals. It is not just who has done it, it is all about who, when, etc. Every fourth scene will have a new twist.
What is the overall look and feel of the film like? What brief did you give to the cinematographer Sanjay Malwankar?
Like traits, there are also some factors in terms of looks that identify detectives. In Hindi speaking people, a jasoos stands for a man with a long black coat and black hat. We wanted to give that long coat and hat because you have to travel from known to unknown. Firstly you are establishing a new genre in Hindi cinema and then if you try to do so in an absolutely new atmosphere, it may not go down well. Also we were shooting in Himachal in snow covered mountains. So if you see Samrat in Mumbai, he is in regular clothes but when he goes there he dons the hat, coat etc. and it is all very stylised. Secondly the misty feel of the mountains creates a mystery in itself and we have encashed on it. It is a stylized film because we are not making a very realistic film. It is a little bit of a fantasy that takes the audience to a mysterious world, a larger than life film. And the character too is sort of a superhero, not physically but he is superior from his head with this strong power of observation and detection, which makes him a little larger than life.
I have been working with Sanjay for over eight years now. The brief was that we have to make a very stylish film and one that is very true to the story. Because even if you read Sherlock Holmes there is so much style in the way he speaks, the way he walks etc. So while venturing into that zone you have to be true to the genre. We needed a little cold feel to the film which we have maintained but at the same time, a very important part of my briefing was that we can’t make a dark film. This is because we are making the film for the Bollywood audience and not for a niche audience. Kavitaji once asked me that since it is a serious genre should we make a songless film. But I refused saying that we are targeting the Bollywood audience. The movie has entertainment, fight sequences, songs, but everything is absolutely fitted into the genre.
What role does music play in the film? What was your brief to the music composers?
The songs are a part of the storytelling that take the story forward and we have used them in parts without deviating from the story. We wanted music that will fit the genre. So we hired Mithoon and Ankit Tiwari and GAP, which is a band who used to do jingles and did justice to our title song. The briefing was very clear that they are situational songs so you have to make situations and give listeners want they want but it should also have a CD/cassette value. We were very clear that though they are situational songs when someone buys the CD they can listen to the songs standalone and like it.
We briefed Mithoon saying that we wanted a romantic ballad which should be the romantic anthem of the season types and he is best at it and that is how ‘Shukr Tera’ happened. From Ankit we needed that one high energy party number which he was maybe doing for the first time, because he is of the ‘Sun raha hai na tu’ fame. So he and Sanjay Masoom who is the lyricist and dialogue writer of the film were sitting with all of us and when the line ‘Tequila Wakila’ came up, we were all excited that this is a proper party song. There is also one haunting melody, the brief for which was to create a song which has not been made in Hindi cinema for ages like ‘Kahin deep jale’, ‘Gumnaam hai koi’ types. So Ankit’s other song, ‘Sawaalon Main’, will take you back to that era.
How did you go about choosing the cast of your film? What prompted you to select Rajeev Khandelwal and what preparations did he undergo to get into the skin of the character?
We casted Rajeev because he is a brilliant actor and that he has proved in his previous films. But I also believe that he is an underrated actor and has a lot more to be discovered. We wanted someone who did not look too boyish or too mature. We needed a little bit of maturity in the role because when he looks into your eyes, it is like he is looking deep down into your soul and that intensity was very important. At the same time we wanted someone who has become a youth icon. And Rajeev suited all the criteria. He went through extensive workshops because his character had to behave in a certain way, move and talk in a particular manner etc. Also his interaction with other people, with the entire cast was very important as was their interpersonal relationship. Rajeev also had to learn boxing and taekwondo because I very specifically wanted everything to look real. We had separate boxing trainers, taekwondo trainers and our action director, Kaushal Moses, so a number of people were involved in coordinating the action sequences. Also our action sequences were not just action but had dialogs too. So Rajeev had to deliver the exact line, the exact expression and the exact move, everything had to be choreographed together. And he has gone out of his way to achieve it all perfectly.
There are around 22 characters in the film and in these kind of films it is very important because you need characters to doubt in the story. It was a requirement of the script. If you have just four characters it cannot create the same impact. Also every casting was equally important and every person in the cast had to have a particular trait which would define them because you do not remember each person’s name but you do remember the typical characteristic. Fortunately we got a great band of casting and they all delivered really well.
There has been a sudden rise in the detective films that are being made. What according to you has fuelled this sudden interest in the genre?
I believe that today we are more open to foreign language cinema and when we see that this genre is working everywhere, we wonder why not in our cinema too. Today people are willing to experiment and audiences are ready to see those experimental films of different genres. So we are expanding beyond regular cinema and various different genres are coming in. There is this new generation of filmmakers who are coming up with new genres and the detective genre is one of them that wasn’t tried earlier but is now being explored. When we announced this film, Kavitaji and me were a little skeptical but then other announcements also came and we were happy that good filmmakers, reputed people are venturing into the genre as well.
In a recent interview Rajeev has said that a sequel to the film could be on the cards. Have you already given it a thought?
We would like to make an entire franchise of Samrat. We have even made small animation films of Samrat’s cases wherein Rajeev and Gopal Dutt have been animated as Samrat & Chakradhar and have dubbed for those films. Normally detectives have come from literature to cinema, who knows this time cinema may lead to literature, we could come up with comic books too. So franchise is our target and we would love to make sequels. There are many things that are yet to be explored.