As a filmmaker, Sanjay Gupta has chosen to narrate stories that are often centred on men and have a high dosage of stylised action. Two weeks ago, Mumbai Saga, a film exceptionally close to his heart, released in theatres. Although footfall in urban multiplexes was low, the single screens in smaller cities reported numbers that showed promise even in the current scenario. Over to Sanjay, who discusses the road ahead:

Two weeks after the release of Mumbai Saga, how do you look at the entire experience?

I have never been stressed around the release of any of my films. Even with my first film, Aatish, I had just gone to Maratha Mandir and Gaiety on the first day to see the audience reaction. After that I went for a holiday over the weekend. That continued all along – Kaante, Shootout At Lokhandwala, Kaabil which was competing with Raees…I have always believed in doing my work to the best of my ability and leaving the rest to the film’s own destiny which is beyond anyone’s control. In Mumbai Saga’s case, we had to monitor how many screens were opening, and whether people were really coming in. The cases had started to shoot up again at that time. It was a difficult situation but I feel grateful that people did turn up at cinemas to watch the movie.

Your film was one of the first big-ticket ventures to release in a theatre. Prior to the decision to release theatrically, there was talk that it could open directly on a digital platform…
Every producer and filmmaker has weighed all the options to see how much longer they can wait. I finished shooting in March last year. The film was released a year later. It’s true that people had been comfortably stepping out to go to so many public places. In fact, it was easier to call out people if they weren’t wearing masks inside cinema halls than in other public places. I feel that theatres should open and that the old format of releasing films should be back on its feet. Bhushan Kumar is known to make tough calls. He opted to release Mumbai Saga in theatres. OTT platforms are the eventual resting places for all the films. People can enjoy them for as long as the channels keep them up. As a filmmaker, I have always made films keeping a theatrical release in mind. Even when I show my trailer to someone, and if I find them distracted, I feel offended. I could not bring myself to think of the time when people would watch Mumbai Saga while they were distracted at home. It was difficult to even think that the theatrical experience was going to be sidestepped. It did not happen and I am grateful for that.

How did you perceive the box office this time around?

This time, we were not looking at numbers in terms of money. The market was nowhere near the old times. This time, the idea was to just understand what one should expect in the given scenario. It was more to do with whether people would turn up or not. In fact, it happened by default that the entire industry was hoping and praying that Mumbai Saga works. Once we go back to the old sense of normal, maybe this won’t happen then.

While you have an equation with John Abraham, built over a decade, you also seem to have become fond of Emraan Hashmi after working with him in your recent film. What are your thoughts about them?

I have a long history with John. I have almost the same comfort with him that I had with Sanju (Sanjay Dutt). Once they agree to a film, they don’t go back to the drawing board, ask questions, or have arguments. John hands himself over to me and trusts me with his life. On the set, he is like my son Shivansh for me. I have to ensure he is doing something new and different and delivering his performance well. There is a marked difference in him as an actor. I had wanted to work with Emmi for a very long time. The opportunity never came by. This time, when things worked out, I just rushed to him with the role. Although it was not a typical full-length role in a two-hero film, he was game. He’s a secure and strong actor.

One thing you’re often credited for is lending an unmissable swag to your actors. Is that something you consciously do?
I also feel it’s unfair to think that I only present my male actors well. The way I presented Karisma Kapoor in Aatish, or for that matter Raveena Tandon, Isha Koppikar, Sameera Reddy, Kajol, Malaika Arorao in my films was special. They were all presented well but yes, I do end up paying more attention to the men because my films also centred on them. My films are more about the machismo which I enjoy. As a writer, I follow a basic principle – last in first out. So, even if an actor is not spending much time in the scene, he cannot be a dormant character, sleeping through the scene. He has to do something and earn his place there. Also, I write keeping in mind that I have to get the attention of an audience that is glued to its mobile phones. Also, when I am working with so many actors, I consciously ensure that they are all dressed sharp, are seen and heard enough and presented well. Swag naturally follows.

The slickness that was seen in Zinda and Kaante has not been seen much in your films in recent years…
Well, Mumbai Saga had a bit of it but I intentionally kept it low all this while. I have developed a story that is slick and as stylish as Zinda and Kaante. I will reinvent myself with it.

What do we see you starting next?

There is a lot that happened in the last year. At this point I don’t know what I will start. Shootout’s third outing was lined up but I don’t know if we are starting it immediately. There is another script of mine which I like but destiny will decide which one really hits the ground first. There is also some interesting material which I am producing which will be announced shortly. So, I have my plate brimming.


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By vinayak