Waiting for five years is worth it if you get to make the film you really want to make – so says director Raj Kumar Gupta, whose last venture, Ghanchakkar, was released in 2013. Following the film’s lukewarm response, Gupta tried to get a bunch of projects going with a series of marquee names. None of them materialised because, as Gupta repeatedly asserts, “You only make a film that you really want to make.”
Gupta has finally found that one film: Raid.
Starring Ajay Devgn as a no-nonsense and upright income tax officer, Raid is supposedly based on a true incident from the 1980s. The film also stars Ileana D’Cruz and Saurabh Shukla, and will be released on March 16.
Gupta learnt about the actual tax raid from producer and frequent Devgn collaborator Kumar Mangat a year ago. Gupta and screenwriter Ritesh Shah started their research. They spoke to the officer who conducted the raid and others acquainted with the incident and incorporated their experiences into the story. After Devgn came on board, the rest followed smoothly.
So what was this incident? “We cannot reveal that right now for sure,” Gupta said. “We also have to be mindful of and respect privacy when we are dealing with real-life personalities.”
The trailer shows a dead-serious Devgn committed to the mission of cleaning up the system. His character, Amay Patnaik, seems to be a retread of the numerous honest police officer roles he has played over the years, including in Prakash Jha’s Gangaajal (2003) and Rohit Shetty’s Singham films. The sunglasses, the moustache, the swagger, the wife worried by his honesty, and the claim of frequent transfers on the job have a strong sense of familiarity.
Gupta brushes off the idea that Devgn is repeating himself. “He had his ideas and I had mine and we were on the same page,” Gupta said. “It was a collaborative process and his performance was exactly as the script demanded.”
Shukla plays the villain called Tauji, who is the most powerful man in Lucknow. Government officials don’t even dare to kill mosquitoes at his mansion, he observes, but Patnaik’s team has had the gumption of organising a tax raid. In a chilling moment, Tauji tells Patnaik, “You have come inside my house but how will you leave?”
Raid is the first film by Gupta that has not been written by him. Shah, who has written stories, screenplays and dialogue for several films, including Kahaani (2012), D-Day (2013), Airlift (2016), Pink (2016) and Daddy (2017), is on familiar territory with Raid. “I wanted to work with Ritesh for a long time,” Gupta said. “When you write your own material, it is sometimes difficult to trust yourself. In Ritesh, I had complete trust.”
Gupta was the first of Anurag Kashyap’s many proteges. His directorial debut Aamir (2008), inspired by the Filipino film Cavite, had Kashyap as the creative producer. His next film No One Killed Jessica (2011), based on the Jessica Lal murder case, was a critical and commercial success. Gupta followed up with Ghanchakkar, an offbeat dark comedy starring Emraan Hashmi and Vidya Balan, but the movie tanked.
Projects fell through, including a film with Kareena Kapoor Khan called Section 84, a Sidharth Malhotra starrer titled Most Wanted, and a John Abraham production called Chor Nikal Ke Bhaaga. Was the long wait frustrating? Definitely, Gupta says.
“A film needs to be made with integrity,” Gupta observed. “Sometimes, a project does not shape up the way you want it to, in terms of the screenplay, budget, or the kind of actors you are looking for. Ultimately, you only make the film that you really want to make.”
Looking back on Ghanchakkar’s failure, Gupta feels that the extreme reaction the film generated was unfair.
“I am really proud of the film,” he said. “Back then, more people hated it than they loved it. I think most people did not go to watch it. Now, they see it on television and they write to me that it is not as bad as they were being told. But it is a democratic set-up. When people go and see a film, they can like it or hate it, and I respect that.”