Abhishek Srivastava - 70 weeks ago
Rajkumar Gupta’s debut film, Aamir, is still considered to be his best and a decade later he is still to surpass its magic. The director goes down memory lane and reminisces its making which also involved visit to a jeweller for its narration.
The thought of Aamir goes back to 2001 when 9-11 had just happened. If you remember, in the following years the world had polarized to a great extent. People had become suspicious of a certain community and change in perception happened across the world and India was no exception. Everyone from the community was being painted with the same brush. We encounter and meet variety of people in the society we live in and I too have many Muslim friends. Whenever we used to meet and discuss things, in a very hushed tone they would express their feelings and mention about the unfair treatment. The germ of Aamir came from those conversations. It was also a point of time when the social fabric of the society had become edgier and trust among each other had taken a back seat.
(Director Raj Kumar Gupta explaining a scene to Rajeev Khandelwal during the shooting of Aamir (Image courtesy - Raj Kumar Gupta's Twitter page)
After you finish your script, a phase comes when the search for the producer begins. I too went through the process and suffered many rejections. I had even gone to narrate my script to a jeweler at Jhaveri Bazaar whose only query after the narration was that why is the film named Aamir and not Salman. By then I must have met close to 10-11 producers and everyone had said no to the film. But amidst this rejection the good thing for me was that the plot of my story appealed to everyone. People have their own perception towards every film and somehow Aamir was just not fitting in their already-defined parameters. It was then I approached UTV Spotboy and narrated the story to them and after they greenlit the film, the journey of the film started.
I don’t know whether UTV was interested in Aamir or not but one thing is for sure that when Vikas Bahl heard the plot of the film, he immediately expressed his interest that UTV Spotboy would like to produce the film. I still remember, I gave the narration of Aamir to Vikas Bahl at Bombay Baking Company at Marriott, Juhu. It’s also the favourite haunt of filmmakers for their narration. The moment I was done with the narration, Vikas immediately said that he would like to produce the film. Both Vikas and Anurag Kashyap, who was the creative director on Aamir, were big supporters of the film.
(Rajeev Khandelwal shooting at a dingy location of South Mumbai (Image courtesy - Raj Kumar Gupta's Twitter page)
Before we signed Rajeev Khandelwal for the film, I had no clue about his TV stardom. I hardly watch television. The line producer of Aamir knew him pretty well and if I correctly remember, it was he who gave Rajeev the script. It was my line producer who educated me about his stardom and informed that he is a popular star. Before I met him, I already knew through my line producer that he was highly impressed with the script and was dying to do the film. When I met him, I saw his passion and also realized that one should work only with those people who are interested in working with you. As a first time filmmaker you neither have the respect of people nor the power to influence people. Everything is set against you. But I took everything positively and moved ahead because I was convinced with my script. I had faith in me as a director and kept the integrity of the script at the altar.
(Director Raj Kumar Gupta at the location of Aamir (Image courtesy - Raj Kumar Gupta's Twitter page)
When the film was about to release, Anurag Kashyap had suffered a setback at the box office with his No Smoking. He was passing through a rough patch. When the first cut of the film was about to get ready, I called and requested him to have a look. I must have called him some three-four times but everytime he sidestepped my request. I was extremely nervous about the film but I realized that he must be in no shape to give his feedback to a film or must be busy with something important. When the first cut finally got ready, I called him again, and again requested him to see the film. This time he instructed me to send a DVD copy of the film to his place. Without wasting a single minute, I got the DVD made in no time and dispatched it at his home. The length of Aamir was 95 minutes and this conversation with Anurag happened in morning. If he had started watching the film at 12 noon, at around 12.45 pm I got a call from him asking me to reach his home. This made me extremely nervous and the only thought that crossed my mind was that I had made a mess of the film and ruined it. I had become very nervous but the moment I reached his home, he hugged me and said that you have given me hope. You can reconfirm this from Anurag. He further added that after he saw the film it gave him hope that if Rajkumar can make such a film, why can’t he. I think he said the words only because nothing was going right for him during that phase. It was a great compliment and also a morale booster for me because you can’t afford to let people down who have invested their faith and believe in you.
The film finally released alongside Sarkar Raj and I was still skeptical about the fate of the film because of its unconventional subject. It was a small budget film and I was bit scared about the canvas of Sarkar Raj. When the film released in theatres some 10 per cent people turned up during its initial days but the film carried a terrific word of mouth and thus the pace picked up in coming days. People were flocking to theatres even in the fourth week and that was really heartening. The icing on the cake was a message from Ram Gopal Varma, which I received some ten days after the film’s release, complementing me for the film. I had kept that message for years but after my phone crashed, there was no way I could salvage it.
Aamir not only changed my career, but it was also a film that opened doors for me. It contributed to the fact that it steered the small budget films in the right direction. I still remember that it was the success of Aamir that gave a boost to Anurag who later made Dev D. People actually started coming forward to produce small budget films after the success of Aamir. Not only did I benefit from Aamir, it also opened avenues for other filmmakers. I am glad Aamir proved to be a pioneer and later the same thing was witnessed after the release of No One Killed Jessica when women-oriented films became the norm.
(As told to Abhishek Srivastava)
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