Romance, love, action, drama — Ali Abbas Zafar helmed Gunday, stokes memories of an era gone by, when heroes wore their machismo on their sleeves. A story of two boys, who fight for survival, identity and love,
we bring you vignettes from an interesting session of Screen Preview, with the director and his actors — Priyanka Chopra, Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor.
Let’s start with the predictable line, ‘Tell us something about Gunday’?
Ali Abbas Zafar: Whatever we had to say about the film is revealed in the trailer. I don’t know how to categorise the film in terms of the genre. All I can say is that it is a Hindi film.
Arjun Kapoor : Hindi film hai boss.
AAZ: The film has got everything—friendship, romance, drama and action. At heart, it’s a very emotional story with a context. The story is based at the time when Bangladesh was formed, when many Indians were suddenly rendered rootless and considered illegal immigrants. Gunday traces the journey of two young boys, their struggle to sustain themselves, and the twists and turns their life takes after they meet Nandita (Priyanka Chopra).
There is a purpose to set the story in the ’70s and the ’80s. It was a time when mainstream commercial cinema ruled the marquee — every film made during that time, be it a Deewar or a Sholay, had a reason as to why they were made.
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Priyanka Chopra: This film is not made with the notion that let’s ‘item’ise everything, make the actors look good and package it with songs and action. Formula leke film nahin banayi hai. At the same time, we are not shying away from the fact that it is a quintessential Hindi film and has everything one would expect from a film of that genre —drama, conflict, action, betrayal, love. It is the story of two underdogs — boys who’ve had to fight, and even go against the system in order to survive. The beauty of the film is that the story will play on your emotions. Besides being entertained for two and a half hours, the audience will go back thinking about a number of issues.
AK: It is not a mindless commercial film that has been packaged together. There is a journey involved.
How would you describe Nandita, Bala and Bikram, the character’s that you play in Gunday?
PC: Let Arjun and Ranveer give relevance to their characters, then I will talk about mine.
AK: Bikram and Bala are two sides of the same coin. You can’t talk and think about Bikram without Bala. They are do dil ek jaan. Bala is younger to Bikram and naive. Woh doodh ki tarah ubhal jaata hai, and is more volatile. His responses are always in the extreme — whether it is love or hatred. There is no middle path for Bala. He can be destroyed without Bikram, whose presence is important for his survival— it is Bikram who keeps him grounded and focussed. He is Bala’s friend, brother, father, mother. They’ve grown up together, and trust each other implicitly and instinctively. But complications arise after they meet Nandita for the first time. They are genuinely attracted to her and experience love for the first time. The drama unfolds from here. But in real life, the issue would have been sorted out a little bit more amicably, without ripping the shirts off each other’s backs.
PC : How nice to witness a duel with two men fighting over you.
RS : When we first got our narration…
AK : A joint narration…
RS : Joint narration, Ali was very clear that he wanted us both to hear it at the same time. Ali gives a narration, with complete sound and background music.
AK: Jo aap trailer dekh rahe ho, wo hame Ali ne narration de kar sunaya ( gives music). We said kab shooting karni hai? Kal kare?.
RS : Bachpan ka kida nikal ne wala hai. The script had eveything that you would imagine a lead man would do in full herogiri style, in a mainstream Hindi film.
AK: During the narration, we were unaware of the characters that we would be playing. In keeping with our personality and temperament, we assumed that I would be playing Bikram, aur Bala ka role Ranveer karega.
PC : But Ali flipped the roles, and so in the movie, Arjun plays Bala and Ranveer plays Bikram, characters that are opposite from what they are in real life.
AK: That’s the genuis of Ali. He has pushed us as actors. Had we played the role similar to our personality, there would have been too much of a comfort zone. In a film like this, you need to be on the front foot and not be complacent.
Ali’s vision to swap our roles comes from a bigger picture. When we signed this film, we were true underdogs, in the sense that we were hardly two films old. Ali could have offered this film to any mainstream hero, who would have readily agreed to do the film. The strategy worked, because one year down the line, we would have done more films, and the audience would know us a little better. Kudos to Ali for thinking one step ahead, and that is why we are actors and he is the director.
Ali, what made you zero in on each of them for the roles that you had in mind?
AAZ : When I wrote Bikram and Bala, I conceived them as one soul and one life. On paper however, Bikram and Bala were so divided, that there was one character who was so hotheaded and the other character who balances him. The idea was to create one unit and that is why it is titled Gunday and not Bikram and Bala or Karan and Arjun.
When they grow up, and eventually become ‘Calcutta ke sabse bade gunday’, their response stems from their reaction to the system and their hurt ego. What they never had was a heart, and the only thing that can trigger that emotion is love and beauty. So when Nandita comes into their life, they experience things like ishq for the first time. Somehow the two boys, who were like wild animals become tame, disciplined and humane. It is like beauty and the beast—- where there is beauty and there is the beast.
AK: And for him, (pointing to Ranveer), it is the bold and the beautiful.
AAZ : I had written the characters, keeping the duo in mind. I have known both Arjun and Ranveer since the time I was an assistant director. I had narrated certain scenes to Arjun, who was basking in the success of Ishaqzaade. He had expressed a desire to do a film like this. I knew Ranveer because we had both assisted Shaad Ali.
When the script was ready and I took it to Adi (Aditya Chopra), he just said that this film could not be made without Arjun and Ranveer. Before they entered the industry, there were one set of heroes who were good looking, perfect, suave and chikna. And when Ranveer and Arjun joined, Adi ne bola ki suddenly mard dobara Hindi film mein aa rahe hain.
Suddenly, rustic has become cool again. Our aim is to take the film into the heartland of the country and break this metrosexual image that the actors have acquired today. That is why the film is set in the era of the Angry Young Man, when Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna and Shatrugha Sinha looked a certain way.
Interestingly, this was the last script that Yashji (Chopra) had heard before he passed away. When I had narrated the script, the first thing he said was, ‘Beta tu meri picture bana raha hai, kyunki mujhe isme Angry Young Man dikhte hain’. Yashji helped me a lot with the detailing of the coal scenes. After the actors were finalised, he would jokingly call Ranveer and Arjun, ‘Gunday aa gaye’.
What made you rope in Priyanka for this role?
AAZ : Priyanka plays the role of a cabaret dancer and that of a simple girl-next-door, whom you can take home as a bride. She is an actor, who could bridge these two sensibilities with ease. When she walks on the streets of Calcutta, she wears a nice cotton Dhakai saree, but when you see her as a cabaret dancer, as a diva, you are completely thrown off-balance. These two men, who have all their lives been subjected to the grime of the coal trains, are thrown off-balance when they see a beauty like Nandita and fall in love with her.
Priyanka, is this role any different from the kind of roles you have done so far, as there is a duality to your character?
PC : I am the quintessential Hindi film heroine. Although, I play a Bengali girl, which I did in Barfi! too, there are several shades and variations to my character. She is layered and enigmatic. You don’t know what is going on in her head, and what direction she will take. As an actor, I always look for parts that push me a little bit. And it is cool to play a role that has a day and night to them. There is this vulnerable girl-next -door who has a lot of self respect, and yet when night descends, she turns into a cabaret dancer.
The way the look of my character is created— all my clothes were bought off the streets of Kolkata, except for the ones that I wear in the cabaret number.
AK : I think, simple is the most difficult thing to get. Our conflict can be seen visually, as we are in love with the same girl, whereas for Nandita, she is undergoing a lot of internal turmoil. She does not voice it, it is for the audience to feel and experience the vulnerability that her character brings under the facade of a cabaret dancer.
Which era is the film set in, and what sort of characterisation would that require?
AAZ: The film is set between 1971 to 1988. The plot is actually based on real life events like wagon breaking, moving coal wagons that happened in and around Calcutta and Dhanbad around the ’70s and ’80s. During that time, the country also witnessed emergency, unemployment, unrest and disillusionment against the system amongst the youth. The film addresses these issues and the factors that lead the boys, Bikram and Bala, to resort to illegal means and get on the wrong side of the law. Their angst against the system makes them Calcutta’s most wanted Gundays. This is the prologue to the film, and the story follows thereafter.
Does Gunday pay an homage to any film?
PC : It is a homage to the films of that time. Har daur mein ek tarah ki filmein banti thi and we are fans of those films (Deewar and Kaala Patthar), so it becomes a homage to all those films.
AAZ : There is a clear difference in the time we are living in now and that of the ’70s. In that era, the demarcation about right and wrong was very clear. People gave importance to values, whereas today, the attitude is, ‘it’s ok, maybe, thik to hai, ho toh raha hai’.
PC : The reason why the film is based in Kolkata is because the city has an ability to transform itself into being a place that is lost in time. There is so much culture that Ali has shown, that you actually feel that it is the Calcutta of ’70s and ’80s. For me it was travelling back in time.
Was there any preparation required before starting the film?
AK: He prepped (pointing to Ranveer).
RS : Mardani film hai. Did a lot of gymming. The thing is that in order to prepare you can also go outside in. When you get the physicality of the character right, things flow from there. You have to feel like a thug, feel like you can beat a group of guys all by yourself. Your posture, the body language, the way you walk, sit becomes evident in the physicality of the character. I tapped into my inner bad boy in order to become a thug.
AK: Gunday is a visually dynamic film and you have to put your best foot forward. They are both boys and men at the same time. It is imperative to have that kind of attitude, personality and clothes from that era. There has to be certain posturing in the way we deliver our lines, because we are fearless. We relied on Ali in terms of performance.
RS : Frankly speaking, we have been preparing for this performance ever since we were kids. Watching Hindi films was our preparation, with the thought, hum picture karenge, hum gunday banege.
Since the film is set in Bengal, will the dialogues be interspersed with Bengali?
AAZ : That was a discussion which all of us, including the producer went through for months. We felt that if we cannot bring the proper dialect to the film, then it becomes a mockery, so we’d rather not do it. There is no word in Bengali called gunday. The Bengali word is gunda, whether you refer to one or two, they will say gunda aaya.
PC : When you are making a Hindi film, adding a word or two makes the film, neither idhar ka na udhar ka. The film is also being dubbed in Bangla, so that it gets a proper Bengali release.
For both Arjun and Ranveer, how was the experience of working with Priyanka for the first time?
PC : I’ve known Arjun for a very long time now, since the time he was an AD with Salaam-E-Ishq. We’ve been friends for seven to eight years. I knew Ranveer only as my cousin’s (Parineeti Chopra) co-actor. As actors, I was working with new people. After watching the film, what I can say about the two is that they are both supremely talented actors.
RS: Pehle tu AD tha, ab tu sar ka taj hai.
AK: Phele mein van ke bahar ja ke kehta tha aaye Madam, shot ready hai. Ab mein camera ke samne hu aur kehta hu aaye Madam shot ready hai.
PC : The fact is that they are both so confident, that for me it is a revelation. When I took up this film, I was petrified and I did not know what I was doing. These guys were prepped and knew what they had to do, which is an indication of their dedication. For me, it was an incredible experience working with them. The entire team had such a great time on the sets, that I did not realise when the film was completed. Ali has been the kind of captain, who involves the entire team, and anyone can walk up to him and give a suggestion. The film was an experience for all of us, a part of something really big. This film gave me an amazing feeling of purpose.
Tell me one quality about each of them that was very impressive, especially since, they are relatively new to the industry.
PC : Although Arjun as an actor is well prepared in his head about his role, the effort does not show on screen. I was most impressed by his nonchalant attitude, while playing such a complicated character.
When it comes to Ranveer, he is extremely involved in what he does, he know the entire dynamics of the scene and is prepared for it. At the same time, he is extremely malleable. If the director flips the scene around in his head, it will take him five minutes to register, but he will do it. The variations that he brings to a character is phenomenal.
AK: She makes us sound so classy— you (Ranveer) are malleable, I am nonchalant. We sound like white champagne with cheese. So bloody cool.
Ranveer, tell us a nice quality about your co-star Priyanka.
RS : She is like a sharpshooter. She will come on sets, get a brief two minute discussion with the director and give the perfect shot, in the very first take.
AK: So you have to do your first one as the best one, because her first one is the best take. Aap akele bathroom mein rehearsal karo, Ali ke saath karo, but Madam is coming to give only one take.
Priyanka, how was the experience doing a Moulin Rouge inspired cabaret number?
AK: We had a fantastic experience, and all our expressions are real, there was no acting involved in it!
PC: I shot it 10-12 days after my father passed away, so I was extremely emotional at that time. The outfits for such dance numbers are very tight and restrictive, so it is very difficult to be flexible in it. People are unable to walk in five inch high heels and here I was dancing in them!
It is a gritty film so why did you decide to release it on February 14, Valentines Day?
AAZ : The film is also about love. They are wearing hearts on their shirts!
Transcribed and edited by Farida Khanzada
Munching on a box of biscuits, Ranveer Singh was coaxed by co-star Arjun Kapoor to talk about his role. “Biscuit khate khate kuch boliye na baba!”
The macho man
Talking about flaunting your biceps, and looking macho, Arjun Kapoor feels that there is a certain kind of machismo that Indian men stand for. “We can wear pink shirts and jootas and also walk in pink cadillacs and still look cool,” he says.
Always restless and on the move, Ranveer found it quite difficult to sit in one place for long. He beckoned his man Friday to bring him his smiley stress ball, which stayed with him throughtout the session
Hungry for more
Witty comments, quick repartees peppered the conversation and when Priyanka Chopra was paid a compliment that she is the most hassle free and down-to-earth actor, no matter how big a hit she may have given. Ranveer immediately said,” Isliye to tune itna sab hassle kiya hai.”
The cool dudes
Sporting quirky frames, Arjun felt epitomised the cool metrosexual quotient. However, Ranveer felt that, Yeh toh isliye taaki hum Priyanka Chopra ko dhyan se dekh sakhe.
A sneak peek into what the Gunday trio wore at the Screen Preview
Ranveer Singh: Looking uber cool in a pair of dark army green retro spectacles, Ranveer Singh made a semi-casual yet stylish appearance. The actor chose a light azure blue casual blazer by Arjun Khanna with details in the form of little square motifs in white. A pair of black denims and white T-shirt from Hermes completed his look.
Arjun Kapoor: Kapoor chose to go semi casual with a white V-neck t-shirt and a pair of carrot orange chinos from Superdry. He accessorised the bright charcoal broad lapel blazer by Zegna look with a pair of thick black spectacle frames. The duo were spotted wearing a pair of leather chappals.
Priyanka Chopra: The stylish actress chose a black pencil skirt with a crop jacket in the same colour. The latter had some interesting detailing on both the sides made from wool. A monochrome aztec print crop tube top with a dash of tangerine added some colour to the outfit. She accessorised it with a black cocktail ring and sharp metallic triangular earrings.
The war of 1971 gave birth to a new country — Bangladesh. It also gave birth to two young orphans — Bikram and Bala. Victims of the war and the bloodshed that followed, they find succour in each other’s company and escape to Calcutta. With time, they grow up to become Calcutta’s most powerful coal mafia dons, till they meet Nandita (Priyanka Chopra) and fall in love with her. This changes the dynamic of their relationship, bringing their fun-filled journey to a halt. Enter ACP Satyajeet Sarkar (Irrfan), and their lives change forever.
Director: Ali Abbas Zafar
Producer: Aditya Chopra
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Irrfan
With the film’s music catching on and an unusual and interesting cast, the film is likely to open well. The promos have received a good response suggesting that there is significant curiosity in the film. It helps that none of the films this year have had a great run, further whetting the audience appetite. Our prediction is that this one is likely to be a hit.