The germ of the idea for Ali Abbas Zafar’s second film Gunday lies in the eternal conflict — over what is perceived as right and wrong — that he experienced very early in life. He was fascinated by the thought of joining the army, like his father, drawn to its “strong sense of right and wrong”. At the same time, he hated the thought of war because of the stories of Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 his father had told him. One of the anecdotes that stayed with him is of two street children — refugees from Bangladesh — stealing food in order to survive. They have formed the basis for the characters of Bikram (Ranveer Singh) and Bala (Arjun Kapoor), the small time thugs-turned-coal mafia leaders in Gunday, which is set in the ’80s Calcutta. “They choose the wrong path when they have been deprived of their rights,” says the writer-director.
Zafar, who has deep interest in history, believes several chapters in Indian history need to be told through movies. For Gunday, he found a cinematic template in the ’70s Hindi films, feeding his characters with the elements that the anti-heroes of Deewar, Sholay, Shakti and Kaala Patthar were made of. Growing up in an environment with “middle-class restrictions”, these were also among the handful of films he was allowed to watch. “I am interested in what happens to friends like Bikram and Bala when they fall in love.
The latter is the one emotion they have always been deprived of,” says the filmmaker. His protagonists not only fall in love, but they fall in love with the same woman, played by Priyanka Chopra.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Zafar made an unlikely transition from art direction to direction. Set designing for plays in Delhi’s Kirori Mal College was his entry point into the arts. “I studied science before that, and here I could apply it to create sets. It taught me things like how to give perspective to a scene,” says the director, who worked on the sets of Amu and Lakshya. His interests widened, and he found himself assisting directors on the sets of Yash Raj Films. “After assisting in four films, I was ready to debut as a director and Adi (Aditya Chopra) supported me in making my first film Mere Brother Ki Dulhan in 2010,”