Vikramaditya Motwane in an exclusive conversation with The Indian Express speaks about his upcoming film, Trapped starring Rajkummar Rao. The filmmaker also revealed about his next project Bhavesh Joshi, starring Harshvardhan Kapoor. The director is also adapting Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games into a series for Netflix. Read the entire interview here:
Trapped comes four years after your last movie, Lootera. Was this time gap unavoidable?
I spent the period trying to make movies. My upcoming directorial venture Bhavesh Joshi has two lives as it stopped and restarted. I was also busy with the production of movies under Phantom FIlms. However, the production of Trapped — it’s about a man stuck in an apartment without food and water, with a rat for company — fell into place, and was made quickly. It is a survival thriller along the lines of Cast Away (featuring Tom Hanks), 127 Hours (James Franco) and Buried (Ryan Reynolds). We have tried to position it in a quirky and slightly voyeuristic kind of way, almost enjoying the man’s misery. It sounds all wrong but we do tend to get voyeuristic. I have tried to tap into that human tendency to make people laugh. Although, let me clarify, that I have not come up with this description. After the premiere of Trapped at the Mumbai Film Festival last October, those who watched it called it a “survival thriller”.
Your earlier films are very different from Trapped in their treatment. Was it a conscious decision to break away from that mould?
Definitely it was, even though Udaan and Lootera, too, were different from each other. I believe that each story has its own life. Trapped is unique because it focuses on one character who is stuck in an apartment. For the first time, I shot in digital for this. Given the nature of the film, we decided to not go for a wide screen and rather, opted for a more compressed look. For this film to work, I realised that the pace has to be right. The story has to move fast enough so that the audience does not get bored. I was very conscious about not making an artistic film.
The story of Trapped is such that it could have easily been labelled an art-house movie. Were you trying to make it more accessible?
I was thinking of reaching out to a much wider audience. In a certain way, I believe Trapped is far more accessible than Lootera. What makes it accessible is that it can happen to anyone. We all have a fear of getting trapped in a certain place or being locked out of our houses. In Trapped, it is the coming together of certain circumstances that creates this scenario — a building which has not got OC (occupancy certificate) but a flat which is available, and Rajkummar Rao’s character stupidly forgets to charge his phone. This represents an urban scenario which could happen to anyone.
When did Rajkummar Rao come on board?
I don’t remember when I received the first email from writer Amit Joshi, pitching the first synopsis of the film. Soon after, I met Raj during the screening of Masaan in July 2015 and I mentioned the film to him. At that time, I was working with something else. The moment that film did not work out, around September that year, I asked Raj if he could spare 20 days in the following month. It so happened, he was free for exactly 20 days. So, we just went ahead and made the film.
Rao, apparently, was on a carrot and coffee diet…
He had to lose weight because, in the film, he is shown not eating for the duration he is stuck inside the apartment. I don’t know how he managed it. Shooting is physically exhausting and you get hungry. Raj has six films releasing this year and his schedule was chock-a-block. It was amazing that he could give us dates. Finding the location was a stroke of luck, too. An assistant director was passing by and noticed this abandoned building in Mumbai’s Prabhadevi. When he enquired, he realised that the building had not got an OC.
Is the rat like Richard Parker from Life of Pi or Wilson, the volleyball from Cast Away, with whom the stranded characters converse with?
There is a cockroach, a rat, some ants and pigeons — there are more animals than actors. Raj has a tremendous fear of rats. The film talks about his fear and how he overcomes it.
But do comparisons to Cast Away and 127 Hours bother you?
The comparison does not bother me. What bothers me is the constant presumption that we can’t come up with an original idea. They assume we have lifted it from somewhere. This, I find, is some sort of reverse racism. Give us a chance to tell our stories.
Both your previous films had lovely music. What about Trapped?
It has only a couple of background scores, composed by Alokananda Dasgupta, daughter of eminent filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta. Having too much music would have done a disservice to the film. I don’t want the audience to detach themselves from the film, which follows a very narrative structure. Alokananda and I talked about making theme-driven music such as hope, love, fear, and the monotony of being trapped. I told her not to be scared of repetition as that’s good in a film like this.
Is it the casting that delayed Bhavesh Joshi so much?
Initially, we were supposed to do it with Imran Khan but the budget did not fall into place. Then, we realised that the script wasn’t working as there was a new government. We decided to approach it afresh. At that point, the delay was depressing, but in hindsight, the distance proved to be good for the film. Initially, the film was set during the Congress rule and was largely about corruption. But when the new government came in, there was an air of optimism which we wanted to capture. Though that atmosphere has changed now, we thought the timing of the film was not correct.
You guys at Phantom Films have been vocal in your protests about censorship.
The job of any artiste is to open the eyes of the public to their surroundings and make them aware of it. At times, you do have to take a stand. It does not mean that you have to resort to an artistic film to do that. You can do it through a film like Dangal, which talks about the situation in a very entertaining way. So does Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
Was the fight against the censorship of Udta Punjab justified in the end?
We kept wondering why were we lying down and taking this. It is one thing for them to say that you can’t show kisses. But they suddenly started saying you can’t make references to political parties. We already had inspiration in Shekhar Kapur fighting for Bandit Queen and going to the Supreme Court for its release. So, we decided to trust our judicial system — we had to fight, otherwise the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) would have been empowered to issue any diktat it felt like.
How do the four partners at Phantom Productions — Anurag Kashyap, Vikas Bahl, Madhu Mantena and yourself — share the load?
Vikas and I nurture filmmakers and scriptwriters. We drive them. Since we are two different personalities, we get drawn to different films. Yet, we are close enough and share a common sensibility to know when a film works. Or, we take up the responsibility of overseeing the production or post-production and keep switching roles depending on the films. Whatever experience I have, I like to share with young filmmakers. It is refreshing to see how the narrative has changed. The medium is much more interesting. Now, we can shoot with a phone, edit on a laptop and release it on YouTube.
Were you disappointed with the reception Lootera got?
I believe I could have done better in terms of storytelling and execution, the second half could have been more engaging. We exposed too much of the film before its release — a teaser, trailer and four songs, and each song takes footage from the film. Somewhere, it becomes repetitive while watching the film. These things aside, the film did have a great soundtrack.
In one of your interviews, you’ve called Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) your film school.
I started working for it when the film was still being written. I saw the film go from a single-page story to a film. I witnessed its making from music sessions, pre-production, art direction, set visits, shot breakdown, shooting and post production. Everything was in analogue as we still had not made the switch to digital . I learnt how to break down scenes, use background score and shoot a song. I worked with Deepa Mehta on Water and Anurag Kashyap on Paanch and I picked up different things from these people. I am still to learn how to write better. My forte is editing and I am most experienced in that. I love the challenge of playing with material and imagination while editing.
Watch | Trapped trailer
What next after Bhavesh Joshi?
For Netflix, we are adapting Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games into a series and we are very happy with the way the script is turning out. While working on feature films, we get used to certain rules. So, it is very liberating to work on a different set of rules for the series. Once the writing is done, we will look into casting and production. We are also doing another show for Amazon Prime video, which I can’t talk about now.