With just two films under his belt as a director, Neeraj Pandey has created a signature for himself. His style boasts of certain movie tropes — men, on either side of the law, on some sort of a mission set to a pacy narrative with a solid ensemble cast. And all his stories emerge from Indian realities. If his debut film A Wednesday (2008) had one man baffling the police force as he decided to take on terrorism with terrorism, his last release Special 26 (2013) showed a fictionalised account of a group of conmen who carried a series of raids as fake CBI officers in the ’80s. His latest, Baby seems to belong to the same thread — where a group of covert intelligence officers embark on a mission to stop the most fatal terror attack launched on India. But the filmmaker himself doesn’t like to analyse the commonalities between his subjects. For Pandey, it’s all about a great story, irrespective of genres, templates and themes.
“When I make a film, I don’t do it to send out a message, that is for people to interpret,” he says. Pandey is known to be shy and he probably doesn’t enjoy talking about his stories as much as he does telling them. And that isn’t just restricted to the films he has directed. He wrote a crime novella Ghalib Danger last year and he has more movies as a producer and writer than as a director including Marathi film Taryanche Bait (2011), Total Siyapaa (2014), Bengali film Royal Bengal Tiger (2014) and the upcoming Saat Ucchakey.
It seems almost futile to probe him about his creative process because he doesn’t explain much. “However vague it sounds, every story demands its own narrative, tone and style. There is no rocket science to it. We filmmakers have 30-40 ideas at a point of time. I don’t even remember the germ of the idea that started Baby. I was lying down and it suddenly struck me,” he says.
Cinematographer Sudeep Chatterjee who worked with Pandey on Baby, says that the filmmaker possesses a rare clarity of mind. “He knows every line of his script inside out and at the same time he’s open to suggestions.
Sometimes, he would accept some of the weirdest things that I would suggest,” says Chatterjee. Pandey is also an economical filmmaker, be it the way he structures his screenplay, communicates with his actors on the sets or handles his production. Baby, despite a large number of actors and locations, was shot in 45 days.
In a movie industry where star-driven melodramas are the norm, Pandey’s films stand out for their realistic content. Pandey has a strong sense of drama but he underplays it. It was under his direction that we got to see a delightfully restrained Akshay Kumar performance in Special 26 and going by the promos of Baby, it looks like another successful collaboration. A sample of the filmmaker’s realism is his casting of Pakistani actor Rashid Naz in the role of Maulana Abdul Rahman, the head of a fundamentalist terror group that wages war against India. “Besides being a tremendous actor, Rashid has the inherent enunciation people use in that part of the world,” he says.