EROS PREVIEW THEATRE, 1998
I get invited to the screening of a film. For the first time in my life, I am seeing a film before its release. And here I meet for the first time, Sanjay Gupta, one of my favourite directors and a fine technician. The man who taught me that it’s always good to start with a poster when you are staring at a gaping blank wall.
MEHBOOB STUDIOS. FLOOR NO 3. 1999
For the first time I am seeing an actual film shoot, and that too in Mumbai. Gupta is shooting ‘Jung’ and I have gone to meet him. Inside the studio there is a set - of a cage - in which two men are going to fight. Reminds me of ‘Naseeb’. Gupta is a little hassled, as he needs more extras. More spectators to surround the cage. He talks to his producer on the phone while I stand on one side.
And it’s only then that I see a huge man walking towards the entrance to the floor (that’s what a film set is called in industry parlance: floor - NV). There is a unique swagger to his walk. It’s evening, dark and his cigarette floats in the air ahead of him as he emerges from the shadows and into the light. A couple of men besides him. For the first time I see Sanjay Dutt, in the flesh. He speaks to Gupta and leaves.
At that point in time he doesn’t even know I exist.
MEHBOOB STUDIOS, FLOOR NO 3. 2008
My first day of shoot with Duttsaab. He gets out of his van and swaggers towards the same entrance. The cigarette floats in the exact same spot. Except it’s day and not dark. Everybody on set stands up.
Ringmaster has arrived.
After my first draft of ‘Aladin’ fell flat on its face I revisited the script and the biggest flaw I found, apart from few hundred others, was Gamal, my main villain. The dude was only wrecking havoc on earth because my pen allowed him. Aladin really didn’t need the help of the all powerful Genie to bring Gamal down. A few strategic slaps and maybe even I could have brought Gamal down. So goodbye Gamal. Back to the drawing board.
I wanted to create a fun, evil character. A man who is happy in what he is doing. A man who is good at being bad. A man who doesn’t need to do twenty thousand bad things to prove how evil he is. A man whose smile would scare the living daylights out of you. A man so big that even the all powerful Genie would be rendered helpless in front of him.
And Ringmaster was born. The happy face of evil personified. He wasn’t always bad. He was once a Genie but his powers were taken away from him. He tried to reason, he tried to say that he only used his own powers for himself because he had to… but no one listened. The laws are strict in the land of the Genies. A Genie can only use his powers to serve his master
. Nothing else.
Nobody saw Ringmaster’s desperation or heard his plea. And now Ringmaster is not going to see or hear anything. He is going to find the lamp, kill the owner, get his powers back and destroy everything. And he is a fair man. If Genius and Aladin think they can stop him, they are welcome to try. But it’s party time for Ringmaster!
MR.BACHCHAN’S RESIDENCE. JALSA. 2006
I finish an almost 3 hour narration with Sir. This is my revised and seriously worked upon script. I have let the juice flow on this one. No holds barred. When I wrote I couldn’t give a monkey’s bottom what was possible and what was not. I didn’t care how much it would cost. The goal was to create serious dope on paper which will take the audience on their biggest high ever. I even storyboarded what seemed impossible on paper to help me visualise. And thank god I did.
After the narration the first thing Sir said.. after a long pause and I remember it verbatim.. ‘…its going to be a nightmare to make this film but lets make it…’ YES.
Second sentence “But who will play Ringmaster? Who CAN play Ringmaster”
PALI HILL OCT 2005
I am in the best gym in the world(no really.. I kid you not) .. Duttsaab comes in and calls me. He asks me that if I could write something for him and this new kid who he is really very fond of.
“Bro write something good for me and Ritesh” I agree. And then Duttsaab asks me his much-asked question: “Bro whats happening to Borivali? When are we doing that?”
EARLIER THAT YEAR
My Dad decides to take off upstairs. Like any other responsible dad he decides to go ahead to check out everything and make sure everything is in place when we arrive. It’s not a good time. Borivali was still stuck because of budget and I needed another actor who could stand up to Sir. But it was a very dark and disturbing role. Not many wanted to do that role.
At the same time ‘Home Delivery’ was suppose to happen later that year and I was panicking big time because I had no cameraman. I was up shit creek. Everything piled up at the same time. I was once skiming through a Bengali film “Swapner Ferrywalla” in which one frame caught my eye. The lighting of the set was something I had never seen before. It was shot by an unknown cameraman called Sirsha Ray. I didn’t have time to go to Calcutta so I looked for a cameraman in Mumbai. I desperately needed help. Dad pulls his stunt on me and I have no option but to go to Calcutta. Sirsha Ray was my Dad’s parting gift to me.
When Gupta heard about Dad he called me up and somehow we got to speak about Borivali. “What about Sanju?” Gups said “Why haven’t you asked him? You meet him in the gym don’t you?” I did, but didn’t have the balls to ask him to do such a dark role. “Are you mad? Sanju is perfect. And no one but him has the guts to play this role...” Gups was confident. “You go to Cal and do your work peacefully. I’ll talk to Sanju”
MARIOTT HOTEL. JUNE 2005
Duttsaab is having a meeting at the coffee shop. Gups drag me there. I am genuinely nervous. He calls Duttsaab out. He comes and joins us. Gups tells Duttsaab that I am in a bit of a problem and than can be solved if he did that role.
“ Cool bro...I’ll do it”.
That’s it. No script. No narration. All he needed to hear was that someone was in trouble and he can help that someone. Nothing else mattered.
No heart gets bigger than this. He had to rush back to his meeting. As he was going, on his own he guides me: “Bro take a letter from me...it will help you”.
I still have that letter.
MR.BACHCHAN’S RESIDENCE. JALSA. 2006
I tell Sir that the only person who can play Ringmaster is either Sir himself or Sanjay Dutt. “That’s it. Sunju is the only person.. where is he?” I have no clue where Duttsaab is. “Talk to him” Sir tells me. I prepare myself to talk to Duttsaab when I meet him in the gym that evening. But before I could tell him -
My mobile rings. Its Duttsaab.
“Bro Amitji just called me.. he was damn excited.. what is this new movie we are doing now? And why haven’t YOU told me?” I try to explain that I was going to because I had no idea Sir was going to call.
That evening I showed Duttsaab all my homework on Ringmaster and a storyboard of a Ringmaster sequence. He looks at everything and especially his getup and gives me his consent in 4 words. And this too I remember verbatim.
“Keep the moustache Bro”.
Aladin prep is on full force. We are almost there. Duttsaab takes a sabbatical. Things are unclear. There are choices laid out in front of me.
But I am clear about my choice. Aladin will only be made with Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt and Ritiesh Deshmukh. Else it will not be made.
I wait. Happily.