Vikramaditya Motwane Opens Up On ‘Bhavesh Joshi Superhero’ And ‘Sacred Games’
After Udaan, Lootera and Trapped, the filmmaker is back with two super projects: Bhavesh Joshi Superhero and the Netflix adaptation of Sacred Games.
Vikramaditya Motwane is on an interview marathon. When I show up at the Phantom Films office, somewhere in Andheri, Mumbai, three journalists are already there, and two more show up as I wait. I’m concerned he’s going to give the same quotes to all of us, and sure enough, his quote about Mumbai becoming a “bastard child” over time, his love of Batman and Superman, and of Harshvardhan Kapoor, his lead in Bhavesh Joshi Superhero (June 1), having “the vibe of a lost boy” have shown up in other publications. This isn’t to say Motwane isn’t sincere in his interaction with me. He is. Hopefully, that sincerity will come through in his protagonist in Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, a masked vigilante who sets about righting the wrongs of the world.
In an unusually lucky turn of events, Motwane is also ready with another cool project. For Netflix, Anurag Kashyap and he have adapted Vikram Chandra’s novel, Sacred Games (July 6). It has two parallel stories, with Sartaj Singh, played by Saif Ali Khan, and Ganesh Gaitonde played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui; Motwane has directed Khan. Though he can’t talk much about Sacred Games as Netflix is quite tight-lipped about it, Motwane does end up saying a few things about it that don’t show up anywhere else. Edited excerpts:
You’ve been working on Bhavesh Joshi Superhero for a long time. How much has the script changed?
I started writing it in 2010; it’s now 2018. It’s changed a lot. It started off as a film about a guy who’s trying to save his street; from rubbish and no-entries and stuff like that. So, it started off as just one man and one street. The source was that, and then eventually it changed into a film, which merged some of my influences. I love the superhero genre, along with the ’70s ‘angry young man’ kind of stuff, mixed with my desire to see change happening. All those things just came together, and made this character a masked hero who’s trying to go out there and do the right thing. How do you tell a story about something you care about and put that into a package, about which people don’t say, ‘Aye, bhashan mat de?’
The genre of superhero movies has blown up since you began writing Bhavesh Joshi.
He’s a vigilante, not a superhero. The superhero genre can’t be called a genre anymore. Those are commercial films these days; there’s no genre left. They were a genre at one point of time. If you look at the first Superman film, that was the only one through the ’70s and ’80s. By the time Superman III and IV came out, they were really bad. Then Batman came out — the Tim Burton one was really good. But the Joel Schumacher films [were] really bad. From 1978 till 2005, when [Christopher] Nolan went and made Batman Begins, there was a hole, while, yes, you had Spidermans before that. It was bad enough that Marvel did not have control over any of its properties anymore. They had to eventually reconsolidate and rebuild. Their major properties — Spiderman and X-Men — had gone to other [production houses]. When they said they wanted to make their own films, they had to take their second-rung heroes and turn them into heroes. Kevin Feige [president, Marvel Studios] saw that this is a big thing that’s going to happen. Today, they finally got Spiderman back, and they’ll eventually get X-Men back. The superhero genre went through its stops and starts until Nolan did his version of Batman, and Sam Raimi did his Spiderman. Those were the two major tent poles that got superheroes back on their feet. Nolan’s first two Batmans really affected me because while they were superhero films, they didn’t feel like superhero films. They didn’t feel gimmicky or comic-y. Bhavesh’s influences are definitely Nolan’s Batmans. But, a lot of influences are also Salim-Javed’s films. I have turned him into a vigilante, but it’s just about people doing the right thing.
Why did Bhavesh Joshi stop in 2011?
The first time it was with Imran [Khan], and it just stopped because we couldn’t get funding. People are like, ‘But funding is easy.’ It’s not so easy. And, then it stopped with Sidharth [Malhotra], because the new government had come in 2015. Not so much for me, because I’m a bit of a cynic, but generally everybody was like, ‘Par achche din toh aa gaye, yaar. So, why are we talking about corruption, because it doesn’t really exist anymore?’ It was a bit silly, but at that time, it just felt more prudent to stop. If you’re going to be fighting the tide, there’s no point.
Are you happy with the script?
I’m very happy with the script. Stopping the film was a good thing because it gave me time. The original film was about construction, land mafias, about those kinds of things. While all those were very relevant in 2011, by the time 2015 came around, no one was talking about it. People had accepted it and moved on. At that time, we took the call collectively to just stop the film. Six months later, I had the objectivity to think, ‘That was wrong, that was wrong,’ and go back and rewrite the film from a whole new perspective, knowing that Harsh is in the film. Going with his strengths and weaknesses. Not weaknesses, but going with his personality.
What made you place your faith in Harshvardhan Kapoor?
I think his vulnerability. There’s that desire to go out and do something good [in him]. That’s with him in life as well. He’s the kind of person who, if he strongly believes in a certain cause, will go all the way and fight it. He had that lost-kid vibe, which was correct for the film.
Why do reluctant protagonists appeal to you?
Reluctant protagonists are more interesting than regular heroes. If you look at classic films, take Sholay, it is about two reluctant heroes walking into a conflict they don’t want any part of. Take Die Hard. It’s about a guy who’s just gone to meet his wife. The reluctant hero is a trope, which works very well, especially for action films. You don’t want to be there, but you have to be there, and now that you’re there, you’ve got to do the right thing. [Like] the Avengers. I feel it builds a bigger character.
Do you feel like there are years when nothing much happens, and then there are years when suddenly everything happens?
I’m feeling that right now. I finished shooting Bhavesh in May 2017; I started shooting Sacred Games in September 2017. While I was editing Bhavesh, I had to jump into the pre-production of Sacred Games immediately. It’s an eight-part series with two parallel stories. I have shot Sartaj Singh’s story, Anurag has shot Ganesh Gaitonde’s story.
Co-directors are usually brothers.
We’re like brothers only. With the two of us, it’s a question of trust. I trust him implicitly; he trusts me implicitly. At some point of time, we’re both going to go out there and do our material our own way. There’s a respect that we have between us. Also, because we’re doing two different storylines, it’s completely fine.