Film director Sanjay Gupta. (photo provided)

MUMBAI — He has been lying low since he directed “Kaabil” for Rakesh Roshan over three years ago. Sanjay Gupta, the director best known for action dramas like “Aatish” (1994) and “Kaante” (2002), besides films as assorted as “Hameshaa” (1997), “Musafir” (2004), “Zinda” (2006) and “Dus Kahaaniyan” (2008), has also produced “Shootout At Lokhandwala” (2007) and has specialized in heavy-duet actioners, mostly based around Mumbai’s ganglands.

Known to make ensemble cast movies, Gupta is now in the post-production of his latest crime drama, “Mumbai Saga,” with John Abraham, Emraan Hashmi, Suniel Shetty, Pratiek Babbar and Kajal Aggarwal. He has also finalized the script of “Shootout 3: The Gang Wars of Bombay,” which is a part of the “…Lokhandwala” franchise and is being bankrolled by Gupta with Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Motion Pictures.

But a unique project he is taking up is a film based on San Jose, California-based Asvin Srivatsangam’s graphic novel, “Rakshak.” India-West was able to catch up with Gupta despite his busy schedule.

 Excerpts from an interview:

Q: What drew you to this graphic novel, “Rakshak?

A: I think that any director who enjoys large scale, spectacular action, would have grown up reading comics – and I’m no exception. Spielberg tells aspiring directors to “wear comfortable shoes” (great advice, by the way!), and I would like to add, “Read great comics.”

When “Sin City” and “300” were released, I remember not being able to sleep thinking about what they had done. And when I came across “Rakshak,” which had all the elements of a great film, and a localized setting to go with it, well, yeah, I haven't slept much either thinking about what we can do.   

Q: And yet it has to be flipped off the pages onto the big screen.

A: “Rakshak” is an Aladdin’s cave of riches. Open a page, any page, and there’s such a wealth of visual material telling a gripping story. Plus, the fact that it’s a graphic novel, of course, makes it that much closer to the medium. And it lifted itself off the page for me when I read it. I suppose I just kind of liked it really.

 Q: How is the rapport working with Asvin?

A: Have a quick look at any video of Asvin on YouTube, talking about this project —his commitment as well as humility just shines through. Asvin has that rare combination of being both humble and tenacious. He’s a super guy—a real-life superhero!

Q: Who are some of the actors you envision for the main characters?

A: Casting is vital as a director. There’s a magic in the way the words in a screenplay come to life, and the actors are what allows that. So yeah, you could say I’m really hard on myself when it comes to that. And I’m glad you asked who are the “actors” I have in mind, instead of using the word “stars.” This is because I pride myself on casting great actors. If they’re stars as well, hey, that’s even better, but if you go back through most of my films, like “Kaante,” I think you’ll find an interesting mix of stars and actors, all united by their brilliant performances. Similarly “Rakshak” too will have an interesting mix of actors.

Q: What about the filming schedule, production timeline and release date?

A: Honestly, with all that’s going on in the world right now, that’s not something I can answer. But what we are doing is working really hard on the screenplay with my team of writers, including the creator of the “Rakshak” series, Shamik Dasgupta. It is great seeing how we can take this character out of the two- dimensional world of comic books and stick him in the three-dimensional world of film. It’s a lot of fun, and very exciting.

Q: What would be your tone? Would it have semblance to any DC or Marvel superhero or vigilante movies?

A: Honestly, I hope not! I want this film to be definitive, not derivative! I’ve always wondered about this Hollywood obsession with apocalyptic films – you know, “Armageddon,” “Deep Impact,” “The Book of Eli” and now even the “Avengers” and the other superhero movies. Why is it always the end of the world? “Rakshak” has a unique perspective on this, since it is about a character standing up to the injustice of the world around us. There’s no need for any physical analogy. In “Rakshak,” the world around us has already ended. We just haven’t realized it yet – but “Rakshak” has. That’s what makes this story incredible, for me.

Q: But can all the four parts of “Rakshak: A Hero Amongst Us” fit into one feature film?

A: Well, yes and no.

No, because as I said, there’s such a wealth of information that it would be impossible to include it all within the timeline of a motion picture.

And yes, because the heart of the story, and the fidelity of our characters, are not compromised. You know how it is when you read a really good book, and you feel like you know that character as a friend, even though they don’t exist?  As if you’ve met them? That’s what I want to do here: you could watch the movie and then read the comic, or vice-versa, and though the surroundings may differ, your connection with the characters would be seamless. You’d know them already.

Q: Sequels, franchises and spin-offs are in vogue. Would you make them for theatrical release?

A: That would really depend on what the viewers want. Can we do a franchise and spinoffs? Yes. Let’s hope they agree. It’s always the viewers’ film more than it is a director’s.

Q: Would you make an international version available? Especially for fans of this kind or genre of films?

A: This should and will be a superhero film, in any country, anywhere. I’d like to think that all we would have to do for an international version is to add subtitles. All of this means nothing without the support of fans. Bring the love, guys.

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