Vikramaditya Motwane’s office wall is lined with vintage posters of superhero films and his table is littered with comic books. It is no surprise then, that his latest film “Bhavesh Joshi: Superhero” is his tribute to the genre he grew up watching. With Harshvardhan Kapoor in the lead, the film follows a masked vigilante out to fight corruption on the streets of Mumbai.
Motwane, who first wrote the script in 2010, had to keep coming back to it as actors, producers and the storyline kept changing. He spoke to Reuters about the film’s message and his “true love”.
Q: This has been a film long in the making. How much has the story changed since the beginning?
A: And how have I changed? (Laughs) It has… the journey has been quite long. It started off as a film about someone who wanted to take care of his street. The idea stems from my living in Bombay (Mumbai), having grown up here and having seen the city change and some not-so-good things which happened. You get angry about them and want them to change, but what can you do? And the typical thing (to think) is: “I wish I could wear a mask and go whack somebody to do the right job.”
At one level there is the idealism in the film, and the other part is, how do you tell this to an audience? And being a huge fan of graphic novels and superhero films, the two worlds merged. When I wrote the original film in 2010, the whole story about corruption was at its peak – the Congress government was there, and people were really angry about it. The Jan Lokpal movement happened, the anti-corruption movement happened. I wrote the film about corruption in Mumbai, about land-grabbing. Then sadly, the film didn’t happen. First with Imran (Khan), and then Siddharth (Malhotra). By the time Siddharth came on board, the government had changed and the narrative was about “acche din” (good days), which suddenly made you feel: “Why am I making this?”
That film ended up feeling that it was going against the tide, which is fine, except that someone has to come up against the tide with you. I did go back to the script and changed a few things, including the plot. First it was about land, now the film is about water.
Q: Why did you make those changes?
A: Because I felt like nobody cared about land anymore. It’s very strange in Mumbai right now. Ten years ago, people said so-and-so is grabbing this land, or this SRA (Slum Rehabilitation Authority) scheme… but now it is almost the norm. We know it’s happening, but we are turning a blind eye to it. Look at what’s happened to Lower Parel! In the name of progress and infrastructure, we have turned a blind eye to the most basic things. But while this problem is there, it felt like it was a subject that was 10 years ago. It didn’t feel relevant any more.
Q: What about water then?
A: Water is relevant. If you see what is happening in Bangalore (Bengaluru) right now, it is a city that could run dry at some point. That is a scary thought. One bad monsoon, and even Bombay could be in trouble. The film is not talking about the problem, but about the potential of what could happen. It is about a scam that is happening around water and one guy trying to stop that. Even if it is a little ahead of time, it is relevant. Every summer there are water shortages.
Q: As a writer, when you must keep re-visiting a story you have written, what does it do to you? Do you get tired of it?
A: I call it true love. About 10-12 years ago, when I wasn’t directing and there was no work, you just write. In 2007, I probably wrote four screenplays in the entire year. Every three months I was writing a screenplay. You know that at the end of the day, you are not going to look back on all of them fondly, but then there is true love - those scripts which you know you have to make and are really important to you, personally. Whether they are relevant or not is not the point. You feel incomplete without them. “Udaan” was one of those scripts, and “Bhavesh Joshi” was one of them. I had to get it out of my system. That is why it didn’t die.
Q: Why did you have to change actors?
A: With Imran (Khan), the timing was bad. His career was not in a position where people were willing to invest the kind of money I needed to make the film. It came to a point where it didn’t work out. And it is sad because Imran would have been great for the role. I still believe he was perfect for the role because he had that innocence and wonder and you feel this is a guy who wants to do the right thing.
Q: In hindsight, was it a good idea to listen to what people around you said about a script that you were so convinced about?
A: When it started, I wanted to make a film about a guy in the street and he becomes a vigilante to fix his street. To take that, which is a very indie idea, to turn it into this, which is a very large screen experience, I had to trust my producers at that point.
Q: Can you talk about the superhero aspect of the film?
A: It was about a man in the mask doing the right thing – or at least my perspective of the right thing. When you have grown up watching the Superman or Batman films, I am a huge superhero fan. But I am also slightly old-fashioned. I love the new Marvel films, but I am not crazy about them. It is no longer a sub-genre or a fanboy genre. It has become so mainstream. You cannot say, “I love superhero movies.” Everyone loves superhero movies now.
But what (Christopher) Nolan did with “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” – those two films really woke a lot of us up to the potential… it wasn’t really a superhero film. It was about a guy doing the right thing. But a lot of Bhavesh Joshi comes from the ‘angry young man’ – the Bachchan films of the 70s or the Sunny Deol films of the 80s, where there is someone who has been wronged and wants to do the right thing.
Q: Come to think of it, the Indian film hero has always been all-conquering…
A: Yeah, they don’t need masks (laughs). Someone said to me, “Why do you want to make a superhero film? Our heroes are superheroes anyway.” I said, “Yeah, you have a point there” (Laughs).
Editing by David Lalmalsawma