Director Neeraj Pandey turns author with Ghalib Danger, set in Mumbai’s underworld
Scripting unique stories with endings that have a twist is director Neeraj Pandey’s fortes, as seen in two of his critically-acclaimed films, A Wednesday and Special 26. Now, some of this talent finds expression in his debut novel, Ghalib Danger, centred on the life of a deadly gangster in Mumbai, Kamran Khan aka Ghalib Danger, so named because of his love for the Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib. Like Neeraj’s films, Ghalib Danger is marked with twists and turns, and is a breathless thriller of crime, betrayal, love and intrigue.
Naseeruddin Shah read the novel and wrote of it, thus: “If you are a Hindi masala lover (and every second person on this planet is) this book is a delectable dish for you.” Neeraj says that the book is more about “people and how their destinies criss-cross” with the “underworld actually in the background.”
Writing a screenplay is different from writing a novel, says Neeraj. “In a screenplay, you pretty much stick to the action, in a novel, you write about much more.” As for how the story flowed from his pen to the page, Neeraj says it happened naturally. “The more clarity you have of the action and characters, the story automatically fall into place.”
“I wrote this novel because I couldn’t fit the story into one screenplay. The story was with me for sometime. I finally got to writing it a year ago.” Perhaps the most difficult aspect of writing the book, Neeraj says, was “physically sitting and writing it. It’s not great fun,” he smiles.
The book is embellished with Ghalib’s couplets. What made Neeraj bring in the beauty of poetry into the sordid underworld? “Kamran, the protagonist, doesn’t understand Ghalib completely, he has only an intuitive understanding of his poetry, but it strikes a chord with him. It was the same for me when I read Ghalib. I connected intuitively to his poetry.”
Even though details are equally important to Neeraj whether it comes to writing a book or making a film, but, as Neeraj points out, “with a film you know by Friday evening how it has done, but to know how your book has done, you have to wait longer.”
Neeraj carries his success with dignity. He doesn’t speak of his achievements, unless specifically asked. And he believes, which he has stated in the book, that success is both boring and overrated. “Success is actually a by-product of our learning from our failures.” And no, he doesn’t attend parties and premieres, “because I don’t want to,” he says.
A Wednesday was a path-breaking film, even though the theme Terrorism has been in many films. “At the time A Wednesday was released, two other films Hijack and Tahaan, dealing with a similar theme were also released. A little before that, Mumbai Meri Jaan was released. But my film resonated deeply with the audience.”
It was said that Naseeruddin Shah had initially not agreed to act in A Wednesday. “His team had told me he wasn’t interested. But later, he called to say he liked the script and wanted to be a part of it. I have a habit of mentioning my number at the end of the script so that actors can get back to me if they like the script. Naseeruddin Shah liked what he read, so he got back,” says Neeraj.
Total Siyapaa, for which Neeraj has written the script, will be released in March. “My company Friday Filmworks is producing it. It will be released this year.”
Neeraj says he is an avid reader and is particularly fond of biographies and autobiographies. As for his favourite films, he says he likes The Right Stuff and Danish film, The Hunt. “I can still watch Ijazzat, 20 to 30 times. It’s beautifully written.”
Ghalib Danger is a Penguin publication, priced at Rs. 250.