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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 20, Dated May 24, 2008

Cricket's Circle Of Hell

Match-fixing, death, love, filthy lucre. NISHA SUSAN meets the team behind Jannat

IPL HAS SHAH Rukh dancing, actresses dancing, everyone’s happy but in the last two weeks, a movie with Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Akshay Kumar has flopped. A movie with Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh has flopped. We need to take a good, hard look at our movies. Our audiences are demanding cleverer movies,” says Kunal Deshmukh, director of the forthcoming Jannat. He argues that while cricket is being Bollywoodised, Bollywood itself has taken a knock in the recent IPL fever.

Deshmukh’s two passions, movies and cricket are predictable choices for a young Indian. But at 26, Deshmukh has been able to bring both these passions together. Relatively new in the business, he has been an Assistant Director to the equally youthful Mohit Suri in three films. Jannat, his debut film, which releases on May 16 in India and premieres in Lahore, explores scandals from the cricketing world and readily lends itself to a Mahesh Bhatt banner. Emraan Hashmi plays Arjun, a small-time bookie who is propelled by love and greed into the higher echelons of match-fixing. One strand of the story is also a fictionalised account of cricket coach Bob Woolmer’s death.

Deshmukh says, “I have been cricket-obsessed all my life. When the Azhar story got out, my heart broke. I couldn’t bear to remember the Titan series and how much I had loved Kumble and Srinath in it.” Deshmukh, who is an advocate of legalised cricket betting, originally intended to make a movie that was steeped in betting lore. “Left to me I would have had no love story in the script at all. But Bhattsaab insisted and I decided to sound out the idea with my friends and family. I came reluctantly to the conclusion that most people wouldn’t be able to understand or want to understand the nitty-gritty of match-fixing.”

Resigned to his fate, in conversation he refers to his star Sonal Chauhan, unconsciously and without rancour, as “the love interest.” “Working in the love interest was not easy. I decided to let it emerge naturally out of the worldview of our generation. People our age are not willing to scrape and save. They want to make money, spend it, live well and travel. And that’s what Arjun [Emraan] does. Sonal’s character Zoya is the kind of woman who likes money but turns her face away from its source. She doesn’t want to know what Arjun is doing to make money.”

For a debut director, even with a reasonable budget, this was not the easiest theme to work with. “We don’t have much footage of cricket matches in the movie but whatever was there had to be shot carefully. Even small children in India are so savvy with the visuals of a cricket match. Any televised match is being tracked by at least 25 cameras. And I had one! So I had to work really hard.

Deshmukh says that in the process of making Jannat he gained weight and lost hair. It hasn’t helped that most of the advance notices have gleefully hoped for controversy. He takes pains to say that his film “is not Black Friday and names no names.” However the real-life events that inspired the film still light a fire in his cricket-loving heart. “I read TEHELKA’s book about the match-fixing exposé, Fallen Heroes, and I was amazed by it. But what really amazed me was that TEHELKA’s video of the same exposé is not being widely screened. It has only been screened twice! Every cricket fan should watch it. I do believe that cricket is cleaner now but matchfixing is part of cricket history and there’s no use pretending it didn’t happen.”

Like many directors in Bollywood, Deshmukh writes his scripts in English and has someone else translate and tighten the dialogues into Hindi. This embarrasses him. He says that he is reading Hindi novels to improve his turn of phrase. “In the original script Zoya says, “I’ve been a bad mother and a bad wife but I won’t be a bad human being. It sounds great in English doesn’t it? It sounded awful in Hindi. I had to drop it entirely,” he laughs.

It is too early to say (before watching Jannat) but Deshmukh seems to be the embodiment of the anglicised, urban Bollywood director whose own movie-viewing is divorced in sensibility from the movies he makes. He says wistfully that he loves fantasy and adventure flicks and hopes that someday he’d be able to make a Lord of the Rings. His next project is reportedly set against the background of the Naxalite movement. •


From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 20, Dated May 24, 2008

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