Kunal Deshmukh’s bag of tricks

The director takes a look at his upcoming street-con film, the Humaima Malick-starrer Raja Natwarlal

Ayesha Shaikh July 22, 2014


In his depiction of the money-wagering Vikram Dixit in Kunal Deshmukh’s Jannat (2008), Emraan Hashmi says, “Haarne ka darr aur jeetne ki umeed... in dono ke beech jo tension wala waqt hota hai na... kamaal ka hota hai.” Hearkening back to this dialogue seems apt as the power duo Deshmukh and Hashmi, pairing off for the sixth time, awaits the release of their upcoming film Raja Natwarlal, which features Humaima Malik. Speaking to The Express Tribune, the driven Deshmukh takes a look back at his career and a look ahead at his natkhat Natwarlal.

With conviction in his script and cast, Deshmukh stands tall in the box-office limbo, hoping that his fourth project as a director ascends to the sphere of film heaven. Its title has been derived from the namesake of “India’s greatest conman
(Natwarlal) who repeatedly sold the Taj Mahal and the parliament house,” says Deshmukh.

Affirming that the film offers a unique approach to the concept of con artists, he shares, “It is hard to do a mass-centric film about cons [and Raja Natwarlal is that]. It is a street-con film about revenge and a short-con man who is in love with a girl and needs the help of a long-con artist to acquire his goals.” The storyline of the film is analogous with that of the fearless David and the fearful Goliath.

After launching actors Sonal Chauhan (Jannat) and Esha Gupta (Jannat 2, 2012), Deshmukh is now launching Pakistani actor-model Humaima Malik’s career in Bollywood. Of his experience working with her, he says, “Out of the three girls I have launched, Malik was the one who never gave me the feeling that she is a first-time actor [in Bollywood].” Adding that he would like to work with her again, he states, “As an actor, she’s spontaneous and intuitive. Acting comes naturally to her. Not only is she a fantastic looking girl, but also very talented. She is the complete package.”

The film encapsulates Deshmukh’s penchant for adrenaline-rushing subjects. “I love the theme of cons and the philosophy behind con artists,” he says. “The way we pull of the long con in the film is something that hasn’t been done in Bollywood before. The film is not dumbed down and respects the audience.”

In retrospect, the director’s films have had a Romeo-meets-social-crisis feel to them. While his film Tum Mile (2009) centralised the 2005 Mumbai floods, Jannat 2 focused on the issue of illegal arms in Delhi. “All my films cater to the masses. I do such films because I like entertaining people,” he says.

Not many Bollywood films were being screened in Pakistan back when Jannat was released in 2008, but it still garnered a great response from local audiences. “I was in Lahore for the premiere of Jannat with Mahesh Bhatt. It was unbelievable,” recalls Deshmukh.

“It was my first and only trip to Pakistan. Initially, I was a little nervous and wasn’t sure how people would receive us. But from the person who drove us from the airport to the hotel to the people at the hotel, everyone took great care of us.” He shares that he witnessed a massive traffic jam outside the theatre at the film’s premiere in Pakistan. “I had to tell the guard that I’m the director of the film to be able to pass through the crowd,” he recalls.

As a director, Deshmukh has only worked with Hashmi as the male lead of his films. He says that his almost decade-old affiliation with Hashmi developed naturally. “I have known him since the days of Zeher (2005) [when I was assistant director]. After the first film, we developed the kind of [working relationship] that we had to repeat,” he commented. “And if you’re working with the Bhatts, Emraan is an essential component.”

Here is a special message to all Express Tribune readers from the stars of the film themselves:

Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2014.

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