Fourteen years ago, journalist and television producer Mintty Tejpal had an epiphany. “Quick Gun is the millstone around your neck,” he told his friend Shashanka Ghosh, who had hit the jackpot by creating three outrageously funny promotional spots for the launch of Channel V.
Guntastic world: (left) Telugu superstar Rajendra Prasad plays the gun-wielding, bovine-loving superhero; (top, from left) Gunpowder, Rowdy MBA, Locket Lover, Rice Plate Reddy and Mango Dolly. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
The promos were a comic juggernaut. Featuring an over-the-top character called Murugun fashioned on B-grade Tamil film heroes, they were designed to counter similar MTV spots, albeit with an Indian flavour.
The spots’ phenomenal success caught both director Ghosh and his friend, ad man Rajesh Devraj, who had written them, unawares. Encouraged by the feedback, Devraj worked on a full-fledged movie screenplay in 1996. But things didn’t quite work out and he moved on to other projects. Ghosh, keen on keeping Murugun alive, hawked the script around until he was advised by director Ram Gopal Varma against making his feature debut with something as wild as south Indian cowboy capers. He ventured into Bollywood in 2003 with the dark and irreverent Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II. Now, after his first television appearance 15 years ago, Ghosh brings the cowboy to the silver screen.
Screenwriter Devraj, who has also worked on UTV’s animated film Arjun—the Warrior Prince, which is slated to release in 2010, says Murugun was conceived over several rounds of evening drinks with Tamil-speaking friends when both he and Ghosh were copywriters at Hindustan Thompson Associates’ Delhi office. It was still a work-in-progress when he quit his job to travel around the south in the late 1980s. And it was during this backpacking trip, seeing Rajinikanth film posters pasted behind the temple complexes of Mahabalipuram, that Devraj developed the character further. “Murugun was born out of genuine curiosity for a slice of pop culture that was foreign to me,” says Devraj, who grew up in Rajasthan. “But the character in the film version has changed in some ways since my original vision.”
Telugu actor Rajendra Prasad plays Murugun on the big screen. A veteran of over 200 Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films, the 57-year-old portrays the swashbuckling hero with alarming comic effectiveness. The story revolves around an epic battle between vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism wherein gunslinging Murugun fights against all odds to prevent his nemesis, Rice Plate Reddy, from opening a non-vegetarian Udupi joint, McDosa. The film also marks the return of actor Rambha (Mango Dolly), back after a sabbatical and donning a stunning blonde wig that the producers claim cost Rs15 lakh (it was sourced from Los Angeles). Other characters, such as Gunpowder, Masala News Reporter and Locket Lover, complete the array of Tamil movie clichés.
The film has been produced by Phat Phish Motion Pictures and has over the last year been shown at several international film festivals. Ghosh explains why this is one of the few Indian films with a shorter running time in the domestic version: “International audiences need a little more spoon-feeding for a concept film like this one. Like we had to explain what a dosa was before we could make jokes about it.”
Instead of straight redubs in the four languages that it is releasing in, the film has been rescripted to accommodate language-specific humour.
The millstone of an idea, which kept Ghosh in its grip for the better part of a decade, has finally fallen off his neck. Or maybe not—Fox Star CEO Vijay Singh mentions a possible sequel: The Good, the Bad and the Idly.
Quick Gun Murugun released in theatres on Friday in English, Hindi and Tamil. A Telugu version is slated to release in September.
Ghosh at gunpoint
The director on filming ‘QGM’, honing his craft and a secret about his hero’s underwear
Quick takes: Shashanka Ghosh.
After stints in chartered accountancy, marketing, advertising and leather exporting, Shashanka Ghosh has discovered that film-making is what really makes him happy. We shoot some questions at the maverick director. Edited excerpts:
Was ‘Quick Gun Murugun (QGM)’ a result of watching too many sketchy Westerns or just loving ‘sambhar’ too much?
Both! I watched too many Westerns while growing up and was inclined to sambhar too.
Do you role-play as Murugun in private?
Oh yeah! His duty-bound virtue is attractive and he scores with the ladies in his grumpiness, I say.
When ‘Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II’ released in 2003, you’d mentioned you felt like you were knocking on the doors of Bollywood. With the ‘QGM’ buzz, do you feel like you’re in the room?
No, but I’m far more confident as a director and would like to do a mainstream Bollywood thriller after this. So far I’ve been a storyteller; I’ve always needed to have a good story to execute the craft but I don’t need that any more.
So you’re saying you can now direct even bad scripts?
Vijay Anand, Sudhir Mishra, Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap. Internationally— Takeshi Kitano, Kim Ki-duk, Kurosawa, Tarantino, Coppola, Danny Boyle…
Is an Udham Singh film on the cards too?
That did cross my mind. Let’s see.
What would you say to anyone who might be offended by ‘QGM’?
Saar, please excuse. We are like this only.
Any funny incidents while filming?
The whole process of shooting a Tamil film where the subtext of the scene would be discussed in Telugu or Tamil between the actor and the cameraman, after which they would nod enthusiastically in agreement. I would step in and say: “Me too! Can a Bengali know what you guys agreed on?”
Tell us a secret about Murugun.
He wears leopard-print underwear and his pants are hot.