Zeishan Quadri is a live wire. It’s about seven in the evening and he’s on the phone with his lawyer, talking animatedly with a lit cigarette in his hand and another at the ready. We’re at the office of his production house Friday To Friday in Andheri (West), a company he floated soon after the release of Gangs Of Wasseypur — Part 2, a film he co-wrote (along with Part 1) as well as acted in.
His directorial debut Meeruthiya Gangsters, a hinterland crime drama film whose concept he came up nearly three years ago with after he met up with college friends during a trip to Ghaziabad, releases on Friday. “They spoke very casually about kidnapping and extortion cases in places like Meerut, where we all went to college together,” he said. “These kind of stories are commonplace there, although most of this news doesn’t reach us.”
A few months later, he returned and got in touch with all his friends again. After discussing a number of these stories, he did some researched and banged out a first draft in about two weeks. “I came up with sketches for six characters and gave them all my friend’s first names,” he said.
The initial plan was for Quadri to do the same thing he’d done in the Gangs Of Wasseypur films: write and act. So, they set about finding someone who would direct this script. Two months of negotiations with Amit Sharma (Tevar) followed, which fell through, while Abhishek Chaubey (Ishqiya, Dedh Ishqiya) liked the script but didn’t have the time to devote to it.
As the months passed, Friday To Friday tried to push the film forward, but it wasn’t working out. Neither were many other films that they tried to make during this period. Finally, in May 2014, the pressure fell squarely on Quadri’s shoulders. “In about one month, we locked the casting and technicians,” he said. “Then I went to Lonavala with Gibraan [Noorani, one of the film’s co-writers] and finalised the script in two days flat.”
Now, Quadri says that the finished film — a scrappy effort made on a low budget and shot over 50 days in Meerut, Noida, and Mumbai — impressed his mentor Anurag Kashyap so much that he has been handed over the reins to the much-awaited third installment in the Gangs Of Wasseypur series, due next year. “All this while, people were taking me very lightly, probably because I was a first-timer,” he said. “But Anurag sir saw the film recently and told me that he was very happy and that he never expected I’d evolve so much with just one film.”
Kashyap is on board as a presenter of the film — which stars Jaideep Ahlawat and Sanjai Mishra, amongst others — and has also helped promote it. Meanwhile, Quadri, after nearly three years of relative silence, is all set to return to the movies in three avatars: actor, director, and writer. Aside from these two films, he has acted in Akki, Vikky Te Nikki and the John-Abraham-produced Banana, the directorial debut of Imtiaz Ali’s youngest brother Sajid Ali. Both films are awaiting a release in coming months.
As producer, he has an upcoming biopic on late Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh, a small sports film, and a “big, experimental film” coming up. More details, he says, will be announced over the next two months. Additionally, he has written Madhur Bhandarkar’s Madamji, Anu Menon's Oh Womaniya, and a comedy, Firauti, for Fardeen Khan Productions.
Quadri’s rise, from a young kid who grew up in Wasseypur and came to Mumbai with dreams of working with Salman Khan, is well-documented. Despite mounting pressure, however, Quadri isn’t the least bit afraid of failure. “If I fail, I’ll start all over again,” he said. “People have all these stories about coming to Mumbai and sleeping on the footpath. I’ve done that and I have no problem doing it again if I have to.”
He feels fortunate to have joined the industry at a time when the kind of films that are being made are slowly but surely moving away from formulae. “See, there are only good films and bad films,” he said. “What does the term ‘commercial cinema’ even mean if a film [that is classified as such] doesn’t actually make money?”
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