‘Versova Hustler’ – a pseudonym given to Navjot Gulati has now become synonymous with his decade long journey in Mumbai and in the Hindi film industry. He is a man of perseverance whose stories of struggle and triumph have inspired many. After spending years trying to make his first feature film, and making some really popular short films in the process, Navjot is ready to present his labour of love, ‘Jai Mummy Di’, to the audience. In this interview, he talks about his long and eventful journey in the show business, his debut feature film, struggle story, love for Imtiaz Ali’s films, ‘midnight musings’ on Twitter, ‘Dostana 2’ and more.
You have been through a lot of bitter-sweet experiences in life – you had to drop out of school when you were in 12th standard owing to financial issues, worked in a call-centre for a while, lived in a barsaati when you first came to Mumbai, had to leave it when you ran out of money and could not pay rent. You have spent ten years in the industry. Now, that your first feature film as a director is a few days away from its release, how does it feel?
Honestly, I am not sure what I am feeling. I guess probably I will be able to answer this question better after the film releases and the reactions start coming in. It does feel surreal though. I waited for a long time to make my first feature film. Suddenly, so many wonderful people came together and we managed to make this film. I hope this film does well as that would enable me to tell the kind of stories I want to tell. I have produced a couple of short films and want to produce films too. But, all this will happen only if I become a successful director.
You had made a short film called ‘Jai Mata Di’ and now, you have made a film which is titled ‘Jai Mummy Di’. You had said somewhere that mothers play an important role in everybody’s life but they seldom get represented properly in films.
Yes, my mother has played an integral part in my life and I am very close to her. I end up writing stories which stem from my life. There is another film I have written, ‘Ginny Weds Sunny’ which stars Yami Gautam and Vikrant Massey and has been directed by Puneet Khanna. In that film too, the mother plays an important part in taking the narrative ahead. These things are not by design but I guess, sub-consciously I tend to write about things which I have seen myself or have been inspired by.
Your first feature film as a writer was Running Shaadi. The film released a couple of years after it was shot.
The funniest thing is that till date I am not sure whether Running Shaadi was a good film or not. Maybe, it was not in the destiny of that film to get any kind of praise. The film got a bad release because of the ego battles between the producers. I have realised big filmmakers are partial when it comes to certain directors. They feel they are doing a favour by producing a film for another director. As much as I love Shoojit Sircar as a filmmaker, he was a huge disappointment as a producer.
Do you think your short film ‘Best Girlfriend’ was a turning point in your career?
I think so. For the longest time, it was my calling card. It was a film I made just to check whether I could direct. Somebody told me I did not have the talent or the skill to become a director and I had to prove that person wrong. I used to be somebody who thought ‘short films banaake kya milega?, seedhe film banaayenge’. But, life has its own plans. I ended up directing four short films and producing three.
You have done some work on television but it is not a medium you explored much.
I do no think I have the talent to write Indian TV shows or daily soaps, as we call them. I wrote a bit for TV and tried to write daily soaps as well but things never really materialised. TV writers make a lot of money and that is great. I do not think I have the required skill set to write for TV. You need to have a lot of talent to write the same thing again and again. I have realised I am better working on my own ideas.
Your production company is called Versova Hustler. Do you think the name represents you?
My friend Somen Mishra gave me that name in jest. Somehow, the name got stuck in my head and I ended up naming my YouTube channel after that.
Your ‘midnight musings’ on Twitter are quite popular.
I never thought somebody would ask me about ‘midnight musings’ in an interview (laughs). Whenever something comes to my mind, I add a bit of humour to it and tweet about it. Sometimes, people find those tweets very deep and interesting. For me, it is just a way to utilise free time.
You have been a big admirer of Imtiaz Ali. What is it about his cinema which fascinates you?
His cinema is something which defines a lot of phases of my life or perhaps, our generation’s in large. When you are in a long-distance relationship, you relate to the characters in ‘Love Aaj Kal’. When you are heart-broken, you think of yourself as Janardhan/Jordan from ‘Rockstar’. When you are confused about what you want to do in life, you think of ‘Tamasha’. His first film ‘Socha Na Tha’ taught us so much about love. Geet is an iconic character and when you fall in love, you feel you have found your Geet.
Who are the other filmmakers who have inspired you?
I am a big fan of Dibakar Banerjee. Sriram Raghavan is a master of one gene which nobody else can touch. I hope to make a thriller someday but when I get the opportunity to do so, I will try and be half as good as Sriram. Till five years back, Woody Allen was a huge inspiration. I think your choices keep evolving with time. I like some filmmakers from the 90s too. Rajkumar Santoshi was somebody who used to inspire me a lot. Very few filmmakers have been as versatile as him.
After ‘Jai Mummy Di’, you have an interesting line-up of films as a writer. You have also directed a web show.
Sometimes, it feels strange to realise that so many things happened at one time (laughs). ‘Ginny Weds Sunny’ is a romantic comedy which I have co-written with Sumit Aroraa. ‘Dostana 2’ has been co-written by Sumit Aroraa, Rishabh Sharma, Collin D’Cunha and me. I cannot reveal much about the film but I can tell you that it is a film which will surprise the audience in a big way. The web-series which I have co-written and directed is called ‘Happily Ever After’. It is a romantic comedy and features Naveen Kasturia and Harshita Gaur in principal roles. I have written a script which I hope to make as my second film. It is a dysfunctional drama. I hope I get to make this film soon.