Kadak Singh producer Viraf Sarkari: The original story was very dark, we toned it down - Exclusive

Pankaj Tripathi's thriller 'Kadak Singh' premiered ta IFFI 2023. The film is directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury and also stars Sanjana Sanghi and Parvathy Thiruvothu. The film follows the perplexing journey of AK Shrivastav (Tripathi) as he battles retrograde amnesia, uncovering a web of conflicting narratives from his past.

Producer Viraf Sarkari got candid with ETimes at IFFI and shared tidbits about the film.

How was Kadak Singh conceived?
The germ of the story for this film came from me. Then it was developed in collaboration with screenwriter Ritesh Shah and Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury who has also directed the film. I thought about this idea twelve years ago. But I am not a professional scriptwriter so I wrote whatever I could write. Then I connected with Pooja Ladha Surti who is an acclaimed writer-editor and a dear friend. We started writing and then I got Tony (Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury) and Ritesh to jointly write. So, there was a strong force. Pooja moved on because she had a commitment to Andhadhun.

The story has evolved in the last twelve years but the core has remained the same. There’s a confrontation scene between the father and daughter. That’s the fulcrum of the whole story. Everything sprung out from there and everyone started thinking. Today, what we have as Kadak Singh has evolved over the years. The original title was Father. Then somebody suggested different names like Oh Father, Dear Father etc. As we were writing it, we saw that the kids were calling their father Kadak Singh because he is a very strict father. At his workplace too he was a very ‘Kadak’ strict, non-corrupt man. I picked up on this Kadak Singh and decided that it was the title for the film.

What took you so long to make a film?

I have been with Wizcraft for almost 35 years. I had that creative streak in me. I have done so much in terms of producing and directing big scale live events, award shows, and opening and closing ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games etc. I like scale. I always wanted to become a filmmaker. It has happened many years but it is never too late. I am happy to be a startup at sixty.

This is our first film. We are very excited. The first person who jumped on the bandwagon was Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury. We did many script sessions and research in Goa and Calcutta. It is a beautiful story and it has many layers and twists and turns.

When did the germ of the story come?

When my daughter was going to Los Angeles to study filmmaking. The original story was very dark. I thought that our audiences were probably not ready to accept something like this. So, we toned it down. But we started from the point of view that the daughter was going to LA and I was going to miss her. It was just the fear that she was 17 and she would be gone for 3-4 years. She was going to be alone there, and bad things may happen, and through that, my thought process started. The story has taken a beautiful turn and it’s been a very fulfilling journey. Today, the film has been released and I’m happy that we have finally managed to put a film together.

You said that you like scale. But you have made a film which is more realistic and made on a small scale. Why is that so?

The larger part has to be the story, not necessarily scale. What is ‘large’ for me is that the story reaches a wider audience. My philosophy is to make good cinema. I am sure that when you make good cinema, money comes because you have your heart in the right place.

I am working on a few stories and those stories require scale. So, I’m sure that I’ll be working with a superstar with a larger set-up and scale. But Kadak Singh did not require that. It required a director like Tony who conveys his stories beautifully.

Tell us more about Kadak Singh…

It is the story of a dysfunctional family set against the backdrop of a crime situation that the father is investigating. This is a man who wakes up in a hospital, comes out of a coma, and is diagnosed with retrograde amnesia which he doesn’t realise. In retrograde amnesia, a certain part of the memory gets erased. But the new memory keeps getting collected in your brain. Memory loss is a serious issue.

Pankaj Tripathi was always on my mind. I always thought that he was the perfect actor to play this character and I almost manifested it. We got the opportunity to narrate the story to him through our friend Shyam Sundar. He gave us a slot. It was during Covid time and he was infected by Covid and locked in a room. We did a Zoom call with him along with Ritesh and Tony. He loved the story and asked us to send the script to him. He said, “I’m not doing anything right now. So, I’ll read it overnight and tell you in the morning whether I’ll be doing the film or not.” At 9 o’clock in the morning, the man called and said that he was doing the film.

Why Pankaj Tripathi?

He is such a versatile actor. He has never played a character like this before. He is so respected and loved by the audience. It’s the best thing for us.

Tell us about Sanjana Sanghi…

Sanjana has done so well in the film. I think she has played a life-changing character.

And something about the film’s shooting...

Tony and I have put together a mind-blowing team. I had given Tony a free hand. We took certain decisions like casting Parvathy Thiruvothu and Jaya Ahsan. We have award-winning actors from all parts of the country including the child artist Varun Buddhadev who plays Sanjana’s younger brother in the film.

Tony himself is an award-winning filmmaker, our DOP Avik Mukhopadhyay is an award-winning cinematographer. We have Shreya Ghoshal singing for us, we found a singer from Arunachal Pradesh for whom it’s his first national-level film. It is my first film. And this integration shows on the screen. We had a great time shooting for the film.

What are your future plans?

In the last couple of years, we have been working on a docu-series on Salman Khan which Wizcraft is producing. My daughter Sabrina Sarkari and I are directing it. We have shot with about 70 celebrities. We have got some fabulous footage. It is going to be a beautiful docu-series. We will be ready by March 2024. You will see Salman Khan’s life from the time he was born to right now when he has become a superstar. We cannot say about certain things which are sub-judices.

What's the vision of the production house?

The vision is to tell beautiful stories whether it is a big or small film. It has to be a good, sensible film. We are definitely looking at launching new talent depending on the script and scale. I have also been working on an Indo-Hollywood project for 8-10 years. It’s called Children of God. The script is being written by a Hollywood writer. My vision is to actually launch this film from Hollywood. The story is inspired by true events. I read some articles in the Times of India newspaper and wrote a story. I took help from my friend and filmmaker Shekhar Kapur to get a writer from LA because it was important for the seed to come from LA itself. Kapur introduced me to a writer from LA who was actually a war correspondent for The Guardian and The Economics newspaper. He has been writing and we’re almost there with the third draft of the script.

I am getting a playwright to write a film. It is a beautiful Parsi film set in a Parsi colony. It is inspired by real things happening in our community. It is a comedy. We Parsis are fun-loving, quirky people. Some of us are also very abusive but in a sweet way. The idea for this film came from my maternal uncle and cousin sister from New Zealand who had come to our house in Goa. We were at the pool and I was telling them about Kadak Singh and my maternal uncle said, “Why don’t you make a Parsi film?”

I immediately went into a flashback about a certain incident that he went through in his life. I started developing it. In a couple of months, I had the whole story wrapped around.

Parsi films have been made in the past but unfortunately with non-Parsi actors. My film will be in a universal language which is a mix of Hindi, English, and Marathi. I am planning to cast as many Parsi actors as possible. Parsis are known for their theatre, so I am going to take many actors from the theatre.

You launched Kadak Singh’s trailer at a film festival (IFFI). How does it help?

Normally, people launch a trailer at a screening. I thought that it is Wiz Films’ first film so let’s launch it in a good way. And it so fitted with the timing of our film’s release (Dec 8 on ZEE5). The opening ceremony was on the 20th. I thought that it would be the best platform with the world media being there, all the ministers, dignitaries and people from the film industry would be there. Having that as a platform, and I spoke to the officials and we had a good story, casting and I had this idea of Pankaj Ji reciting a poem. It was beautiful to launch the trailer at IFFI.

But how does it help the film?

It is a place where there are concentrated people to whom filmmaking and films matter. Launching a trailer within that is like launching within the industry. It definitely gives you some kind of role. Now are doing the world premiere of the film at IFFI itself.