Neerraj Pathak is a prominent Indian film personality who is the creator, director and producer of the superhit web series ‘Inspector Avinash’ on Jio Cinema. The show is getting unanimously good reviews and has got a thumbs up from the audiences worldwide. Pathak is being lauded all over the world for creating this gripping crime show series. In an exclusive interview with Ekta Saxena for The Indian Eye, the acclaimed director talks about the series and mantra of its success. Excerpts:
How and when you decided to make Inspector Avinash? You conceived it as a film or a series?
Inspector Avinash was conceived around four years ago. Through one of my friends, I happened to meet Avinash Mishra and in our first meeting only we got connected together. I was amazed by his persona and life story. I immediately decided to make a project with him, and I asked him to give me his biopic rights and he agreed. At that time, I was not sure what I will make, but his life had been a great drama with lots of stuff, so I thought it would be better to make a web series. Then, it took me almost two years to write the story. I spent a lot of time with Avinash, listening to his stories, his style, his humour, all his personal life. Then, everything I put down in the script and finally met Jyoti Deshpande who is Jio Studio’s head. After hearing for 3-4 minutes about Avinash’s personality and the dialogues, she immediately agreed and said let’s make it. From there on, it was a beautiful journey. Then, I approached Randeep Hooda and all other cast members; the rest is history. I was lucky that I could convince Jyoti Deshpande and Avinash Mishra without any hassles or struggle.
The series has been a hit with the viewers. To what you attribute the success of Inspector Avinash?
By God’s grace and by the grace of Lord Krishna, we have been receiving amazing response to the show and it has caught like a wildfire. Everybody is watching it; everybody is praising it and everywhere they are praising the cast, their performance, the script, the flavour of UP, the action and the wholesome entertainment. Yes, I am very happy that audience is loving it. I would give the credit first to the platform, Jio Studios that gave me the opportunity to express myself. I was given complete freedom to realise my mission and vision. Whatever, I thought about Inspector Avinash and his world, all the crew and cast, everyone from Randeep Hooda, Abhimanyu Singh, Urvashi Rautela, then Amit Sial, Freddy Daruwala and lot of newer artists. I got 10 new artists who have not worked much, and I gave break to them. So, I guess all these artists gave their best to the show. My writers, co-writers, technical and post production team, each one of them contributed to the show. I want to thank the whole team and yes without God’s blessing you don’t reach anywhere. So, I want to especially mention Randeep Hooda, who has been a pillar of this show as he single-handedly headed the cast. He has immortalized Avinash’s character. Avinash ji himself is amused that after watching Randeep, he could see his younger self in him. That is a great compliment to Randeep and he is a treat to work with. He is every director’s dream and I think he has given his best.
The casting of the series is just perfect, with all actors fitting well into their characters. How did you pick the cast for the series?
Regarding casting, I am getting lot of complements about the perfect casting, even for the smallest character. I think the character brief was very clear and Randeep was the first choice when I saw Avinash ji and started writing about him. The more I became clear about his character, I thought only Randeep could do it. There is an amazing story behind it. When I met him for the first time, his manager Panchali who is like a sister to me, took me to him. It was 10 in the night, and he had just come after finishing his gym. The first thing he told me, “Bro, welcome home but except police officer’s role you can narrate anything to me. I am not interested in doing a cop’s story.” I just looked at Panchali. She excused herself and went out of the room, leaving me behind to handle it. I smiled and said, “Bro, sorry to say, I have come here to narrate you a cop’s story only.” Then he gave me his reason why he doesn’t want to do it. So, I said, “It’s okay if you don’t want to do it, no problem we will just have a coffee, chit chat and I will go.” But somehow Randeep felt that if I have come all the way, at least he should hear me out. I started narrating him. I just narrated first 2 scenes of the show in 5 minutes. Immediately, he got glued to it and he said, “Bro, I’m doing it.” So, Randeep was on board. Then, rest of the cast especially the character of Devi that is played by Abhimanyu Singh was the most challenging cast for me because it was the most unique character I wanted. If I had gone little overboard, this role or character could have fallen flat but kudos to Abhimanyu who agreed to do it on my trust. Today, he is being praised as this being one of his best roles and people are looking forward to him as equal as Randeep. Other cast, the STF team Shaleen Bhanot, Ajay Chaudhary, Harjinder, Praveen Sisodiya ji, Shantanu Chhaparia, all these guys made STF look very real. Then, of course, we have Rahul Mittra ji, my close friend and brother. We had met few months back and he had told me few years back, ‘Neerraj, I want to act.’ So, I just looked at him and before I had started writing, I have something for you. He played Jagjivan Ram, the MLA with a swag and with little naughtiness. A lot of compliments, he is getting, and some people even told me that he is a very cute villain. So, the chubbiness in his face and his smile worked for the character. Then, I want to speak about other characters who are newer actors like Harjinder who is in STF team. Zohaeb Farooqui, Muskan Verma, Shalini Chauhan, Irra Mor, Heera Sohal are all new artists, they have not worked much but in Inspector Avinash they are getting all the accolades. They are getting the praise for even smaller characters. Every small character was written beautifully. So, I think the writing and the right casting has done the job. The casting team has worked very hard, and the result is for all of us to enjoy.
Though it tells the story of UP in the 90s, do you think the story also resonates with the present social climate in UP or India?
This show has been set up in the 90s, but it is relevant in today’s set up also. I think the crime, politics, human bond and a police officer trying to curb crime made in any era, any language, any culture will resonate with people and audiences.
My show is primarily a police crime show that is set up in a real scenario. It is based on the real-life character who had his flaws and heroism. A character who gave his life, going behind criminals but he also reformed many criminals. He did encounter of 150 criminals officially, but he reformed almost 500 criminals. Those reformed criminals became his force of informers that he called fondly as Mayajaal. Whenever he used to get stuck in a case, this Mayajaal force, his informers were his backbone. I think different characters, entertainment, the humour, various kind of tracks on romance, father son relationship, grand locales and above all it is shot well, have made it a treat to the eyes. The one-liner dialogues are amazing, and you can feel that you have transcended and travelled into that world and era which is working with the audience. Of course, all the performances are highly rated and that is why we have got amazing rating in IMDb. We have just done 7 days of the show, more episodes are yet to come. Even before the telecast of 8th episode, we have got 8.4 or 8.5 IMDb rating, which is phenomenal. My show is picking up and growing. I am sure that after the show gets over, and people have seen all other episodes, more people will come, and this rating should go up. I am yet to find one person, one single person who has not liked the show, so this is a great achievement for all of us, the whole team and everybody involved in it.
With so much content now available on TV, films and OTT platforms, what is the key to get the attention of the audience?
OTT, yes, there is vast content now available to the audience. They have many things to watch, lots of movies are there, so many series are there on OTT. But I think any series which hooks the audience and keep them on edge of the seat is that which can connect with them culturally or in a socio-political way.
Inspector Avinash is a hard-hitting drama with a dose of humour and sattire. How did you strike the balance and how challenging it was to write and direct it?
People are getting entertained because of the humour, action and a its complete package. As we say in India, we love the food in a thali, we love all kind of entertainment, and this show is rightly balanced with a perfectly blended script. I would say that it was not easy, but I was clear with what I wanted to cater to my audience. I did not want a single intense cop drama, I did not want a slow burner, a kind of binge watch. I wanted a fast-paced show, multiple characters with all characters having their beginning and the end. I was sure that there must be many stories which are running parallel, but it was a difficult task to justify all the characters. You will be shocked to know that there are small and big, more than 250 characters in the show. Out of which, 60 or 70 are perhaps prominent roles with 20 being the main roles. All the actors, I have casted are known and they have been working, so it was not an easy task to give justice to them, honestly. But thanks to the writing team and my experience as a writer for last 20-25 years, helped me create this kind of a unique form where you are connected with each character, yet Randeep is leading the cast. This is his story, but it is not only his story, small character or even small one-minute appearances are being appreciated by the people. They are remembering Pinky, Binny, our own Rahul Ji’s character Jagjivan, which are smaller in comparison to lead actors. Meetu Punjaban, played by Akanksha Puri is getting appreciated. Muskan Verma has done Binny’s role, Shalini has done Pinky’s role, they are getting a lot of positive response. Babloo Pandey, played by Vikas Shrivastav has done a fantastic job. Besides that, there is no need to talk about our lead characters because everybody has performed very well. Harjinder, who was a new boy, but everybody is just loving his simplicity. I forgot to talk about Adhyayan Suman, who is playing Shashi Bhushan, and Freddy Daruwala who are political brothers. They are presenting the political class, and its associated royalty. The kind of grace, they are bringing to the characters is phenomenal. So, I am very lucky to have all of them, all having trust in me and giving me the complete authority and freedom as a captain. They were not at all insecure, that is the biggest quality icon of this team. That is how I could deliver this beautiful blend of humour, satire, politics, crime, relationship, bond, and romance. Primarily, I will give it to the brilliant writing.
What is your next project?
With the kind of phenomenal success, we are witnessing, I have become little numb and calm. I want to accept this with lot of humility. I am working on lot of projects. This show is produced by my company Gold Mountain Pictures and Jio Studio has presented it. They have given me the chance to grow and show my talent. I want to produce many more movies and shows; so I am working on various scripts. I have worked on couple of very good scripts. So, I think in a few months’ time you will hear from my company and especially me about couple of movies and web series. I am planning to expand and do more because I have lots of stories trying to come out of my head, with the right team and blessings of God. I also want to thank media, especially Rahul Mittra Ji who has been a big support system for me. He has been loving me, unconditionally, as a brother. Whenever I sit with him, I really feel he is my brother because he gives me that kind of love and affection. He has great knowledge of branding and how you should create your brand. So, I am putting all that to my best use.
Thanks very much. It was a pleasure talking to The Indian Eye.