Neeraj Pandey: Added things that were not in the book

He enjoys watching mindless comedies sometimes, but making one is not his cup of tea. Instead, Neeraj Pandey likes to tell gripping thrillers when he goes behind the camera. After Special Ops 1.5: The Himmat Story (2021), the director is ready with another thriller, Khakee: The Bihar Chapter. Inspired by IPS Amit Lodha’s book Bihar Diaries: The True Story of How Bihar’s Most Dangerous Criminal Was Caught, the Netflix offering is a retelling of the conflict between the officer and Samant Pratap, one of Bihar’s most feared ganglords. Ahead of the show’s release, creator Pandey discusses finding an unexpected hero in Lodha, and how he went beyond the book.

Edited excerpts from the interview.

What about this subject caught your fancy?
The journey started with my meeting with Amit [Lodha]. He is an ex-IITian, who chose to become an IPS officer. That acted like a magnet because I had never heard of anything like that. Thereon, [my attraction to the subject] kept on building because he is from Rajasthan, and then was posted in Patna — [he was] like a fish out of water. It made for a great story.

Neeraj Pandey

When dealing with a story inspired by real-life events, what are the things that you have to be careful about?
The spirit of the story is sacrosanct. We all take creative liberties [as] the story has to entertain the audience. So, you compress time and space to make it more dynamic, and in the process, some bits are left out, or you choose another route to tell what has happened. We have taken such liberties, but nothing that tinkers with the spirit of the story.

Besides referring to the book, how extensive was your personal research?
We definitely went beyond the book because Amit could write only so much about the particular case. Bhav [Dhulia, director], and Uma [Umashankar Singh, writer] and I spent a lot of time with Amit trying to get a sense of whatever we missed out on. We came across tons of material, and used it in our narrative. [We skipped] certain characters that didn’t align with our approach to this story. We also added several things that were not mentioned in the book. Amit felt they were not necessary for the book, but we felt it was important for the [visual] medium.

Also Read: Manoj Bajpayee to reunite with Neeraj Pandey for `Secrets of the Kohinoor`

When did you start working on Khakee?
I started work on it in 2017. The pandemic set us back. After the first lockdown, our crew of 180 to 200 people shot in the hinterlands of Jharkhand. It had no basic infrastructure. We had equipment coming from Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai, and actors flying in and out. It was a long schedule, moving from one village to the other, but we finished it in one go.

There is no fixed formula for what will work. How do you manage to hit the nail on the head every time?
I trust my instinct and take the plunge. Sometimes, you spend a lot of time on [a subject], and then realise that it’s not working. It takes more courage to pull the plug at that point. I have pulled the plug on a lot of projects. Even if the project has not worked out, the journey has taught me more. As for the pressure [of delivering successful shows], I feel blessed and privileged to have an audience waiting in anticipation of my work. I would rather be in this position, than anywhere else.

What made you repeat Karan Tacker in Khakee after Special Ops?
I have been proud of his work on Special Ops. When it came to this show’s casting, we unanimously thought of casting him again because he fits the bill. Amit is exactly like him. He is an unassuming person who doesn’t look like a cop at all. If he walked into this room, you’d think he is a Netflix executive. That is what we were seeking with Karan.

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