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Last Updated: Monday, 20 March 2006, 06:48 GMT
Bollywood's 'real-life' criminals

By Monica Chadha
BBC News, Mumbai

Mr Raju (right) directs his actors
Director Raju says he wants to portray crime authentically
When little-known Bollywood director Nabh Kumar Raju was looking for six actors to star in his movie on the underworld, he had one criterion: they should have committed or had a brush with crime at some point of their lives.

Mr Raju finally chose newcomers who have either been personally involved or seen crime at close quarters.

He said he cast them in the film because, "it should seem authentic and feel like real rather than reel life. People should be able to believe it."

The movie, called Hitlist, is based on six criminals getting together in India's financial capital, Mumbai (Bombay), and making a list of all the important people they intend to target.

People get work on the basis of talent, I got it on the basis of my background
Akbar Khan, former conman
Mr Raju says he has tried to portray the reality of crime and therefore chose actors who were familiar with it.

"If real criminals or people who have had personal experiences with crime and law come forward and act in such a movie, then it is not acting for them, it becomes real.

"All the characters become themselves in the movie and dialogues will not seem like dialogues but actual conversation."

Turning over a new leaf

The film is a first for all the six struggling actors. Mr Raju says each person was cast based on his background.

For instance, one of the characters speaks in a slang peculiar to Mumbai and former conman Akbar Khan was asked to play the part for his ability to speak that language well.

Left to right: Pankaj, Digvijay, Akbar, Amit, Omprakash and Saksham
For the actors it's a chance to start a new career
He says this is the first job he has received on the basis of his illegal activities in the past.

"My parents wonder why I talk about my past so freely but I tell them we should accept the truth and that is, people get work on the basis of talent - I got it on the basis of my background."

He says he turned over a new leaf when his partner died during the 1993 religious riots in Mumbai.

"My accomplice and I used to take great pleasure in fooling someone and tricking him of out his money. One day, we were returning after one such act when communal riots broke out and he was shot dead in crossfire. This made me think about what I was doing."

Instead of faking it, the actors would hit each other for real
Nabh Kumar Raju
He says he sorted out the legal cases filed against him and began doing odd jobs to feed his family. Simultaneously, he got involved in theatre and decided that he wanted to pursue an acting career in Bollywood.

"I struggled a lot and I used to often wonder if I had made the wrong decision. But I think it has all paid off now," he says.

New beginning

Another of the film's stars, Saksham Daima, says acting gave him a chance to pursue a "positive career".

"The headiness of youth makes you want money and power and makes you feel that no one should get ahead of you. You should be given utmost importance wherever you go and I thought no different.

On the sets of Hitlist
The director found the process intimidating at times
"I got involved in student politics and would constantly get into fights with others. I even had a case filed against me some years ago."

The actor says his friends played a major role in helping him put it all behind him and do something else.

The director says the gamble to cast these newcomers paid off because they could relate to the script and deliver great performances.

Another of the actors, Amit Shivdas, says there was constant improvisation on the sets and that helped them all a great deal.

"There was a script but there was nothing like bound dialogues so we always improvised. He [the director] used to listen to us... [we had] many ideas and many times we had to share such true experiences and it helped."

Blood on the sets

The flip side to this, Mr Raju says, was that the actors would get so involved in the scene sometimes that during a fight sequence, they would actually beat each other up.

"My fight director was very scared during the shoots. There would be a shot of a character hitting another on the head with a chair and instead of faking it, the actors would hit each other for real."

Mr Raju confessed he was also quite scared while directing the actors.

"During the first acting workshop, these guys had a big fight for about 15 minutes. Even today I am still really shocked about it.

"Therefore, during the shoot I never left the sets, even if I was unwell, because I did not know when they would indulge themselves again."

The director said he rushed through the filming because some of them still had cases pending against them and he was worried about them not returning once they left to attend the hearings.

The movie is scheduled for a summer release this year and until then, the jury is out on whether these former offenders will make promising actors of the future.

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