Sanjay Gadhvi didn't just leave us the 'Dhoom' series, he left us a style

From high-octane heists to stylish storytelling, Sanjay Gadhvi's 'Dhoom' legacy continues to echo in Indian cinema, writes Subhash K Jha

Sanjay Gadhvi, the director who sped into Bollywood with 'Dhoom,' leaves behind a trail of cinematic excitement. (photo: Getty Images)
Sanjay Gadhvi, the director who sped into Bollywood with 'Dhoom,' leaves behind a trail of cinematic excitement. (photo: Getty Images)

Subhash K Jha

Renowned filmmaker Sanjay Gadhvi passed away at 57 on Sunday morning. As a filmmaker, he has been non-functional for quite a while especially after his exit from Yash Raj Films, his career never reaching the peaks of Dhoom and its sequel Dhoom 2.

After his death, several filmmakers felt Sanjay Gadhvi should have never left Yash Raj .But did he have a choice in the matter? Or did he feel he had enough of Dhoom?

In a conversation with me, Gadhvi had said, “When did Adi and I ever stop connecting for people to think that I had broken away from Yashraj? I finished my three-film contract with them and moved on. As simple as that. As for Dhoom I was done with that after I made the first two films. Even if I was offered Dhoom 3 I would have turned it down. Ajab Gazab Love came to me at a time when I needed to laugh at myself and the world. It proved the biggest stress buster in my life. I couldn’t handle another Dhoom film in this life. And Adi was very happy for me.”

Ajab Ghazab Love, which Sanjay made after quitting Yash Raj, was a disaster. The filmmaker could never shrug the Dhoom tag off, no matter how hard he tried. Aptly titled, Dhoom creates a zigzagging zoom across chic frames. It doesn't let you stop to catch your breath. It doesn't even let you think about the excruciating improbabilities that litter the skyline.

Carrying all the essence of the Hollywood speed thriller like the Fast and Furious flicks, the Dhoom series features wry cop Jai (Abhishek Bachchan) and marauder on the bike Kabir (John Abraham), both single-mindedly urbane in their design and purpose, and loveable crook Ali (Uday Chopra), a straightforward desi stereotype. You can trace him back to Ashok Kumar in the old Kismet, and then carry forward his lineage to Manmohan Desai's Amar Akbar Anthony.

While Ali's rapport with Jai's Bengali wife (Rimii Sen) has echoes of Lethal Weapon, John Abraham's fiendish transformation from pizza boy to bank robber is a subversion of the Superman legend. The power of moving images is employed in Dhoom to create a stimulating, heady, almost aphrodisiac world of amorality. The cop on the prowl and the villain on the bike with that menacing growl are almost interchangeable in their world-view.

The narrative in Dhoom borrows heavily from Hollywood films like Gone In 60 SecondsThe Fast & The Furious and biker movies of the 1960s like Easy Rider and the climax that echoes Steven Soderberg's Ocean's 11. But to Gadhvi's credit, the stormy mélange that takes the plot from Kismet in the 1940s to Ocean's 11 in 2002, never became unwieldy or even remotely vulgar.

In a strange way, the Dhoom series attempted to redefine the laws of formula filmmaking. Its chic and anchorless narrative mode caught you off-guard. The focus on monstrous machines stopped short of being overdone, thanks to the director's control over his material.

Dhoom 2, which came two years after Dhoom, is about letting your hair down as far as it can go. The carnival atmosphere is carried all the way to Brazil, where the sweaty tropical mood is imbibed into the characters as they play an ambivalent game of cat and mouse.

Dhoom 2 was bigger, brighter, sexier and sassier than the earlier film, but Gadhvi never tried to please the audience. A sense of renewed and engaging dejà vu is created by the film's own volition. In fact, I can't think of one film since Sholay that showcased a bunch of top-notch actors in a more flattering light.

Gadhvi named many Hollywood heist-caper films as his inspiration for Dhoom and Dhoom 2. “Films about daring diamond heists have always occupied a major portion in Hollywood and Bollywood." Think Hollywood. Think The Thomas Crown Affair which, Gadhvi informed me, served as one of his inspirations for the spectacularly successful  Dhoom 2.

He also grew up watching such capers as Krishna Shah’s Shalimar, but Gadhvi told me that while the films he grew up watching were a part of his creative output in Dhoom 2, it was also imperative that he impose his own directorial stamp on the final product.

Ironically, Gadhvi revealed to me that he never wanted to make Dhoom. “Dhoom was a space filler, a stopgap film. Kidnap was the first script of Shibani Bhatija (who wrote Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna and My Name Is Khan). This was the film I wanted to make for Yash Raj right after Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai. Adi suggested I team up with Shibani on Kidnap.

"The only one who could play the main role was Sanjay Dutt, but he told Adi he couldn't give dates before 2004. So I was at a loose end. Adi suggested a quickie featuring actors who were easily available to Yash Raj."

Gadhvi was supposed to start Kidnap right after Dhoom."But then the demand for a sequel to Dhoom was so high that I had no option but to make Dhoom 2. I wanted to make Kidnap, but Adi insisted I do Dhoom 2 and promised me that I'd do Kidnap and no one else would," he said.

After doing three films for Yash Raj, Gadhvi moved out with the script of Kidnap. "That's the way it works at Yash Raj. After three films, all directors either move out or become co-producers. Production isn't a responsibility I was willing to shoulder. I told Adi this. I wanted to walk on the wild side. Yash Raj was like the parents' home. I was the child that left home. And I got the script and title of Kidnap as a going-away gift."

But Gadhvi continued to be known as 'the Dhoom director' right till his end.

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