The question begs asking. Where were you at 26?
I, for one, was very much at the mercy of the corporate world, hoping that a good performance appraisal from my boss would set me up for a little extra dough at the organisation’s annual bonus payout. In other words, I was an ambitionless, white-collar stooge, brainwashed into driving someone else’s agenda in the absence of a concrete one of my own.
The same, though, can’t be said of Zeishan Quadri. Quadri, who in 2009, and at the age of 26, sold the idea of Gangs Of Wasseypur to Anurag Kashyap, and set out to make his mark in the Hindi film industry.
Once again, where were you at 26?
The Zeishan Quadri story is fascinating. Not just because this pleasant-mannered boy from Wasseypur, Dhanbad has found success at such an early age, but because of his relentless ability to stare down the odds. Quadri’s journey is also in many ways a reflection of Indian society, their anxieties and its perennial inclination to keep children tethered to academics.
Zeishan Quadri was born in 1983. He is the youngest and only son of Syed Imran Quadri’s three children. Quadri senior is a civil engineer, who also takes an active interest in politics and is the President of the Rashtriya Janata Dal for Jharkhand state. Zeishan, consequently, remembers a constant flux of politicians in his house right through his childhood.
Zeishan’s early years, like so many of our own, weren’t on his own terms. He was never allowed to venture too far from the house despite his outgoing personality. His mother did not think that the Wasseypur environment was the best influence for her son’s impressionable age. Playing cricket in the ground behind the house was just about as far as young Zeishan could venture, but not beyond. This wasn’t because of any threat to Zeishan’s life or fear of him getting kidnapped, but because his parents never wanted him to go astray.
“Aaj gaali sunn raha hai, kal gaali dega. Aaj maar kartey dekh raha hai, to kal maar karega bhi,” said Zeishan of his mother’s fears to not let him out of her sight.
The shackled existence apart, Zeishan hardly ever had anything to complain about regarding his childhood. It was a comfortable life, provided for by his father in every way.
“My father had got me a bike in class seven. I then got a car when I was in 10+2. I was the only one who used to roam around in a car, although a second-hand one, in my friend circle.”
Yet, in an echo of his mother’s worries for him, Zeishan’s father, too, never bought him the things that would lead him afield. He refused to buy Zeishan a bat or anything concerned with the game, knowing very well that his son could spend hours together on the cricket field.
“No cricket. Tu bada hoke Sachin [Tendulkar] nahin bann sakta, tu yeh jaan le,” he would tell Zeishan. “Tu ek ghanta nahin khelta na beta. Phir tere ek ghantey mein kab zero lag jaata hain aur woh dus ghantey bann jaate hain, yeh tujhe khud nahin pata chalta.”
Zeishan’s sees his father’s approach at that time as practical, but admits to turning to melodrama in response.
“Aapko Sachin banoo, wohi khushi hain. Main cricket kheloon, yeh khushi nahi hain,” he would say in a style that was distinctly over-the-top, but had a refrain that so many of us are familiar with.
Possibly it was the bike that did it, but Zeishan remembers spending a lot more time outside the house, despite his parents’ wishes, after class seven. “Mera ghoomna-phirna bahut zyaada ho gaya thaa,” he says.
This was also the time when Zeishan became more aware of his environment and the characters around him. It was also a period when he watched every single Hindi movie that released on Friday.
“There wasn’t a Bollywood film before 2009 that I hadn’t seen. If I was at home, Zee Cinema was the only channel that would run and at cinema halls, I would watch every new release unfailingly.”
Initially, it was Mithun Chakraborty who left Zeishan captivated because of the former’s signature dancing style. “My mother’s brother says that ever since I was three or four years old, whenever I heard a Mithun song, I would immediately start dancing.”
Zeishan then moved on to Amitabh Bachchan. Then when Phool Aur Kante (1991) released, he was star struck by Ajay Devgan because he felt “Yeh banda kya fight karta hai, hero aisa hi hona chahiye.” Gradually, however, Zeishan’s loyalties switched to Salman Khan with Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya (1998) convincing him to direct all his adulation, singularly, to Salman.
It is a reverence that exists to this day in Zeishan’s mind for Salman.
Nonetheless, his fascination for films reached such a tipping point, that Zeishan ran away from home and made his way to Mumbai for the first time in 1999 to become a hero. “Mujhe jaana hain, mujhe jaake hero bann-na hai,” is all that was on his mind when he made the flight without having given his class ten examinations.
Unfortunately, it was an unsuccessful attempt. “I was so young that I was sent back.”
But Zeishan didn’t quit.
Zeishan’s first dalliance with Mumbai lasted only a couple of months. An uncle of his, who was related to his mother, and with whom Zeishan stayed with in Mumbai, convinced him to return home which the latter did.
Back in Wasseypur, Zeishan returned to the familiar but unhappy monotony of completing his schooling. He eventually finished his tenth and plus two studies and attempted, for the sake of his parents’ wishes, to get through to one of the prestigious medical colleges in this country. For this, he even shifted to Patna for a year or two to prepare for the medical entrance tests, but his heart, all through this time, yearned only for Hindi cinema.
The move to Patna coincided with the time (2001) when films like Lagaan and Gadar had released. In order to watch these films, Zeishan and his flat mates, all of who had relocated to Patna to prepare for ‘medical’, would unfailingly rent a television and four DVDs overnight (apparently a highly sustainable business model in Patna), once every week, for hundred rupees. Zeishan recollects here, laughingly, that while he would be solely interested in watching the latest Hindi blockbuster, his two flat mates would only want to watch movies that titillated their adolescent senses.
The expectation for Zeishan to crack the medical entrances never diminished as far as his parents were concerned. That and an environment back home that bred intense peer pressure and competition only alienated Zeishan more from studying. He says with a sense of indignation, “Boss, maine woh life jee hai, main 85 percent leke ghar aa raha hoon khushi – khushi, pehle se do neighbor baithey huey hain, ‘Mera beta toh 92 [percent] laya hai.’”
Such instances led Zeishan to lose interest in studying entirely. While his parents believed him to be preparing for medical entrance examinations, Zeishan whiled away his time in Patna until November 2003. Finally, when he realized that he had wasted enough years chasing a dream that was never really his, he told his parents, “If you don’t want my life to get ruined, allow me to switch to commerce. I want to do an MBA.”
With his parents giving in to his wishes, the boy from Wasseypur packed his bags and made his way to Meerut, about 50 kilometers from Delhi, to enroll himself for a course in Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA).
A change of location and a change of academic pursuits didn’t stop Zeishan from continuing his love affair with Hindi cinema. He recounts his most important criteria while renting rooms in Meerut with prospective landlords:
“TV hai?” Zeishan would ask.
“Haan, TV hai.”
“Cable connection bhi hai?”
“Haan, cable connection hai.”
“Kitna paisa lagega extra?”
“Theek hai,” Zeishan would say while confirming the arrangement, which would give him unrestricted access to catching all his favourite films on cable television.
While his parents never refused to send him money to fund his cinema-oriented lifestyle, a sense of self-respect, and a need to do something worthwhile while skipping his BBA classes, led Zeishan to taking up a job as a door-to-door salesman with Maharaja Home Appliances in early 2004. Believe it or not, but it was a job which required Zeishan to go knocking on people’s doors for a couple of hours every morning between 6 to 8 am. Naturally, making sales calls at such an odd hour frequently led to Zeishan being greeted with a shower of profanities. However, he looks back at the yearlong stint with Maharaja Home Appliances as one of those things, which left him better equipped to deal with life’s vagaries.
The money from the job, though, left Zeishan without enough to cover his monthly expenses. At a meager salary of Rs. 2200/-, which he metaphorically refers to as being inadequate for covering a day’s expenses, Zeishan soon ran out of cash. This sudden tryst with bankruptcy, in the attempt to earn a living, forced another exciting, but at the time panicky experience on Zeishan.
Facing a situation of insolvency, Zeishan called home and asked his father for money. Syed Imran Quadri, knowing that his son hadn’t asked for finances for three months, readily agreed to send Zeishan a certain sum. The problem, however, as Zeishan puts it, “At that point of time, I didn’t have a bank account. My friends, who had a bank account, had all gone home.”
Accordingly, in order to facilitate the transfer of money without Zeishan having access to a bank account, Quadri senior decided to send Rs. 5000/- through a family friend who was passing through Delhi via train. Zeishan was supposed to collect the money from this gentleman.
On the designated day of the transaction, Zeishan found himself with only 150 rupees in his pocket while still in Meerut. “It cost 35 rupees to come from Meerut to Delhi. From the bus stop at Delhi to the Delhi railway station, cost another 20 rupees.” Additionally, Zeishan bought some 10 cigarettes (he is a chain smoker), a bottle of water and some chewing gum, which left him with about 15 rupees by the time he covered the distance from Meerut and reached the railway station at Delhi.
Having reached the station, Zeishan decided to feed his hungry stomach. After consuming a plate of chole and roti, including some extra rotis, Zeishan was left with the princely sum of five rupees, which he decided to hold on to, just in case.
At the designated hour, the train by which the gentleman, who was carrying the money for Zeishan, arrived, stopped, but went by without Zeishan finding him. Zeishan was left unnerved. He couldn’t believe that he had been placed in such a situation. His father had even confirmed to him in the morning, “Woh toh chal chuke hain.” When Zeishan had asked his father for the berth number, his father had told him not to worry. The gentleman would find him, his father had said.
But this hadn’t happened. With only five rupees left in his pocket, Zeishan was completely intimidated by the idea of making the 70 kilometer journey back to Meerut, walking. By then the clock had struck nine in the night, a good hour after the train had left Delhi station. With no balance on his mobile phone, and only the frugal amount to show in his wallet, Zeishan decided to call his father from a PCO in a last ditch attempt. If the attempt failed, Zeishan had convinced himself to walk back.
It was a time, as Zeishan recalls, the caller was charged Rs. 3.50/- as soon as the call connected. Consequently, the moment his father picked up the phone, Zeishan said in one breath, “Uncle mile nahi. Unko bolo mujhe call karne ko,” and disconnected.
The next instant he found himself asking the PCO operator “Kitna hua bhaiya?”
“Saade teen rupaye.”
Zeishan gave up the five-rupee coin in lieu of which the PCO operator gave Zeishan only one rupee back because he had no change.
“Bhai ded rupaye lauta.”
“Change nahin hai.”
“Toh chocolate de,” Zeishan remembers telling the chap reproachfully.
Fortunately, at about 11 o’clock in the night, about an hour-and-a-half after he had made the call, and by which time he had been completely overcome with a sense of despair, Zeishan received a call telling him the whereabouts of the gentleman in Delhi. Zeishan immediately took an auto to where this person was staying and collected the money from him.
Looking back at that nerve-wracking ordeal, Zeishan says with a twinkle in his eye, “Toh is time pe phase aisa bhi chalta thaa, jise main enjoy bhi karta thaa.”
Despite skipping classes, Zeishan claims to having maintained a good academic record during his BBA studies. In the final six months of his BBA program, he even, with the permission of his college principal, took up a job at a call center in Delhi. This time, his agenda while taking up the job was a farsighted one, “Kyunki kahin na kahin, aapka work experience kaam aata hain after MBA.”
This job, at the Vodafone call center, which was known as Hutch then, eventually led to his moving to Delhi when he finished with his BBA studies in 2006. Having worked at Hutch for a few months, he then joined the HCL call center in 2007. From there, he kept switching call centers, more as a function of his own disinterest with his chosen path, than due to any apparent misgivings with his work place. He had certainly taken up a job with an eye on the future, but in his heart, Zeishan only yearned to make a name in the Hindi film industry.
“The work didn’t interest me. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a career out of this. I wanted to do something else… That something else I finally decided upon in 2008, when I decided to join the film industry. If things don’t work out, I will join a call center over there [in Mumbai].”
Having crystallized his thought process one final time, Zeishan left Delhi and reached Mumbai on March 17, 2009.
Zeishan Quadri, let it be understood, never came to Mumbai to become a storywriter. How could he when he had been bred on a staple diet of larger-than-life heroes as a child? As he bluntly asks, displaying a sharp sense of perspective, which storywriter does the outside world know of other than Salim-Javed? Subsequently, his foray into writing the story of Gangs Of Wasseypur was a necessity of circumstances than any ambition harboured on his part to become a storywriter. In his mind, he had only come to Mumbai to become a hero.
Zeishan arrived in Mumbai by train with the knowledge that someone would receive him. “I had spoken to a couple of friends, but I was left waiting at Dadar station. Nobody even responded to my phone calls.”
It was an unpleasant experience for Zeishan because he had thought of these people as friends. Friends, who would help him, get him a foothold in the madness of Mumbai. But at the time that he required them the most, they turned their back on him. It leads him to say bitterly, “Dogulon ki kami nahin hai. Maine apni life mein jitney achchey log nahin dekhe, ussey zyaada maine doguley dekhe hain.”
Luckily though, in that hour of need, Zeishan made contact with an old friend, who gladly invited him over to his house in Chembur. Zeishan stayed with this friend for a period of 11 days during which he made trips to Andheri West daily, having realized that the western suburb was the hub where his ambitions could be fulfilled. He managed to get a foot in the door through sheer desperation.
“When I came here [Andheri West], I started frequenting the local tea stall. This is where all the young, aspiring filmmakers would gather. I would make conversation with them, take interest in what they had to say… In this process, I made a few friends.”
Finally, after Zeishan had been lugging the distance from Chembur to Andheri non-stop for 10 days, he mentioned his need to take up a place in Andheri West to the people he had befriended at the tea stall. “Unhoney bola, ‘Haan, hamaare paas kamra khaalee hai, aa jao.’”
Zeishan immediately took them up on their proposal. It was an offer where he had to share a room with three others for a cumulative monthly rent of Rs. 10,000/-. Affording a per person rent of Rs. 2500/- wasn’t an expensive proposition for Zeishan as he had made enough money during his call center days in Delhi to tide him through this period. However, the decision to room in with three other individuals, who shared a similar passion for movies as him, broadened his cinematic worldview.
“After coming here, I started watching world cinema – the Brazilian films, the French films, filmmakers like Fatih Akin, Quentin Tarantino. In fact, Fatih Akin’s two films – Head-On  and Edge Of Heaven  left a profound impact on me. Edge Of Heaven forced me to stay up all night, thinking what a film… It is then that I decided, that I have to write a concept and reach Anurag [Kashyap].”
Zeishan, however, didn’t straight away go to Anurag Kashyap first. Contrary to popular belief, he first approached filmmaker Hansal Mehta (of Raakh – 2007 and Woodstock Villa – 2008 fame) with the broad idea of Gangs Of Wasseypur.
“I came to Mumbai on the 17th of March. By the 2nd or 3rd of May, I had reached Hansal Mehta. By 19th May, Hansal turned down the film [for other reasons].”
It was then that Zeishan set out to meet Anurag Kashyap.
“I met Anurag at Prithvi [Theatre] on the 28th of May. I knew he would be coming because Kalki’s [Koechlin] Skeleton Lady [Woman] was playing, which Anurag Sir had produced. I approached him. I narrated the idea to him. He asked me to write something and meet him the next day at the same place at 8 pm.”
Zeishan acted immediately on Anurag’s demands. He went back and wrote an eight-page concept. He gave it to Anurag the next day at the designated time. Anurag read it and said, “Main bana raha hoon.”
Anurag Kashyap agreed to invest his energies in Gangs Of Wasseypur by the end of May 2009. It was a remarkably swift beginning for Zeishan, who within a two-and-a-half month period of coming to Mumbai, had made a big splash. Subsequently, by the end of August 2009 he signed the contract for Gangs Of Wasseypur and received his first cheque.
“It was only then that I wrote the story, in the 35 days that [That Girl In] Yellow Boots  was being shot. I left on the 29th of August for Dhanbad for research, returned on the 5th of October and only then did I hand over the script.”
However, the speed with which Zeishan made a foray into the film industry, despite being a rank outsider, does not mean we overlook each milestone in his journey to Maximum City. But Zeishan adds here, philosophically, that there are always two kinds of struggles in an individual’s life. One, where an individual has to struggle for food, clothing and shelter. Fortunately, Zeishan never had to worry about that kind of struggle. Instead, it is the second one that has always bothered him.
“Mera struggle hamesha aisa raha hai ki kaam dhoondo. Kaam ka struggle, jo struggle aaj ke date mein bade bade naamo ka hai. Bade bade naam bhi struggle kar rahe hain – ki ek hit film de de, ek hit film de de apni life mein, ek toh de de. Toh woh sab ka struggle hain, ghoomtey BMW se hain, aur ghar mein helipad bhi hoga, woh apni jagah par hain, par struggle woh bhi kar rahe hain.”
But while this latter kind of struggle is unending, Zeishan says it is healthy.
“Everyone must go through this struggle because where I find myself after three years of being in the industry, a lot of people don’t even manage to get to this point. So, if I now begin to think that I have made it in life, I will be finished… My real struggle has started only now.”
Zeishan Quadri will be seen in Gangs of Wasseypur II, which releases across cinema halls in India on August 8. He plays the character of ‘Definite’ in the film, a role which was a precondition to him writing the story of Wasseypur. “Ek role chahiye, yahi meri shart thee,” says Zeishan.
Going forward, however, Zeishan is clear that he wants to concentrate his efforts on being recognized as an actor. “I have a passion for acting, writing takes me time.”
This is not to say that Zeishan will not write another script again. In fact, he is already working on another couple of scripts, but as he says, “Writing is like having your own baby. You will only give the baby to someone who you know will nurture him with care.”
Meanwhile, Zeishan’s real focus on promoting his acting talents will begin only when people see him in the role of Definite once Part II releases. He also says that ‘Anurag sir’ has assured him that his mobile phone will not stop ringing for acting opportunities once people see the sequel to Gangs of Wasseypur I.
“Itne call aane waale hai ki tu soch nahin sakta,” is the message given to him by Anurag.
In 2010, Udaan,directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, and produced by Anurag Kashyap, released in India. The film outlined a young boy’s journey to fulfilling his dreams, despite living in the shadow of a tyrannical father.
Zeishan Quadri’s obstacles were different. He didn’t have an oppressive figure to deal with, but the environment he grew up in, his constant struggles with the expectations of his parents and the absence of any mentor in the Hindi film industry provided him with his own unique set of challenges in realizing his dreams.
In many ways, Zeishan’s Quadri’s journey to writing the story of Gangs Of Wasseypur is the story of his Udaan.