Stolen

Stolen Karan Tejpal

Karan Tejpal grew up in a small town in Hisar, with a wonderful history of travel to far-flung places with his father who was in the army. Life for him settled down when he went to boarding school, Mayo College, in Ajmer, where his next six years were spent playing sports, particularly polo and engaging in endless tomfoolery. “We literally had the time of our lives away from the scrutiny of our parents,” says Karan. “Honestly, aspirations were quite simple then. The internet had not yet made it to Ajmer. There were no phones. As a teenager, I thought I would have a career as a professional sportsman. I did that until the end of college, after which the reality of the real world steered me to Bombay andeventually, to film.”

With nearly two decades of dedication, Karan honed his skills, evolved into a filmmaker of distinction and continues to push the boundaries of his craft. His debut film Stolen, made it to the prestigious Venice Film Festival 2023. The film is inspired by real events and a desire to explore complex societal issues; a gripping narrative that emerged from a tragic incident in Assam. The story follows the transformation of the protagonist, an exploration of a man thrust out of his comfort zone and forced to confront the harsh realities of the world around him.

“It was really a dream come true to take my film to Venice [Film Festival]. And it was an honour to represent India at the festival. The significance of the Venice Film Festival is amplified by the fact that the legendary Indian filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, began his journey by winning the Golden Lion. As I stood on this esteemed stage, I am motivated to follow in the footsteps of the great master and keep pushing the boundaries of my craft.” Excerpts from our conversation below.

Stolen Karan Tejpal

Karan Tejpal

HONING AND GROWING
It was a bit of a chance encounter. At around twenty, my tryst with professional sports (I was a polo player) was coming to an end. I had a lot of friends living in Bombay and it seemed like a good idea to join them. Some of them were working in the film industry and it seemed like a fun and easy enough thing to get into. I didn’t know anything at all about filmmaking, but right from my very first day on set as an AD on Lage Raho Munna Bhai, I felt very much at home. I love the hustle bustle of a set... all the energies that come together. Now it’s been almost two decades of working in film in various capacities. Slowly honing and growing into the filmmaker I am today.

Some of the films that have had the biggest impact on me are probably Three Monkeys, A Separation, Pulp Fiction, Memories of Murder and Son of Saul.

Stolen

A RIVETING NARRATIVE
Stolen is inspired by real events. The story of the Bansal brothers in Stolen is inspired by an incident that took place in 2018 in Assam. Two men were violently attacked and lynched at the hands of an enraged crowd who had mistakenly understood them to be kidnappers, based on falsified videos that tore through communities via WhatsApp. That incident was the first seed of the story and characters. The central theme of the film is the transformation of the protagonist. The change in a man who is forced out his bubble and has his eyes opened to the world around him.

As I started to investigate and research the phenomenon then known as WhatsApp lynching, I learnt more about the state of child kidnappings amongst the poorest strata of Indian society. While one side of the story is the vigilante reaction to the fear of losing their children, the other side is the distress and pain of the parents who suffer this fate.

Stolen Karan Tejpal

Karan Tejpal

DEVELOPING THE SCRIPT
I first met Gaurav in 2014 through my sister Tiya [Tejpal]. They had worked together and we all met at Film Bazaar for a drink. Coincidentally we lived a hundred metres apart in Mumbai and so Gaurav and I became friends. We found that we shared a lot of values and professional interests and often spoke about working together. But it wasn’t until 2019 when I told him about the concept of Stolen that we embarked on the process of creating a project together.

Gaurav brought on board another writer, Swapnil and the three of us worked closely on developing and re-developing the script over a period of over three years. It was a slow process, broken up with many waves of Covid but we all had immense faith in the story we wanted to write. My writing process involves a lot of research and rewriting. We wrote so many drafts of the script, I lost count after a while!


This is an all exclusive excerpt from our November 2023 Bookazine. To read the entire article, grab your copy here.

Words Hansika Lohani
Date 27.05.2024