MUMBAI: Describing his Hindi directorial debut "Harami" as a modern-day adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic novel "Oliver Twist", filmmaker Shyam Madiraju says the movie is a commentary on the constant power struggle among people in the society.
"Oliver Twist", one of Dickens' most famous works, tells a story of an orphan boy, who moves from a life as an exploited child labourer to being under the wings of Fagin, a leader of a gang of London pickpockets.
Similarly, the film, set in the slums of Mumbai, explores youth crime, broken destinies, love and redemption.
The director was born in Chennai but shifted to Los Angeles almost three decades ago, said he was intimidated by Mumbai when he landed in the city for a job at the age of 19.
"I found the city to be so intimidating and demanding that it had a profound effect on me as a person and as a filmmaker.
Every time I am back in the city for work, I make it a point to walk a lot, and take the trains while I do my photography," the adman-turned-director told PTI in an interview.
It was during one of those aimless walks that Madiraju came across a kid barely 10, trying to steal from a woman's bag outside a train station, that the seeds for "Harami" were sown.
"I always saw Mumbai as a very Dickensian town, and it was only appropriate that 'Harami' became a modern-day adaptation of Oliver Twist' - and my love letter to a city that I immensely loved and loathed from the age of 19," the director, in his 50s, said.
The film follows Pachpan, a pickpocket whose life takes a U-turn when he falls in love with the daughter of one of his victims and how the teenager, who is on his path of redemption, faces opposition from his English-speaking crime lord Sagar Bhai, played by Emraan Hashmi.
In the past, films like "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Traffic Signal" have explored the underbelly of Mumbai, but Madiraju said his movie is different even though his protagonist happens to live in a slum.
"I don't see 'Harami' as a tale of the underbelly of the city, it is actually a tale of redemption, of humanity, when caught in the worst of situations in life.
All humans are flawed, nobody is perfect, but it is our individual journey of redemption - our struggle with our morality that makes out stories unique."
"Harami" is a story of love lost and found in the process of finding oneself in this demanding city, he added.
"My protagonist happens to be a pickpocket, but that's not the story - the real story is what he wants to become. He wants to be more than the 'harami' society has been calling him all his life. And it is the story of the person, who helps him get there and the price they pay for it."
Madiraju, who made his directorial debut with the 2015 survival film "Eden", said he is aware 'harami' (bastard) is an abuse but for him, it is also about the divide between the haves and have nots.
"It was a conscious decision to use it as the title so that we could show the constant power struggle a young man faces when the society dismisses him off as a 'harami'," he explained.
In the film, Hashmi looks unrecognisable with dishevelled hair and thick glasses.
Keeping the film under the radar was a conscious decision to surprise the audiences with Hashmi's new avatar, Madiraju said, adding that the actor's look helped them shoot smoothly on the busy streets of Mumbai.
The director said he admires Hashmi for willing to take a risk and playing a bad guy in his film.
"Emraan is anything but the typical bad guy as it was evident from all his previous work. He embraced the complexity of the role when we discussed the script.
"He brought nuance to the character and made Sagar Bhai richer than what we had written on the page," he added.
"Harami" will have its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival, which is slated to kick off from October 21.
Madiraju said he is excited about the film being the only Indian movie in the main competition section of the prestigious gala.
"I think it shows the appeal of Indian films on a global stage. We hope that this film finds a worldwide audience."
Madiraju will next work on a Hollywood project called "The Triple Agent".
It is a political thriller that he adapted from a New York Times best seller book.
The director said he is also excited about a TV project that is based on a comic book series he recently acquired.
"It is set in the 1700s India when the British invaded India.
Without revealing much, all I can say is that it is very 'Game of thrones' like in its storytelling style," he added.