Nikkhil Advani's finite TV series is an adaptation of the Israeli drama Hatufim which inspired the American hit, Homeland.
Back in 2007, one of the tracks of Nikkhil Advani's romantic anthology, Salaam-e-Ishq, was the love story of Ashutosh Raina (John Abraham) and Tehzeeb Hussain (Vidya Balan) who overcome religious differences to tie the knot. But soon after, Tehzeeb, a TV reporter, is involved in a train accident and loses her memory. She forgets her husband but he can't forget her. And their life together hits a pause...
Nikkhil reveals that this story is rooted in the reality of a wife who believes her husband died in an air crash despite the assurance of a Japanese tourist sitting besides him on the plane that he'd got them both out of the wreckage, alive. After a long search which doesn't even yield a corpse, she performed his last rites...
Ten years later, their daughter is married, she is in a relationship and suddenly, someone from Kerala sends her a wallet a man left behind. "She knows instantly that it belongs to her husband and is still waiting for him to return, unable to bring a closure to this chapter which was left dangling in mid-sentence," informs the director who is halfway through a 126-episode finite series, P.O.W: Bandi Yuddh Ke, which airs from October for five months on Star Plus six days a week and deals with the same emotions of separation, loss, confusion, secrets and angst.
Featuring Purab Kohli, Sandhya Mridul, Satyadeep Misra, Amrita Puri and Manish Chaudhari, the family drama traces the journey of two Indian prisoners of war (P.O.W.s), Sartaj and Imaan, who're rescued from the Indo-Pak border after they escape from a Pakistani jail. Missing in action after the 1999 Kargil War, the two war heroes return home after 17 years to an interrupted family life. "One of the wives is set to marry his brother and doesn't know how to tell him she's moved on, knowing that only the desire to return to her kept him alive all these years. So she creates a surreal world for him and immerses herself in it, waiting for the right moment to break the news without breaking him," reveals Nikkhil.
The series explores the reintegration of the duo into a society which had revered them as national icons but has now begun to question their patriotism...To partners who've waited or moved and children who've grown up without them... To a world that has changed so much in the last 17 years that one of the men can't find the water dispenser in the refrigerator till it's pointed out to him. It also deals with trauma and its after effects stemming from years of imprisonment in enemy country.
"Three years ago, after seeing my film, D-Day, the channel approached me to direct a show on he same lines. We tossed around a few ideas before they told me about Hatufim (Prisoners of War), an Israeli TV drama which had been acquired by 20th Century Fox and adapted into the acclaimed series Homeland," says Nikkhil.
He wasn't interested in an Indianised adaption of Homeland as our desi CID is still going strong but Hatufim with its fictionlised reality and emotional turbulence appealed to him. He realised it would be difficult to condense it into a two-hour movie but it could be capsulated into 22-minute episodes and stretched over five months. So Nikkhil who began his career assisting Kundan Shah and Saeed Mirza on Nukkad, gave the nod to the official adaptation of Hatufim and returned to TV.
High on the success of the evacuation drama, Airlift, he admits that P.O.W. was as big a challenge as any film as he has to keep the audience hooked through six days and also ensure that the last episode is as riveting as the first. He has already shot 61 episodes, and the biggest high was when Israeli producer-director-writer Gideon Raff, creator of the original show and Homeland, watched the pilot of his series and moved, wrote him a letter.
"It is so sensitive, so suspenseful, I thought your choices were brilliant, I found myself with tears in my eyes many many times," Gideon wrote, thanking him for being respectful to the source material while making it your own and expressed a desire to meet him.
They have yet to meet but skype once a week and Nikkhil even got Gideon to reveal what he had in mind for the third season of Hatufim so he could end his own series on a similar note as he has no intention of carrying it forward. "It's so radical that I knew I could not bring it to Indian television even though the channel has given me a lot of leeway. So Gideon and I have worked out a more suitable, yet outof-the-box end for P.O.W. in India," he smiles, admitting that midway through his TV journey he's happy and content with the series he is directing with three others.
So, what went wrong with his last two directorials, Katti Batti and Hero? "I was dishonest," he admits candidly, insisting he's been completely honest with P.O.W.. "I grew up on BR Chopra's Mahabharat. My grandmother would make us bathe and sit down in front of the TV every Sunday for our epic viewing," he reminisces. "Ramesh Sippy's post-Partition drama, Buniyaad, was another favourite for the way it integrated history and fiction. I want to bring that era of TV viewing back with P.O.W.."