Who is the lead character in the movie Piku? Amitabh Bachchan who plays the elderly Bhaskor Banerjee or Deepika Padukone, who plays his daughter? It’s neither, feels Bollywood director Nikkkhil Advani — it is Shoojit Sircar, the director of the movie, who is central to the plot. Last week, on a rainy afternoon, over lunch at the Kamal Amrohi (also known as Kamalistan) Studio in Jogeshwari in suburban Mumbai, Advani spoke with a lot of passion on how Bollywood is at the cusp of change and how directors and writers are altering the power equation in the industry. Advani is a director of top grossing Bollywood movies like Kal Ho Na Ho and D-Day and is currently directing a television show for Star, called Bandi Yuddh Ke — Prisoner of War. The studio is one of those locations in Mumbai that sports a lot of green and allows film production units to create villages as well as war zones within the city.
Ask Advani why a successful director is doing a television show, and he explains that the television act is a milestone on the path that Bollywood is trying to take — good writing and director controlled movies that bet on a story or script more than anything else. P.O.W. is a story around two soldiers who were captured by Pakistani forces on the Line of Control during the Kargil conflict, and who have now escaped and returned to India. Their return, after a gap of 17 years, turns a lot of things upside down, most of all their own families.
The show is an adaptation of an Israeli show Hatufim, by director Gideon Raff. Hatufim has run for two seasons already, and there has been the popular adaptation in Hollywood called Homeland. Fox, the parent company of Star India, had also produced Homeland. The Indian version is closer to the original Israeli plot, with the two soldiers and their families being central to the plot.
Real to Reel
Advani says: "When I was approached for this, I told Star we must break away from the way conventional television shows are shot." Accordingly, Advani points out, he is shooting in 85-90 locations that include the border areas in Gujarat and Rajasthan. In fact there are four teams shooting at the same time. "The overall look and feel, the realism, everything is being done with a cinematic approach." He adds that, globally, shows like Game of Thrones are way grander in scale than movies like Gladiator, and that television in India is also ready to break new ground. "A part of the show is being shot in what is purported to be the Karachi Literature Festival and we are showing streets of Karachi," Advani says. He proudly shows around the two houses built in Kamalistan, the houses of the two returned soldiers. The families were affluent, and progressive in their approach. The trailer shows how the wives, who had no news of their husbands for 17 years, were struggling with moving on in their lives. That is when the men return. "There are scenes that bring out what these 17 years can mean. The two men struggle with how much Internet we have in our lives. There is also a scene where one of them can’t figure out how the water dispenser in the refrigerator works," Advani says.
About a month before the show goes on air, Advani and his team has finished shooting 64 episodes. By the time the show goes on air, a bulk of the 126 episodes would have been shot. This too, Advani points out, is a departure from how television works in India, where viewer feedback is used to change plots and writing. "If you plan well and have good backup support, you can confidently shoot like this," says Advani. So while Advani got the freedom and the budgets, he allowed Star to take crucial decisions on how the show was to be delivered.
Star took the call to do this as a prime time daily show of 126 episodes of 30 minutes each. But was all this hurried through to make the most of the IndoPak conflict in the air? Gaurav Banerjee, president and head of content studio at Star India, stresses that the planning has been on for actually more than a year. "The shooting had started in June and the show will go on air some time in November." Advani adds: "The surgical strikes have happened now, and I get a feeling as if God is writing the script for this show.