Nikkhil Advani debuted with Karan Johar's magnum opus Kal Ho Na Ho starring Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan. It became one of the biggest box office hits of 2003, and Advani a much sought-after director.
Advani then diverged from the usual path of filmmaking and made movies like D-Day (2013) with a definite patriotic tinge. His next project, POW — Bandi Yuddh Ke is a TV series which tackles the very sensitive issue of army men reuniting with their families after a period of prolonged separation. The ensemble cast comprises Sandhya Mridul, Purab Kohli, Amrita Puri, Satyadeep Misra and Manish Chaudhari, and the series will debut this festive season.
The official remake of Gideon Raff's Hatufim (the American series Homeland is also an adaptation of this Israeli show), POW tells us the story of Harleen Kaur and Narzeen Khan; two women whose husbands — Sartaj Singh and Imaan Khan — serve in the Indian military forces. The men come home after being held as prisoners of war for 17 years. The show explores how their lives change after this.
Firstpost caught up with Nikkhil Advani for a chat about his show. Here's what we found out:
More about the TV series:
POW is not inspired by Homeland. It is an official remake of Hatufim, an Israeli drama about prisoners of war.
It took me a long time to make this series. To compare my work to a sporting event, I’ll say films are like short intense sprints, but TV series, I have discovered, are like long distance marathon runs. There were 150 people working on it and I am thankful to all of them for all the work that we have done. We are on the 105th day of shooting, and I am thankful to the team for all the effort they have put in; but I feel the effort is justified because we are trying to adapt this amazing series (Hatufim).
About the tremendous preparation for the show:
I told my actors that I didn’t want them to read up too much on these situations, because then you start trying to capture and live other peoples’ lives rather than bringing your own experience to it. But we are very fortunate to have such very good writers on the show, Aseem and Anirudh (Guha) who read so much and brought background to the script. Each scene and moment that we had on the show reflects something that they have read. There are 54 Prisoners of War (POWs) since 1971 and the thing is that it’s difficult to document these incidents because we are not a country that records our POWS.
One of the stories we read, was about this wife of a POW who said that for the first period you really want soldiers to come to your house and tell you that they have found him, that he is alive. But as the years go by, you just want the news that he has passed away, so you can move on with your lives. The uncertainty that their husband has come back is something they have to live with. The announcement of their death is something that will allow them to start living their lives again.
I really strive to bring in honesty to my work. We want to give the audience something honest and real as opposed to something staged.
If the show is a psychological thriller:
Well, there is a lot on the show that deals with the mindset of the main protagonist. It will of course, dwell into the wounded soldier’s mind, explore how post-traumatic stress affects the soldiers and what their state of mind has become.
I’ll give you an example: There is a sequence in the show where the two heroes just realise they are in adjacent cells and are not alone. Their state of mind at that moment will give you goose bumps and make you cry.
Also the show is about families who are torn apart. It will of course be very emotional. You lose someone who is very close to you, under normal circumstances, you cry for a year. You’re depressed. This is a show about being away from your family for more than a decade, so there are elements that explore the characters' frame of mind, about missing their family and so on.
So there’s this wonderful scene in the film where we see Satyadeep (Misra)’s character being introduced to the wonders of modern technology after he returns home after 17 years. He is so fascinated by his fridge. He doesn’t know that you don’t need to keep water bottles inside the fridge, but you can just press a button and the water comes out.
He doesn’t know what is online. His teenage daughter has to explain to him what is online, that phones have internet. The writers have done their best to show their state of mind through situations like these...
Also, these soldiers were not the only people who were imprisoned. Their families were also in a mental state of imprisonment.
On whether this is more a women-centric show:
My only conscious decision was to be as close to Hatufim as possible. When I was told to watch it, first I took a step back and was like, ‘Nahi mujhe war pe film nahi banana hai’. But I looked at the show and thought, the real prisoners of war are the soldiers’ wives. So maybe, it is a show which has strong female leads making the right choices in difficult situations.
Somebody asked me, 'Is this a saas-bahu show?' No, I was trying to be faithful to the material.
I also consciously believe that with entertainment if you are not informing, then you are not doing justice to your work. I mean it is my job to make small steps towards sending a message.
Nazneen’s last name is Khan. She is a single mother, and it’s her choice — the way she dresses and the way she behaves.
And Harleen is also a woman who is also a very strong character who never gives up hope for her husband’s return.
I am glad if the right message about being women-centric (is given with the show).
The timing of POW coinciding with the Uri attack and Indian Army's surgical strike:
See, that's the thing. Somebody just accused me on cashing in on the war. The thing is, Star doesn’t have the budget to start a war. We had started this show two years ago when we first saw Hatufim. People did tell us that your show might create controversy, but the thing is all the big shows of Star in the past have released on Diwali, and we wanted this show to have a Diwali launch too. The situation right now is extremely unfortunate and uncanny.
[Referring to the predicament the film industry finds itself in now, with anti-Pakistani artiste sentiment simmering and leading to bans] I do empathise with Karan Johar as a person. He is my mentor. I am where I am because of him.
Akshay Kumar put out a statement which is very important. I think I stand by what he said. Do you know the names of the 19 people who were martyred? No. I think that’s what's more important — the soldiers and their families than anything else. They come first.
His take on patriotism:
You think you are patriotic by posting something on social media, but in my opinion, these two women (the protagonists Nazneen Khan and Harleen Kaur) who have stopped their lives for 17 years and have waited for their husbands to return from war show us the real meaning of patriotism. And the soldiers at the border, they are the ones who are actually important.