Hatufim creator Gideon Raff talks POW: Bandi Yudh Ke, Homeland, remakes and research
Nikkhil Advani's P.O.W: Bandi Yudh Ke is making waves even before its small screen premiere. The story of two Indian soldiers who are held as prisoners of war in Pakistan for 17 years, the show is the official remake of the Israeli TV series Hatufim (which, translated, means Prisoners of War). Incidentally, the critically acclaimed series Homeland (starring Claire Danes) is also an adaptation of Hatufim.
For Gideon Raff, the creator of Hatufim, the subject of prisoners of war in Israel was unexplored territory. Speaking from the sets of Bandi Yudh Ke in Mumbai, where director Nikkhil Advani had called him over to have a look, he tells us about the missing in action soldiers in Israel. "I was researching prisoners of war and I realised there is a whole world of drama that hasn’t been tapped into. In Israel we are obsessed with prisoners of war, with captivity. When one of our soldiers is captured by a terrorist organisation or country, we go out to the streets. The people strongly demand that the government pay a high price to bring them back. "
And Israel in particular is very sensitive to the topic of MIA soldiers. Raff elaborates, "Israel is a very small country and a very small community, the army is mandatory. When something happens to a soldier, we feel something happens to us. We don’t even treat them as soldiers, we treat them as our kids. That is why the topic of prisoners of war is so personal; it's not about a country being nationalist or anything, it's just about how tiny the community is now. But once these missing in action (MIA) soldiers are brought back, no one wants to hear about them anymore."
This was fascinating for Raff, who had spent three years in the army before moving to the US to learn filmmaking. He says, "I tried to begin to research on what happened to some of these prisoners who were released from captivity. People who disappeared and came back. So when I started talking to prisoners of war, people who had been in captivity and came back, I realised this: coming back is the beginning of a very hard, hard, journey for most of them, if not all of them. It is a taboo. Nobody talked about it."
He tells us how talking to to two Israeli prisoners of war got him thinking of turning his research into a concrete TV series. "Two of the people I met, who affected me very much, were Ehud Goldwasser and Hezi Shai. Hezi Shai was captured by the Abu Jibril terrorist organisation for five years. He was tied to a radiator in a bathroom and was kept in a very,very small room. He was sold from one organisation to another for interrogation, and for the first three years of his captivity they didn’t admit that they had him, so Israel told his wife that he is dead."
He says, "But Hezi Shai's wife didn't believe he was dead. She always had this hope. The journey that he went through very much affected the story writing for Hatufim."
He tells us about his journey directing the series, and the how he and the lead actors Yoram Toledano and Ishai Golan did their best to portray prisoners of war who might have intense post traumatic stress disorder because of their time in captivity. He tells us the first rule of portrayal is that it's impossible to correctly portray the immense mental torture that the soldiers went through. But their mastery over the craft of acting held, Raff says. He says, "They interacted with many prisoners of war. Then on sets, they weren’t allowed to be with all of us. Even between takes and scenes they were not involved in they would sit in separate dark rooms. We would call them only when we wanted them. Then they had to lose weight which had a big effect on their psyche."
On choosing the rather odd time period of 17 years instead of a decade or two, Raff tells us, "I wanted to portray how a lifetime had passed. I wanted to show Dana and Hatzav who were born when their father Nimrod Klein was kidnapped to be all grown up when he came back. And 17 is a number in years where no one in Israel has ever come back. We do have one prisoner of war who has been missing for 30 years, but he is presumed dead. I got to thinking how his life would look like if he came back. But I wanted 17 because I wanted the lifetime."
With Nikkhil Advani's P.O.W Bandi Yudh Ke, he was a strong guiding point. "We had calls and
Skype sessions for the show," Raff says. He has seen the pilot of the series, and he is extremely happy with the adaptation. With Homeland too, he worked closely with the American team for the first season, which drew parallels between Hatufim and the show.
The similarity of the situation across the world helped fuel the popularity of the Israeli series and American series. Will the current political climate in India, its tense relationships with Pakistan also fuel the popularity of the show?
Tune in on 7 November on Star India to find out.