War director Siddharth Anand on Hrithik Roshan, Tiger Shroff being his first choices, and balancing their screen time
War director Siddharth Anand opens up on the challenges of working with two action superstars and the ‘tricky’ project in times of ‘small stories and high concept' films in Bollywood.
After assisting Rahul Rawail on Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi (2001) and co-writing Saif Ali Khan-Rani Mukerji starrer Hum Tum (2004), Siddharth Anand began his directorial career with romantic comedies like Salaam Namaste (2005), Ta Ra Rum Pum (2007), Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008) and Anjana Anjaani (2010). He diversified into action-adventure with the 2014 release Bang Bang. His latest is the action-thriller, War, which has two mega stars – Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff — pitted against each other and doing some death-defying stunts.
War tells the story of a special agent Kabir (played by Hrithik) gone rogue, and Khalid, a soldier (played by Tiger), assigned to eliminate said agent, who also happens to be his mentor. Firstpost catches up with writer-director Siddharth Anand to open up on the Gandhi Jayanti extravaganza, challenges of working with two action superstars and the ‘tricky’ project in times of ‘small stories and high concept' films in Bollywood.
Excerpts from the interview:
Earlier you had a release within a span of one or two years but why is there a gap of five years this time? Your last release was Bang Bang in 2014.
It wasn’t intentional to come back after five years. It just happened. It wasn’t planned. The only plan was to make the right film. My every film has been a tent pole film. Just because I have the time, an actor has the dates and there is a story available doesn’t mean that I will make a film. It has always been a passion project whatever I did. Some of my films did well, whereas some worked less. But it has always been a tent pole film of that year. Till the time I didn’t get one, I didn’t make it.
How did War happen?
War was a concept that came to me when I had a lot of time in hand post Bang Bang. I travelled, picked up books from airports and read a lot those days which I had never done in my life earlier. I was excited by the genre of spy thrillers. Somewhere my idea of heroes and antagonists changed when I read those books because in films, it is usually shown one-dimensional, and that encouraged me to come up with this story…though everyone says that my story is different but genuinely this one had an edge. And just the fact that I had two superstars and one of the biggest production houses of the country saying ‘Yes’ to it, that of course validated the fact that it was different.
People find it difficult to sign one superstar and here you have two. Isn’t it difficult to make two-hero films in present times?
That’s absolutely right. If we have 10 actors, we have 100 filmmakers, and it gets obviously difficult to make big budget films. You can make small films with smaller stars which are also working big time these days. But if you want to make a big action film, then you need big stars to support it. But then again you can count big stars on your fingers. You barely manage to get one big star and to write a script for two big stars gets even more difficult. It was the story’s demand to have two characters and my first choice was Hrithik because we have had an association for many years. I was clear that I want to make my next with Hrithik and I was writing for him only. Fortunately he liked my story.
I knew that the other actor has to be Tiger because it is about a jodi. Like in the past, we used to have boy-girl pair of say Anil Kapoor-Madhuri Dixit, Shah Rukh-Kajol, or even pairs of big stars...Today if I have to make a pair of guys then there can’t be any better pairing than Hrithik and Tiger.
Wasn’t there any issue about the screen time?
It is very difficult to make two hero films. It is like handling two wives because if you give attention to one, the other feels bad (laughs). I had to balance it out. Like how you do pre-nuptials, similarly in movies, there is a script and if you tell the actors that I will spend so much time with you and make it very clear right in the beginning then that clears out the screen time as well. Once that is decided then that becomes sacrosanct.
Does this pairing also work because the film is about a mentor and his protégé?
Yes, I had a story of a mentor and protégé where the latter respects the former, draws inspiration from him and which is true in real life. And since audience has already accepted that Hrithik is Tiger’s idol, it became easier for me. I haven’t built up on that factor. I don’t need to explain to the audience. Instead the audience will have to concentrate on what is happening in the film. It’s quite pacey and you won’t be able to relax your mind. You have to be constantly aware of what is happening on screen.
So was Tiger Shroff your first choice?
Tiger was the first and the only choice for us. He is an action hero and I wanted such an action hero where I didn’t have to convince the audience that this one man can take on an army. We knew that Tiger wouldn’t say ‘No’ because the role is such. We had that confidence but then you never know with the stars. We thought we will decide later if Tiger refuses.
You are also making Rambo with Tiger.
Yes, I wanted a young hero who grows in people’s heart. Tiger has proved it. If my first film with him works then we can make a franchise with Rambo which we can make in the next 15 to 20 years -- Rambo 8,9 10.
There have been talks of Bang Bang sequel. Was it a success considering that the film was made on a staggering budget?
Bang Bang was a profitable film but probably it didn’t live up to those numbers that was expected. But it was a successful film. Yes, Fox (production house) is keen to do the sequel. They have been talking to me about it but let’s see what I take up next.
War released on Gandhi Jayanti. Isn’t the contradiction glaring?
Actually that itself becomes a talking point. Filmmaking is all about creating talking points. But that wasn’t our intention. Five years back when we released Bang Bang on 2 October, we had marketed the film with the tagline - ‘On the most peaceful day of the year bullets will fly’, and for War we are saying - ‘There will be war on the most peaceful day of the year’. All these (marketing gimmicks) should be taken with a pinch of salt. It is a holiday, watch the movie, enjoy, and rest of the day, you can follow Gandhiji’s teachings.
Hrithik hasn't been seen in this avatar for a long time now which probably his fans have been missing. Does that instil more confidence in you?
This film has quintessential Hrithik Roshan which the audience have loved since Kaho Na Pyaar Hai and not seen him in this role for a long time. Being a fan, this is how I would love to see him. Nonetheless, I loved Super 30 and it is remarkable that he does films like that. He gives a bouquet to the audience that he can do both kinds of cinema. It is a great timing for me that after a long time, you will see him in something the audience loves. He has done action so effortlessly. Also, we have covered almost every cinema going audience in this film. Tiger has a huge fan following among children and youth, and Hrithik has a fan following even in our generation.
Who is more easy or difficult to work with – Hrithik or Tiger?
Both the actors are very involved in their work. It is most important for a director to first get convinced about what you want them to do because they would have 50 questions to ask and which is good for the film as filmmaking is a collaborative process. Their suggestions would be good and at times, I would incorporate those but if I didn’t take their suggestions I had to justify and they would understand. They know that director always has the last word. They respected that. One can command respect only if you know your job. If all this works, well, then they are the easiest people to work with.
You have said in the past that you are more of a hero’s director but you have usually given equal weightage to the heroines in your films. Here, how did you convince Vaani Kapoor considering that War is a two-hero action film?
Today, it is more about what the role is rather than the length of the role. Impact is more important. Obviously, Vaani recognises the fact that she is the plot point and pivot in the story so that is what should drive actors. They are smart enough to recognise that and that is why she is doing this film.
Tell us about the action in the movie.
Action is modern. It is slick, contemporary and big budget action. Not just foot chases but we also have car chases, bike chases, plane chases. It is a visual spectacle.
You are coming back with a film after five years. Staying relevant is extremely important in this business. Does that make you nervous?
Filmmaking is all about staying relevant. Times change, generations change and five years is a very long time. Not making a film for five years can be very tricky because you can lose the pulse of the audience and you may lag behind on what contemporary story-telling is. War is a definitive film for me to show if I am still relevant, if I speak to the audience and have a voice that connects with the audience. I can’t myself say that I have stayed relevant; let the audience decide. But yes, small stories and high concept films have been working and I am probably at the other end of the spectrum. I make visual spectacles and that is something more risky. You have lot more at stake, lot more to gain and lot more to lose. So this is a tricky film that way. I know where I stand, and now the audience has to decide.
You started your career with romantic comedies and now you are doing back-to-back action films, would you revisit the romcom genre?
I am dying to do some light-hearted stuff, a romantic comedy, or a love story. I am telling people that if someone has a story, please tell me. In fact, I have been telling Hrithik that we need to do a love story now but unfortunately my next two to three films would mostly be action films. But if somebody comes with a good love story, I will leave everything else aside and dive into it.
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