A Zindagi original, 'Barzakh' was the only selection from South-Asia this year at Series Mania Festival
He’s ’s no stranger to record openings. His previous movie War (2019), starring Bollywood heartthrob Hrithik Roshan and the industry’s MMA star Tiger Shroff, pulled in a record opening day collection catapulting the action thriller into the top Bollywood movie of the year. So the super-duper success of his latest spy thriller Pathaan, that marks the celluloid return of Bollywood Badshah Shah Rukh Khan after a four year hiatus, should not come as a surprise to many. Not forgetting his early career warmers, Salaam Namaste (2005), Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008), Anjaana Anjaani (2010), all of which starred industry A-listers and were warmly received by audiences.
So when Siddharth Anand, the golden man of the hour, tells us nonchalantly over a Zoom conversation; “I fortunately tasted success with the very first film, Salaam Namaste, and there on by God's Grace, every film of mine has been successful with varied degrees of success,” we end up nodding along. “I take a little bit of that (success) for granted,” he continues, though he is at pains to clarify that the extent of success is not foreseeable. And what could be the mantra for that success? “I try and make films that are audience friendly. I rarely mess with that kind of storytelling,” the ace director explains. Pathaan is proof of that with the spectacularly mounted actioner finely mixing action, romance and high jinks till it all comes together as a larger-than-life montage of dramatic elements bound to appeal to all.
“I try and give a little experience to the audience — an X factor that is new. And fortunately, by God's grace, everything has worked well till now. And I don't want to jinx it, but I’m very, very grateful to the audience and God.” Excerpts from an interview as Pathaan continues to scale new heights (collecting Rs617 crore worldwide in the first week) sweeping its lead characters Khan, Deepika Padukone and John Abraham along with it to dizzying heights.
Congratulations on the spectacular show of Pathaan. But blockbusters are not new to a director like you. So tell us how do you define success?
Success to me means being able to make my next film the way I want it and with who I want it. In our industry you are actually known by your last film, and your next job depends on that. It's very competitive and transparent. So the kind of business it does is directly proportional to the kind of budget you can get for your next film.
The success of Pathaan comes at a time when Bollywood has been going through an extremely low phase where many blockbusters haven’t worked. How does that make you feel?
It definitely comes at a time when the Hindi film industry has been going through a little bit of a lull where we hadn't tasted massive success since War (2019). It happened very strangely with War as well. When War came out in 2019, preceding that, for the last two years, all the tentpole films didn't work. All the tentpole films with big stars kept tanking. Smaller films with big ideas became the new commercial films. And the big films were not doing well. So that also put in a great deal of introspection that what if the time of those commercial films is over and you need to make those big ideas films, not big spectacle films. So War proved that we still want those kind of action entertainers. And then again came the lull after War. And now Pathaan has proved that again. So somewhere it's very validating.
I’m probably going to be lynched for even suggesting this, but as a director, how much credit would you give Shah Rukh Khan for the success of this movie? Do you think Pathaan would have worked with another action star?
You can't say - ‘What if?’ That's all conjecture. But I mean, Shah Rukh Khan, man! Pathaan and Shah Rukh Khan is synonymous. There is no Pathaan without Shah Rukh Khan. So I can't even imagine anybody else doing doing Pathaan. This whole reason for this film happening is Shah Rukh Khan. So all the credit has to go to him.
You have worked with lots of A-listers including Hrithik Roshan. But did having Shah Rukh Khan in Pathaan put extra pressure on you as a director?
I would be lying if I said no. Obviously, there is pressure. The kind of success Shah Rukh Khan has seen in his life is something people can only dream and aspire for. So now you have that tag to live up to, that kind of baggage you're coming with, that, there's Shah Rukh in your film and you can't let him down. You can't let his fans down. So that's definitely always playing (in your mind) and always pushing you to work harder and give your best. So that's a good pressure. You know, instead of the pressure of an actor who's not accepted and who's not working and people don't want to see and you're still, lugging him along… That's pressure. This is the opposite. People love Shah Rukh Khan and want to see him.
For Dubai residents, this movie is extra special since the city features in a lot of action sequences. How was the shoot in Dubai? And most importantly, will your next Fighter feature sequences out here as well?
Dubai is a fantastic city and it's got great filming infrastructure, which was a primary reason for us to come there. And it looks great. We shot on the streets around the Burj Khalifa. We shot at the Promenade in the Palm. We needed that kind of gloss and glamour for a film like Pathaan and Dubai fully supported us. I mean, even the people, the residents of those buildings that we shot outside were very, very supportive and understanding. So it's been a great, great experience to shoot in Dubai. Fighter, unfortunately, doesn't have anything that I can shoot in Dubai, but hopefully later on there might be something for sure.
The team took a call not to interact with the media ahead of the movie’s release. Was that a strategy that you believe in retrospect worked well for the movie?
Obviously, it's worked well. It's there for all to see, but I don't think it can become a norm. Pathaan’s situation was such that it lent itself organically for how we marketed the film. I wouldn't say it should be a template followed by all and sundry.
John Abraham, I have to say, was a surprise element in Pathaan. How did you manage to make an actor like him look even more spectacular on screen?
John is phenomenally good looking. We all know it. I mean, he's got a personality that will make you turn and look at him twice whenever he passes you. Obviously, it's a lot of things that comes together, the styling (done any Mamta), his look, his makeup, everything, actually. And also this character is written in a larger than life way. So the way you shoot him, you shoot him low angle and make him look bigger. He's been at his fittest and leanest, which actually makes him even more good looking and appealing. A lot of things came together, so a lot of credit to John obviously.
What about Deepika? It's not usual for Bollywood movies to put their female protagonist at the center where they get to do a lot of action sequences. How was that?
Deepika, I think, is doing less action in other films. She should be doing a lot more. So if I go out and write an action role for a girl, there are hardly any girls who can actually carry this off. And the only name that comes to your mind is Deepika. And I feel she should do a lot more work. A lot more roles can be written for her. We're not doing enough justice to her talent.
Do you believe that the success of Pathaan is in many ways an answer back to all those online trolling that the movie went through when the first song launched. Did you feel threatened at any point, considering this was the first time you were facing it as a filmmaker?
Of course, it does bother you because it has no grounding, and there's no validity to it. I mean, why? What are those issues? So we were just hoping that people can see the film and realize it, which is exactly what happened. Fortunately, the public is far smarter and far more intelligent. We don't give that much credit to our audience, which we should, that they really know that whatever's happening around is all noise. So they've gone and seen it, embraced it. I think people who boycotted it have also have gone and loved the film! So the film gives you so much love.
You made your mark in the Bollywood industry with romantic movies like Salaam Namaste, Anjaana Anjaani etc. And then you went into the Bang Bang! War territory. But would we ever see you get back into the softer movies?
It's a good question. I would love to do it. It's something that I've been wanting to do for a couple of years. Right now my hands are full with what I'm doing. But if a story does come my way, some writer out there listening to me sends me a script that is good, I really will dive into it.
With reference to the special cameo by a Bollywood superstar, how difficult was it for you to take something from another director's work and put that as part of the world that you have so carefully curated?
It was amazing and very gracious of Salman Khan to do that. Salman and Shah Rukh have a bond that is like no other. They love each other. They respect each other. Adi (Aditya Chopra), who's created all these films requested Salman to come on board and Salman just didn't ask any question, just landed up and did what he was supposed to do. So it's a lot of goodwill that Adi has created for himself in the industry that people want to go out there and do things. Although he doesn't ask for it, people just come and do it.
What's the one lesson that you will take away from the making of Pathaan?
Dream it. It will happen. Pathaan is something that you can only dream of, the kind of scale that we pulled off. And it's happened. So don't curb your dreams. Think big.
Pathaan is currently playing in UAE theatres
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