'D Day is not based on Dawood Ibrahim'
Nikhil Advani made had a impressive start with his directorial debut film Kal Ho Naa Ho in 2003.
But in the last 10 years, he couldn’t sustain the glory, thanks to his mediocre films Salaam-e-Ishq, Chandni Chowk To China and Patiala House. He redeemed himself to an extent with his last film, Delhi Safari, which won him a National Award for Best Animated film.
Now, he gets ready for his espionage thriller D Day, based on the country's intelligence agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and its operations to bring back the most wanted man in India.
Starring Rishi Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Arjun Rampal, Huma Qureshi and Shruti Haasan, the film will release on July 19.
In conversation with Sonil Dedhia, Advani tells how the idea of the film was born from a conversation with his driver, and why it is not based on fugitive Dawood Ibrahim.
D Day was born from a conversation with your driver. Is that true?
Sometimes big things happen with small thoughts. We were stuck in traffic and I was reading about Osama bin Laden being captured and told the news to my driver.
He turned to me and said, "If they can do it, why can't we?"
That got me thinking. It was an interesting thought that he shared.
So how did you develop the story?
I wasn’t in a mood to make a mindless action thriller. I wanted to make something meaningful.
I happened to speak to Anurag Kashyap and he told me that the story wouldn’t make sense if it was only about bringing the most wanted man back to India.
The film should concentrate on the four main protagonists, who take up this mission and in turn sacrifice a lot of things in life. There was a lot of research that went into the film.
Image: Shruti Haasan and Arjun Rampalin D Day
'I am used to being criticised'
The film talks about India’s most wanted man, but you have not named the character. Is that deliberate?
(Interrupts) I don’t think I need to name him. The audience is clever enough.
It is quite evident from the way Rishi Kapoor looks that he is portraying the character of Dawood Ibrahim.
I completely deny that Rishiji is playing Dawood. He plays an exiled crime lord named Iqbal. If there are similarities to Dawood, it can't be helped. My film is not based on him.
All art basically needs to borrow from real-life headlines. It doesn't mean we are making a feature film on any specific person.
Do you deliberately want to keep away from any controversy?
It is not important. At the end of the day, it is fiction. When you see the film, you will realise that the incidents shown in it haven’t even occurred. I am just saying that this can happen.
Yes, I would agree that I have historical dates and figures and set up a character. The first requirement of a thriller film is that the antagonist needs to be very strong.
The protagonist should be underdogs so they overcome the antagonist and appear as heroes.
The interesting thing is that with so much of news available because of hundreds of news channels, everybody has an opinion on everything. Everyone has an opinion on Ghilani, Hafeez Sayeed, David Headley, Osama Bin Laden, Dawood Ibrahim. I have taken everybody and put it in one thing.
In any way, I am used to being criticised. They criticised me during Patiala House also when people had issues that my hero (Akshay Kumar) who was a Sikh had cut his hair short when I had clearly explained the reasons for the same.
Image: Arjun Rampal and Irrfan Khan in D Day. Inset: Director Nikhil Advani
'Rishi Kapoor is a tough taskmaster'
How difficult was it to convince Rishi Kapoor to play a negative character?
It was difficult. When I first took the script to him and spoke about the role, he was like, “Are you mad?”
I told him that he had convincingly played a negative character in Agneepath and requested him to do a look test. I was convinced he would fit the role, and after the look test he was also convinced.
Was it intimidating to work with him?
No, it wasn’t. He is a tough taskmaster but I share a wonderful relationship with him. I worked with him in Patiala House also.
He knows what I am doing. We enjoy each other’s company. But, yes, he likes to intimidate people. Rishiji is at a stage in his career where he just wants to be challenged.
This is his second innings. During the shooting of the film, he would constantly come up and tell me to put him in a situation which would challenge him as an actor.
Image: Rishi Kapoor in D Day
'Irrfan Khan wasn't sure of doing the film'
I spoke to Irrfan Khan and he said he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to do the film.
I went with Anurag (Kashyap) to narrate the film to Irrfan. At first, he wasn’t sure whether he would be able to do this kind of a film but eventually he was convinced.
Even while we were shooting, Irrfan would ask me, “Are you sure you are going on the right track?” When I showed him the edited version of one of the sequences, he was convinced.
You mentioned that the film is fiction but you have used certain historical dates to set up the premise. Was it difficult to show certain realistic elements like politics and red tape?
Politics and red tape sounds more fictional than anything else in our country (laughs). For me, the most entertaining show on television is News Hour with Arnab Goswami. I watch it every day.
I can’t believe that he and the panel have an opinion on everything and anything that is happening in this country. I guess there are people writing fiction stories for them (laughs).
Jokes apart, I have approached the film without taking any sides. I have shown ISI and RAW operating in the way they do.
You will see the Prime Minister of India in the film saying and doing things that will make you wonder how the censors passed this. We have added elements of action, thrill and gritty realism.
Image: Irrfan Khan in D Day
'The studios in India don't believe there is a market for animation films'
Although your last film Delhi Safari won a National Award for the Best Animated film, it didn’t manage to get a proper release. What is the problem when it comes to animated films?
The funds are a big problem for animated films. When I made Delhi Safary nobody wanted to see it. But when word of mouth spread that it’s a good film, people went and saw it.
The studios here don’t believe there is a market for animation films nor do they have faith in it. But UTV Disney had faith in me and my film. In the west these kinds of films are not released as animation or cartoon films but as summer blockbusters and they are promoted as such.
You have to believe that the film is going to get the same kind of audience given the kind of promotion we do for a normal film.
Are you in touch with Karan Johar (Nikhil directed his first film Kal Ho Naa Ho for Karan Johar’s Dharma Production)
Yes, I am. In fact, I made Karan see the rushes of D Day. After watching it he told me ‘this is the kind of film that you should make, who asked you to make a love story?’ (laughs).
Image: Arjun Rampal in D Day