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    Abbas-Mustan rewrite rules of mainstream entertainment

    [Interview by Subhash K. Jha]
    Tuesday, August 17, 2004
    In a career spanning over a decade, Abbas and Mustan have co-directed such spectacular successes as "Baazigar", "Soldier" and Humraaz.

    Their fascination for the slick and sophisticated suspense thriller has, in many ways, rewritten the rules of mainstream entertainment.

    And yet, the two brothers at the center of this astonishing success story remain calm and incredibly modest.

    Now ready with another film, where a car plays the pivotal part in "Taarzan The Wonder Car", Bollywood''s only directorial duo speak about what makes them so sure of their movie maneuvers.

    What made you make a film with a car as its hero?

    Abbas: When we were kids, we saw the whole Walt Disney series with Herbie the Volkswagen as the hero (The Love Bug, etc). We were utterly fascinated. We saw each film in the series repeatedly and vowed that one day when we become filmmakers - yes, we were sure we wanted to do nothing except make movies - we'd make a film that revolved around a car.

    Initially, when we were trying to establish ourselves, we chose to make more conventional films like "Agnikaal" and "Baazigar". But now when we are fairly established, we dug out our childhood fantasy and made "Taarzan The Wonder Car".

    Mustan: We wanted the designer car to have its own identity. I think every kid is familiar with Tarzan. People seem to believe we've moved away from our thriller format in "Taarzan". But somewhere down the line, it does go into our trademark genre.

    Whether it's a story of wife battering ("Daraar") or a son seeking revenge for his parents ("Soldier"), we always like to include an element of suspense in all our films. I think this genre is by far the most effective way of keeping audiences interested in the goings-on. Aisi filmon ko dekhne mein bahut mazaa aata hai (It's great fun to watch such movies).

    Who is "Taarzan The Wonder Car" aimed at?

    Abbas: Today's kids and youngsters, of course. Nowadays, with Batman, Spiderman and all kinds of men doing spectacular things in Hollywood films, the time has come when we need to make our own spectacles within the budgets affordable to us.

    Luckily, my brother and I found a producer who was willing to back our car fantasy. The problem was we needed a car that would immediately catch the audiences' attention. It had to be a unique futuristic model. Fortunately for us, Dilip Chabria agreed although he was busy designing a car for the new James Bond film.

    He took time off when he heard our story. In nine months the car was ready and we hit the road. Now the car has become such a source of curiosity that kids are lining up at the theatres to gaze at the posters of the film.

    We named our car Taarzan because it's a name all kids immediately connect with. That Tarzan combats evil in the jungle, this Taarzan does so in the concrete jungle.

    Nowadays, films targeted at the young have become nearly extinct. There was a time when a "Haathi Mere Saathi" was made with an elephant at the center. Today being an era on wheels, you could say the thinking/feeling/fighting car is the elephant of today.

    We've made our own "Haathi Mere Saathi". And believe it or not, 90 percent of the stunts are real. The car has been designed to do all the eye-catching stunts. And now, through a contest, that car goes to one member of the audience.

    We decided that since we couldn't use that car ever again in any film, why not let one of the kids have it? It's very important to generate optimum interest in the audience in the product.

    Was it difficult directing a car?

    Mustan: We work equally hard on all our films. But this was the toughest of all. We had to make sure that the car didn't get damaged in any way. Though the car was insured, we had our hearts in our mouths as the car was transported to Goa and Hyderabad for shooting. We had a car-doctor (a mechanical engineer) with us throughout.

    Your next film "Aetraaz" goes from kids to a mature audience?

    Abbas: I don't think "Taarzan" is for kids alone. It's for the child within every man. Yes, "Aetraaz" is on the delicate subject of sexual harassment. No Hindi film has attempted it.

    We like to go into unexplored areas. So far, Akshay Kumar has mostly played breezy roles. We made him a wife swapper in "Ajnabee". Now we've cast him in "Aetraaz" as a man accused of sexual harassment. It's been a while since we had a compelling courtroom crime drama.

    Aetraaz seems to be inspired by the Demi Moore thriller "Disclosure"?

    Mustan: You think so? We've refurbished the entire story, from ground floor to the top floor, ha, ha! Besides, the idea of sexual harassment, there's nothing from "Disclosure" in "Aetraaz". In all our films, we try to break new ground. "Taarzan" has a car as the hero. I remember Bachchan with his friendly car in "Khuddar".

    Why are most of your films Hollywood adaptations?

    Abbas: It isn't intentional. Even "Taarzan", though inspired by the "Herbie" series is a different story. Indian cinema cannot be like Hollywood. Certain emotions have to be included in the plot.

    We never make more than one film at a time. We give all of ourselves to each film. And we edit the film as we shoot it instead of doing it all at once in the end. In this way, we never waste any raw footage.

    Fortunately, my brother and I are totally compatible. We're inseparable. Of course we have creative conflicts. But we live together and share a common kitchen. We've never been on a holiday. When our wives and kids complain, we take them to Khandala for two days. But after "Taarzan", all of us plan to take a proper holiday.

    Mustan: Believe it or not, very often when a script comes to us we don't even know where it originates from. When we're told that a script is adapted from Hollywood we make sure we don't watch the original. When we made "Daraar" and "Baazigar", we made sure not to watch "Sleeping With The Enemy" and "A Kiss Before Dying".

    You won't believe this, but we didn't know the source of "Baazigar" until we started making the film. We were told in the original there were twin characters in the female lead. We decided to have two sisters, played by Kajol and Shilpa Shetty. That's why I feel we're the original adaptors.

    We hardly watch English-language films. We don't subscribe to any CD library. We look at a subject from our own viewpoint. No matter where it comes from, it has to be true to Indian culture. We shoot one film at a time. Our next film "Aetraaz" overlapped with "Taarzan" only because the latter's shooting got delayed. We shot two films together for the first time, though both belong to entire contrasting genres.

    Why have you not got the recognition commensurate with your success ratio?

    Mustan: We don't know how to get written about. We're low-profile workaholics. Isn't it enough recognition that most of our films do well?

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