Team Tere Bin Laden: Dead Or Alive – director Abhishek Sharma, producer Pooja Shetty Deora, and actors Manish Paul, Sikander Kher and Pradhuman Singh – speak to Team Box Office India about their upcoming spin-off to Tere Bin Laden
Box Office India (BOI): Let’s start with how the idea of the spin-off of Tere Bin Laden came about. After the first film, you were not planning on making another instalment, right?
Abhishek Sharma (AS): I am really glad because you are the first person to call it a ‘spin-off’, not a ‘sequel’. We were never thinking of making a sequel, at least not me. When I was writing the first Tere Bin Laden, I was not thinking about continuing the story because you can’t really take it forward after Ali’s (Zafar) character is in America. When Osama (Bin Laden) died, there was this prominent journalist who wrote an article saying that since Bin Laden was dead, the chances of its sequel is dead too. I guess that was the starting point. Bin Laden’s death was so prominent that it not only affected America or the Middle East or the terrorist world but Bollywood too, as we are all reacting to a very small film. Tere Bin Laden was an independent film, which was worth barely a million dollars. It wasn’t a film that could be linked to a global political game. But it did and that was the point.
So I started thinking about a spin-off. Basically, this spin-off is action and reaction to Osama’s death. So this is the post-Bin Laden world… Just like the first Tere Bin Laden was about the post-9/11 world, this spin-off starts after the death of Osama. I must say here that this film has strong parallels with the Hollywood film, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.
Basically, there are three forces – Good, represented by Manish (Paul); Bad, which is Sikander (Kher); and Ugly, not in terms of looks but in the sense of the convoluted point of view, which is of the terrorist represented by Khaleeli played by Piyush Mishra. Osama is symbolically the pot of gold in that particular analogy. That’s what the film is all about… the post-Osama world and how these three forces descend on our pot of gold, one trying to prove he is alive, one trying to prove he is dead and one, like myself, who is a director, trying to make his living out of it… just like me, who is still cashing in on Osama’s death!
BOI: Given that the topic is Osama Bin Laden, it would spark a serious mood. How did you bring in a zany feeling, a comic take and then add satire to it?
AS: I think my problem is, which Pooja here knows, that I don’t have a filter in my head. So when I am in a certain situation, I laugh and look at the funny side of it. So when I read the newspaper, every day, I tend to read between the lines to find what is funny. I think the creation of Osama Bin Laden and America’s war on terror is very funny, in a way. Someone once said that comedy comes from the things you see with your brain and tragedy comes from seeing things with your heart. I don’t see things with my heart, I just analyse them.
BOI: Pooja, as a producer, what made you back both films?
Pooja Shetty Deora (PSD): When I heard the one-liner of the first part in 2007, when Abhishek told me this is what he wanted to make, I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. But I also sat up in my chair and said this is fantastic provided we can cast someone who looks exactly like Osama Bin Laden and we are able to pull off that part of the film.
AS: (Cuts in) And, for the longest time, they pursued me to say yes to playing Osama in the film.
PSD: According to me, Abhishek is one of the finest creative minds I have encountered in a long time. At that time, obviously, we didn’t know this as he was making his first film. When I was looking at the screenplay and also at the way it was shot, I realised that it was a difficult film to make. But its success and the support we received from the people who saw the film encouraged us to make the second film. The second one was actually an idea which we discussed at the Goa Film Festival. Pradhuman was also there and we talked about it. We were actually working on another screenplay together at that time. Together, I mean they were writing…
AS: (Cuts in) Yes, Pradhuman was doing the dialogue for that one.
PSD: So we were talking and suddenly Abhishek said ‘I have this idea’ and it was the only possible spin-off idea that could have come out of a film like Tere Bin Laden. I am quite happy and proud to be associated with a film that is not a run-of-the-mill, low-level comedy. It is very intelligent and it goes into a space which is absolutely outrageous and yet manages to appeal to a larger segment of our society, the Hindi film watching audience, without making it either too intellectual or dumbed down.
BOI: Coming to the actors… Pradhuman, you are present in both parts and you are the most important link as you play Osama in both films. What were the challenges you faced and what was your reference point for the character?
Pradhuman Singh (PS): As they said, this whole thing started back in 2007, when I was working in Kolkata. Abhishek called me and said, ‘I am making a film, will you be interested in it?’ I asked him what I would have to do and if I would be assisting him. He said, ‘No, you have to act.’ I came to Mumbai and he showed me a video and said that this is what I want you to do, play Osama Bin Laden. I was, like, ‘No man, I don’t want to do this!’ I freaked out and said I was not going to be part of a biopic on Osama Bin Laden and that too in my first film, which would then become my last too! Abhishek narrated me a one-liner and told me that I have to play an Osama lookalike and that he was a poultry farmer from Pakistan. That is what got my attention and I thought it was very interesting. I think Vikram Gaikwad, the make-up artist did a fabulous job. A lot of credit goes to him as he was the first person to give Abhishek the confidence that I could look like Osama. And that test shoot kind of got us there. When I look back, I thank Abhishek and Pooja also because it is one of the finest characters that has come alive on the big screen. Nobody had imagined anything like this. Not because I have played it but because I can compare this character to a Gabbar or probably Borat in some sense, and what Sacha Baron Cohen does because it is as big and he created it.
BOI: How different was your life after you played the character?
PS: That’s a very good question. It was very different.
AS: (Cuts in) In the second part, he was the star. (Laughs)PS: (Laughs) Yes, in the second part I gave them a hard time. On a serious note, I believe that in Mumbai, and especially in the film industry, you have to go through your share of struggles. You don’t get anything on a platter. I thought my struggling days would be over once this film released and then, all of a sudden, this film came about and it was a massive hit. I am meeting the who’s who of the industry, thanks again to Pooja and Aarti (Shetty). Everybody is telling me what a great actor I am. I thought I would do my next film with Anurag Kashyap or probably Dibakar Banerjee, YRF is not that far off either, six pack abs… here it goes. Get a PR person and get a nice haircut. I thought that’s the deal now. But none of that happened, to be honest, except the accolades that I received.
Sikander Kher (SK): And the haircut. (Laughs)
PS: …which was expensive, at the time. All my life, I went to a barber who charged Rs.80 to cut my hair and now, all of a sudden, Aalim (Hakim) takes Rs.2,000 for the same haircut. They cut my hair in such a fancy way, with clips and all that…
PS: Yes, and they give you hair products that also cost Rs.2,000.
SK: With free coffee!
PS: Green tea, not coffee. But, honestly, nothing of that sort happened. I didn’t get much work. But I think it is not the industry’s fault. They didn’t know who I was and they just couldn’t picture me in any part. I did get a couple of offers but unfortunately some of my films didn’t take off. And the ones that did, I wished hadn’t. My struggle started after my first film.
One great thing is that I am respected wherever I go. As an actor, people look up to me and tell me that I am a brilliant actor. That helps keep the fight going every day. It makes me want to be better at my craft. I still have that zeal. If I didn’t, I might as well go back and get back to my job, which I was also pretty happy with. But I am getting there again thanks to Abhishek and Pooja, who gave me an opportunity to write also, so that helps.
AS: This time around, he came on board also as the screenplay and dialogue writer. We created this beast together. That is something I am very proud of because I have always called him my protégé as I have launched him as an actor and now he has also written a film for me for the first time. He created the character in Tere Bin Laden and now he has recreated the character and this time it was easy for him because it was in his DNA. This film is in my DNA too, so to recreate Tere Bin Laden or that mood is easier now for both of us. But for me to crack the story and for him to write the screenplay and the dialogue was tougher than last time because this film has a very complicated structure, which we needed to simplify because the audience cannot see something they have to intellectually analyse. I think that is one of the major contributions and achievements of this guy.