There have been many films based on terrorism and good guys saving the world. What makes Mission Istaanbul different from the others?
Firstly, my film is not about good guys saving anyone, and my film is not about terrorism. It's about my character who is living in a world which is surrounded by terrorism and when we started getting the idea, we figured out that the most common thing connecting most countries in the world right now is terrorism and not love and peace. My character is travelling through times where all the real life terrorism acts are taking place. For example, 9/11, the Madrid blast, the London bombings and the Mumbai train blasts. We've got real life footage too just like we had in Shootout. All this makes Mission Istaanbul very interesting and slightly realistic even though it's a fictional film.
After Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan, your lucky mascot now seems to be Vivek Oberoi. Why not cast any of the Bachchans in an action film like this?
I had gone to Abhishek Bachchan with the script very initially at the first stage when I had come up with the idea of Mission Istaanbul. But he was very busy and did not have the dates and I didn't want to wait. And I had asked him about the script when we were shooting for Shootout during his sequence. It isn't about any lucky mascot. It's just that Vivek and my chemistry was pretty good in Shootout and he gave a fantastic performance. So what if Vivek has done action films in the past? He hasn't done anything like Mission Istaanbul. I've also seen that in India, somehow the combination also works yaar! It's Apoorva Lakhia and Vivek Oberoi after Shootout At Lokhandwala. I didn't have the star cast like I did for Shootout. So each decision was carefully made here. We really got into Vivek's look and so the advantage was that we had a lot of time while he grew his hair and made his physique, etc.
But why go for a specific genre Apoorva, when you could have made a non violent film?
This script was actually ready before Shootout. I made a conscious decision after Ek Ajnabee was released. I'll tell you in a bit. Ek Ajnabee was a very good film. It did a decent business in India but the Press just killed it by saying that it's a rip off and a remake of Man on Fire and did not give enough credit. So I decided never to make a remake again in my life. Even when Sanjay Gupta called me to work for his company, he offered me Four Brothers to remake which I refused to do. That's how Shootout came along. But in the Economic Times, I had read an article stating that what would happen to the world economy if Osama Bin Laden was dead? It was like living in Utopia where there is no terrorism. It's like a John Lennon's song 'Imagine'. I have a little book which I keep with me at all times where if I read something interesting from a mag or any newspaper, I cut it out and put in my book. Overall, to sum up your question, I am an action buff.
When it comes to action, the overseas audiences prefer Hollywood films. For Mission Istaanbul, did you have a specific target audience?
See bro, I knew from the very beginning that I am never going to give a blockbuster like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, etc in my life. I know that and my producers know that. My film will make about 300 to 320 prints compared to Yash Raj or a Karan Johar film which will come out with 1000 prints. I like the cinema I make and no disrespect to anybody else because they make good film too. I am only three films old and learning to be a good director. I like the grey side of life rather than the beautiful side of life. I want my characters to be dark and grey. I like the pace of my film to be relentless. So these are the things I like doing. If my target audience is like me, they'll go and watch Mission Istaanbul.
We've seen Zayed Khan deliver just one big hit of his career in the form of Main Hoon Na. Why cast him?
That's an interesting question. Firstly, I did not know Zayed at all. And what I needed in this film was a young guy who was willing to give me a hundred percent and would mature during the film. I first went to Zayed for a guest appearance which Suniel Shetty is doing now. So when I first met him he said, 'the script is fantastic and it's good of you to come and meet me'. He further added that he was at such a stage in life that he could not do guest appearances because he finally wanted to take life seriously. That was Zayed Khan for me - noble and honest. So when he said no and my dates with Bobby Deol didn't work out, I just saw that lets give Zayed a shot. One things sure bro, if Mission Istaanbul works or doesn't, this would be Zayed's best ever performance till date.
Why don't we see a well known or an established female lead in any of your films?
My films are very male dominated. If you look at the economics side of things, we do not necessarily need an established actress. If I get a big heroine, I'll have to pay her 2 to 3 crores which would not be worth it for an Apoorva Lakhia film. Mission Istaanbul is a film with smaller actors but I had to keep my budget in mind because the film was much bigger. Suniel Shetty has been kind enough to give 24 crores to spend on a Zayed-Vivek film which no other producer would do.
Tell me why Shreya Saran and debutant Shweta Bharadwaj?
I selected Shreya Saran was because I wanted a very beautiful Indian face to have the Indianess in my film. When I began casting, Sivaji was released and I saw her in that. She was mind blowing. The second thing is that though she has done a couple of Hindi films in the recent past, Mission Istaanbul would almost be her debut in Hindi cinema. In South, she is a big star but in Mumbai, no one knows her. As far as the other girl, Shreya Bharadwaj was concerned, we needed a girl who would give us 45 days before the start of the film to train in action because she has a terrific action packed role and that we could not get it done from any well known actress because they were not willing to give us those crucial days.
Let's talk about Mika Singh. You now seem to have found your Ganpat in Mission Istaanbul?
Mika is a very good friend of mine. I got him onto Shootout and we recorded 'Ganpat' by fluke. The story of 'Ganpat' is that we were recording the song by Euphoria 'Hey Maa'. Mika was sitting in the next studio and within a few minutes he came up with this song, 'Ganpat', which we recorded right there. In Mission Istaanbul, he has done this song, 'Apun Ke Saath Jo Bhi Ladega, Sar Saale Ka Wahi Phutega'. It's not only an Apoorva - Mika combination coming together but also Vivek - Mika once more after Shootout. In India, the song is a big hit and we released it one week before Abhishek's 'Nobody like you'.
You are also well known for launching new faces. Tell us a bit about the he-man Nikitin Dheer.
I wanted to go out of the box this time around. I wanted a guy who could be the Rupert Murdoch, this media tycoon, but not play his age. Nikitin Dheer is like Rupert Murdoch's son. He owns this huge media empire called the Al-Johara news channel which is spread all over the world. He is Harvard educated, spoilt and over confident. He is six-four height, looks like an army tank and when he takes his shirt off, he can blow anyone apart. He can raise his leg over my feet and I am six feet tall. Now you tell me, how can I let this guy not act in my film? It was a little bit of a risk working with so many new comers. There was an article which was published in DNA which said that I am only three films old but have given a break to eight people. I have given a break to my background artist Amar Mohile, my editor in two films, my costume designer, my DOP and my actors. I started as an assistant and I like to trust everyone who works with me. 'Mission Mission' song and Abhishek's 'Nobody' song has been done by a 22 year old first time music director. His name is Chirantan Bhatt who is a little gujju kid. He used to come to my office everyday and tell me to listen to his music. I ignored him five times and when one day I was smoking outside, I made him and another guy Hamza sing. They blew my mind up dude! I went to his small house in Juhu where he lives with his mother. We jammed from 1 till 2 in the morning and came up with these two songs. So you know, you have to give such guys a chance and if it has worked for me, it'll definitely work for others.
Does Mission Istaanbul give out any social message?
There is no message given out in Mission Istaanbul. Even in Shootout, there is no message. It is left for the public after Dia Mirza's last monologue. The public should decide who is good and who is bad. I could have taken the police's side or the bad guy's side. Thus in Shootout, both of them were heroes and both of them were villains. In Mission Istaanbul, I've not said whether terrorism is good because I truly believe that someone's terror is someone else's war. I haven't educated myself to give a judgement whether it's good or bad. I'm too young to give a judgement.
Did you ever come up with this idea that Mission Istaanbul could have been a film with no songs in it?
Mission Istaanbul could have been there with no songs in it....but you have to realise once again that I am making a movie with Zayed Khan, Vivek Oberoi, Nikitin Dheer, Shabbir Ahluwalia and two new girls for which I am spending 24 crores. So I have to keep the songs because the revenue which comes to around 3 to 5 crores is very important to my producers. I would rather make a film without songs but sometimes you have to give and take. I am not Raj Kumar Santoshi or Ram Gopal Varma where I can tell someone 'Nahi chahiye yaar!'. Suniel Shetty explained me that if you have an action film which is not the hottest genre in the overseas market, but if you have an action film supported with good music, that is an advantage to you. Touchwood, it is working out the same way as Suniel described. My title song has been on the number one for almost two weeks and the romantic number is also doing well as it's on seven right now.
We have seen your buddy Abhishek doing a guest appearance in Shootout and in Mission too he has done a special music video 'Nobody Like You' for you. So the baby is here, where's the daddy, Mr Bachchan senior?
Mission Istaanbul is the only film of mine where we were trying to fit Amitji in some scene or the other but it didn't really work out. Abhishek is as good as Mr Bachchan. I've made a friend for life after Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost. Abhi's song is very good. He hasn't been dancing ever since he got married so it's another great thing yaar (laughs).
Mission Istaanbul is an action packed film but are we going to see any special effects in it?
You will see bits and pieces of computer graphics but there are no special effects in Mission Istaanbul. All the stunts are done by my actors, including jumping from a building on to a helicopter, then jumping down from the helicopter in the -20 degree temperature of December when the water was frozen, etc. When you see the film, you will see nothing but close up's of the actors doing it.
Out of all the four babies (read 'films') you've directed, which one is your best?
Obviously the baby whom I'm close to is Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost, even though it tanked. But I have no regrets. After that, all my other films are close to me. But Mission Istaanbul is the only one which is making me nervous right now. I have never been so nervous in my life.
And can you tell us the reason for your nervousness?
Firstly, I don't want people to think that Shootout was a fluke. Secondly, I want to be established in the film industry as a serious filmmaker or someone who takes his job very seriously besides the way I look and my tattoos too. And thirdly, because I feel indebted to Suniel Shetty because he was the one person who stood up for me when the whole Sanjay Gupta thing happened. He has the confidence in me to tell me that this is the star cast we have, this is the budget you require, go and shoot it yaar, forget reducing there and here. I think this kind of a movie with such a star cast should have been made with Rs 17 crores. Suneil and Ekta Kapoor have surpassed that figure. So both have been a great support. I am also doing another film with them called Generation X which is worth 65 crores. It is going to kick off in July or August next year which we are shooting in China, Korea, Miami and Australia.
Why should one go and watch Mission Istaanbul?
Because it is new age, modern, fast paced and a relentless thriller.
Any message for your fans who loved Shootout and loved 'Ganpat'?
I don't know if I have too many fans. But if there any, I'd say that as an honest director, personally I think Mission Istaanbul is better than Shootout At Lokhandwala.