‘Magical’ is how director Siddharth Anand describes the first time Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff faced the camera together for Yashraj Film’s War. “It was in Italy and we were shooting an action scene. You had crew of 130 people just waiting with bated breath for that moment to see these two big stars walk together in one frame,” he says with a satisfied smile that stays during this interview.
I met Anand, who made his directorial debt with Salaam Namaste in 2005, in the atrium cafe of YRF Studio where he’s putting the final touches on what is touted to be one of the biggest films of 2019. War pits Shroff’s Khalid against Kabir (played by Roshan), a former soldier gone rogue in an action spectacle that also stars Vaani Kapoor. The cat-and-mouse chase takes our hunky men from the mountains of North Portugal to the beach towns of Italy and the pristine Finnish Laplands.
Anand picks a car chase shot in Finland’s Artic wonderland as one of the toughest sequences in War. “The chase is shot on a frozen lake that we realised is the highest point in the world that any film has shot an action sequence. We had to get crews and equipment that would work in that kind of cold.” Making sure that the ice cover on the lake was thick enough to support the weight of the cars took a month. “After that it took another week to prep the action, a week to shoot it.” And, all this for what is eventually a three-minute sequence in the film. When I point this out to Anand, he laughs and says, “But it’s all worth it”.
A taste for action
In the six films Anand has directed, War is his only second attempt at eye-popping action. Films like Hum Tum and Bachna A Haseeno had cemented his reputation as a director of frothy romances. It all changed with Bang Bang, the official adaption of Knight and Day, starring Katrina Kaif and Hrithik Roshan. Anand admits that he had never thought he’d ever direct an action film. “It was Fox (Star Studios) that asked if I’d like to remake Knight and Day and 500 Days of Summer. The latter was right up my alley so I got really excited and started work on that while Knight and Day was lurking somewhere in the background.” Eventually, Knight and Day shaped up as Bang Bang and now the 41-year-old can’t see himself ‘doing anything else but action’.
Anand believes a ‘must have’ for anyone directing an adrenaline-infused action flick is ‘vision’. He explains, “If the director doesn’t have a vision that can justify the action in the script, then it’s a disaster. If you have a budget that justifies the script, you need to be prudent how you spend it. That’s how a film becomes larger-than-life. Even when I made romantic films like Salaam Namaste, Bachna Ae Haseeno and Anjaana Anjaani, all looked larger than life even though they were intimate stories. When I shifted genres that extended naturally to my action films.” Though he doesn’t watch too many films, Anand mentions the Mission: Impossible and the Dhoom series as his favourites.
What makes War exciting for fans and even Anand was the casting of its leading men. When he was writing the film, with producer Aditya Chopra, Anand already had Roshan in mind. “It was always Hrithik I was writing for, and when this idea of a mentor and protégé came about, the only actor I could think of was Tiger. We were certain that if we didn’t get Tiger, we might as well scrap the idea or change the character to a girl. There’s nobody else I could see in that role.” The reason why Shroff was perfect for the role is because he has often admitted to being a fan of Roshan. “He really looks up to Hrithik who is his role model even in real life. The role in the film is an extension of that.”
Tales of bruised egos and eccentric one-upmanship have been common among action stars. Around the release of the Hollywood action flick Hobbs & Shaw earlier this year, there were reports that lead actors Jason Statham and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s contracts specify the amount of on-screen punishment their character take in fights. When I mention this to Anand, he is shocked and very relieved. “If I had insecure actors, this film would have become a huge burden and there would be a lot of stress. But it was a smooth ride. Both of them had a lot of respect for each other in their spaces, but it’s also because they were not competing with each other. They’re in different age groups, so I didn’t have two youngsters or two senior people fighting for the same space. It was actually fascinating to see them doing action stunts together,” he emphasises.