Kabir Khan eyes on joint Indian – Saudi film projects

December 17, 2021
Kabir Khan
Kabir Khan

By Hassan Cheruppa

Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – Kabeer Khan, eminent Indian filmmaker, said that he is exploring the prospect of tapping the huge potential of the nascent film industry in Saudi Arabia. “I will come again to Saudi Arabia most probably in January or February 2022 to see the possibility of collaboration in filmmaking in the Kingdom. The Gulf region, with a huge concentration of the Diaspora from the Indian subcontinent, is a great supporter of our cinema and they still cherish the iconic moment of India becoming the World Cricket Champions though it happened 38 years ago,” Khan, director of the Indian film ’83, said.

Kabeer Khan came to attend the world premiere of the star-studded film ’83 at the grand closing of the RedSea International Film Festival here on Wednesday. Bollywood superstars Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, former Indian skipper Kapil Dev and many other cricket legends came to attend the show. Ranveer Singh-Deepika couple starred the role of Kapil Dev and his wife Romi Dev in the film. The film, jointly produced by Khan and Deepika, tells India’s historic victory at the 1983 Cricket World Cup. The screening of the film has been delayed for over a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Khan welcomed the move of Saudi Film Commission to make the Kingdom a hub for both the local and international film industry with attracting international film companies to make movies in the Kingdom. “At present, I am busy with marketing the film ’83, and later, I would love to come and definitely explore the possibility of filmmaking in the Kingdom. We could collaborate after getting the feel of what is available here and how can we make it,” he said while noting that he had already discussed the matter with RedSeaIFF Managing Director Shivani Pandya, who is also from India.

’83 daunting task

The unique experience behind making ’83 was incredible, Khan told Saudi Gazette. Cricket in India is a billion dollar industry. It was a daunting task to get 14 super stars together to act as legendary players. The cricket match is not the actual story but the human story behind it was what matters most to me.

The human story remains to survive forever and that is why the story is still relevant after 38 years of the victory. The young team that achieved what seemed impossible with an undying team spirit and thirst for victory is the human story that enabled the classic underdogs, who did not win even a single match in the World Cup, to script history, Khan said. It is noteworthy that in the film, actors repeat the slogan “Taste success one; tongue wants more.”

Khan noted that the film focuses on a single event that was considered to be a turning point in Indian sports history, as it was the first such a victory in the post Independent India. The iconic 175 not out innings of Kapil Dev, which was a world record, and lifting of the World Cup infused and continues to infuse a great deal of confidence in Indians all over the world,” he said.

Recalling the sweat and toil behind making the film, Khan said: It is not difficult to make sportsmen as we can train them to play sports but to make them play the way legends played is very difficult. Kapil Dev was the most recognizable star of the team with a very particular bowling style and it is a very difficult task for an actor to bowl and bat like him. For decades, people in India are asking when will the next Kapil Dev be born in India.

It was not easy to do what they did in that World Cup. It took several months of rigorous training with four or five hours in the cricket field on a daily basis to train the young stars to play like the legends. Fortunately, member of the original team was the coach who knows the style of every player.

The casting of the legendary teams of the West Indies and Austria were also tough. We hired a London-based casting agent who spent five weeks in the West Indies just to auditioning the cricket tests. We put all cameras outside the boundary line and none of the players know who is being shot and hence the matches looked more natural. I am extremely delighted to see that the end results were so fabulous.

Journalistic background

Khan started career at the age 25 as a cinematographer for the Discovery Channel documentary film “Beyond the Himalayas.” Before becoming a full time filmmaker, he worked as a cameraman and director with renowned Indian journalist Saeed Naqvi and traveled across the globe to cover international issues.

“My journalistic background and documentary filmmaking plus global tour along with the legendary journalist Naqvi Sab has been instrumental in shaping me as a story teller. At a very young age, I had a great exposure and opportunity to interview many heads of state and prominent figures during our travel that took me to around 80 countries around the world,” he said, adding, it has broadened my horizons and allowed me to see that there is always a human story beyond the headlines.

Khan noted that when he started his career of making documentary films along with Naqvi, “there was a wide gap between the story that should have been told to us and the story of the real life, and all my stories somehow try to fill up this gap,” he said. “The Forgotten Army,” based on Indian National Army, formed by Indian Freedom Struggle hero Subhas Chandra Bose, was Khan’s debut as a documentary director.

Saddening Afghan story

Khan, director of Kabul Express, also expressed his sadness over the plight of Afghan people, especially filmmakers, caused by the return of Taliban to power. He dared to take his cast to Afghanistan to shoot his debut feature film, immediately after the invasion of the country by the United States following the September 11 terror attacks in 2001.

“I am sorry to note that even after 20 years of the shoot; Afghanistan was not able to come out of the vicious circle. While I was shooting the film in a prison where Taliban militants were kept, an old Taliban soldier looked at me and said: ‘you think we have gone; no, we will come back,” he said while pointing out that it virtually chilled down his spines.

“It is very sad to see that so many of our friends had to run away and escape Afghanistan, especially friends in the media and film industry as the approach of the Taliban toward film and performing arts are disheartening,” he said. The film gained him the Indira Gandhi Award for Best Debut Film of a Director.

Khan was born to Rasheeduddin Khan, nephew of India’s former President Zakir Hussain. His father was also member of the Indian parliament and one of the founding professors of Jawaharlal Nehru University. Khan is also well known as a film producer, screenwriter, story writer, and cinematographer. His major films include New York (2009), Ek Tha Tiger (2012), Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) and Phantom (2015), and Tubelight (2017). Bajrangi Bhaijaan is the third highest-grossing Indian film globally and second highest-grossing Bollywood film globally with $150 million (Rs11 billion).

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