Nikkhil Advani has just got back from Estonia in Northern Europe where his production, Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway, was flagged off on August 11. It is inspired by a 2011 case, where the Norway Child Welfare Service, misinterpret Indian cultural sensitivities, like young children sharing a bed with their parents or being forced fed by hand, decided that the mother was unfit to care for her children and took away the toddlers, aged five and three, keeping them in a foster home for around a year. And that prompts the first question:
What made you want to bring this case to the screen?
It’s the mother’s trauma, so well-etched in the unputdownable script that Ashima Chibber (director) sent me. I started reading it on a Sunday evening and it brought out the same feelings that Airlift had evoked during Raja’s [director Raja Krishna Menon] narration. I immediately called up my sister, Monisha [Advani], told her to drop everything and read it. She messaged back after a couple of hours, “We have to do this film.”
Have you met the mother, Sagarika Chakraborty, since?
No, we wanted to fly her down, but quarantine rules during the pandemic stopped us. But Ashima has spent a lot of time with her and Rani Mukerji, who is playing the mother in our film, also had several Zoom chats with her.
Our source material is a manuscript Sagarika has written, which will be published. Of course, we have fictionalised and dramatised it, as is evident from the title.
Another interesting project is your upcoming series, Mumbai Diaries 26/11. Was it conceived during the on-going pandemic?
No, we finished shooting it before February 28, 2020, which was when an Italian man, who was part of a 21-member group that landed in India on February 21 and visited six districts in Rajasthan, was hospitalised and tested positive for Covid. It may seem like a timely story today because the pandemic has made us realise that all superheroes don’t wear capes, some wear white lab coats too.
I have been thinking about it since 2018, when Vijay Subramaniam and Aparna Purohit of Amazon Prime came to me after P.O.W. Bandi Yuddh Ke and said they wanted to do something with me in the same space. I’d had enough of espionage after D-Day and P.O.W., but American drama series like Chicago Hope and Code Black jumped at me.
People come to a dispensary or a hospital thinking they will be cured without thinking about what the doctors are dealing with. The split-second decisions they have to make to save a life.
One recalls that during the terror attacks in 2008, a night-duty nurse at the Cama and Albless Hospital risked her life to save 20 pregnant women, even as the terrorists were sprinting up the stairs. Was any such story the trigger for the upcoming series, Mumbai Diaries 26/11, which starts streaming on Amazon Prime from September 9?
The city itself was the trigger. It was hard for me to believe that 10 terrorists could just get off a dinghy at Bardwar Park in Mumbai, walk through the fisherman’s colony there, cross the road and proceed, unchecked, with AK-47 rifles, to Leopold Café, where they went boom boom, before splitting and heading towards the Taj Mahal Hotel, The Trident and CST railway station.
In much the same way, the 13 bomb blasts in the city, 1993, which made Dawood Ibrahim the second most wanted person in the world, was the trigger for D-Day.
Will we get a pandemic story from you next?
I think the effects and repercussions of the pandemic are still so real that people don’t want to be reminded of it. But yes, during the last two years, when life came to a standstill for many, social workers, doctors and even BMC workers have done amazing work. How many even knew BMC Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal’s name before the pandemic? Today, he’s a household name and a dinner topic conversation. Akshay Kumar might even be thinking of doing a biopic on him now.
You’re now doing a science-drama series, Rocket Boys, Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai and APJ Abdul Kalam, and their contribution to Indian space research and development.
Yes. Why should our heroes only be cricketers and Bollywood superstars? Why can’t we speak about teachers, doctors and scientists too?
Are you happy with your recent production Bell Bottom’s performance at the box-office?
Let’s just say that when theatres open 100 per cent, I would wish for people to see the film on the big screen.
Is that why you are holding on to a Satyamev Jayate 2 even though the film is ready?
There’s a conviction in Milap Zaveri’s (writer-director) storytelling. He knows at this point he will get ceeties and which scene will bring the taalis. How can I deprive him of that?
Wouldn’t you have wanted your period drama series, The Empire, set to release on Disney+Hotstar tomorrow, to be a movie released on the big screen instead?
Never! The show is inspired by Alex Rutherford’s Empire of the Moghul series, an anthology of six books, and the idea is to do them all. It would be an injustice to a 500-page book to tell the story of Babur in two hours.
Who’s the next Mughal emperor after Babur in the series?
Humayun. Ruterford’s next book in the series, Brothers At War, revolves around Babur’s son Humayun, his battle for his life, the crown and the Mughul empire with his half-brothers. The story’s been set up in Season 1 itself.
More ideas are being developed aggressively by our team at Emmay Entertainment, some as a platform for other directors. I’m busy with a really big show myself and Ritesh Shah and Suresh Nair are also writing a script for me.
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