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Last Updated 13.10.2019 | 8:29 PM IST



“All detainees were stripped naked & their body shaved to humiliate them” – Kabir Khan

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Kabir Khan quotes, “The world has changed since 9/11.” So instead of stories that reflect how 9/11 changed us, we have stories that help us flatter ourselves into believing that it did. Fahrenheit 9/11, World Trade Center and United 93 cherry-picked the few triumphant stories of 9/11. Bollywood’s very own Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota too managed its own. They let us see it as a day when Americans tapped their strength, transformed and sacrificed – whether you and I, munching our cashew nuts in the audience, did or not. For the people of America and the entire world, a memorial can never replace what those of you mourning a loved one have lost. Freedom was no more free. So when truth met fiction, the world looked even more dangerous through the eyes of Kabir Khan, the director of Yash Raj Films New York which has 9/11 as its backdrop and three friends whose beautiful lives are turned upside down by larger than life events beyond their control in a city that was termed as adolescent, a cacophonous and multicoloured place, where work and play entwine; a hyperactive, aphrodisiac and a real-life marriage of heaven and hell. UK’s Harrow Observer columnist and Bollywood Hungama‘s London correspondent met Kabir Khan and figured out that New York wasn’t just a place the world had seen in the movies, it acted out a film of its own.

9/11 – A new world

“I’d answer your question in two parts. The largest film industry in the world has only managed to produce two films based on 9/11. Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota and New York. But more importantly, we can all say that 9/11 happened in America. But I disagree. I think 9/11 has changed the whole world and if we Indians think that it did not affect us, we are being a bit naïve and insular. We are still facing its consequences. History will always repeat itself if you forget it. The partition of India happened 61 years ago but we can’t help and not talk about it. It has changed the psyche of Indians and Pakistanis forever. Today, everything to do with Pakistan is relevant because of the partition. When we play a cricket match with them, it’s our partition which also comes into play. New York has 9/11 as its backdrop but the backdrop is not pushed as an issue in the film. The film begins in 2001 and goes on till 2008.”

The largest film industry in the world has only managed to produce two films based on 9/11

Balanced perspective

“Not at all. The film does have a political backdrop and when you’re shooting a film like this, you have to share the script with the authorities out there, which we did. New York is opening on a debate and prejudices don’t only flow in one direction. Unfortunately after 9/11, all of us have prejudices against the other person. It’s not that the Americans are not prejudiced in their view about Muslims in the world. Now it’s the other way round too. The film has managed to handle that and therefore got a balanced perspective. The American crew felt very strongly about our film.”

Bush administration v/s Obama administration

“9/11 is a self acknowledged dark chapter in America’s contemporary history. They recognize that the Bush administration was their darkest phase and the first thing which Obama did was to try, stop and control some of the negative legacies of the Bush administration. The film thus becomes topical in nature too. The film tries and tells us that let’s not forget 9/11 but let’s move on now. Let’s look at the future too. How long are we suppose to live in the shadows of 9/11? What’s ironical is that our last day of the shoot coincides with the last day of George Bush presidency. We finished our shoot and the next day Obama was elected the president of the Untied States of America. Our wrap up party changed into the celebration of Obama’s presidency. We along with the New Yorkers were out on the streets celebrating.”

What’s ironical is that our last day of the shoot coincides with the last day of George Bush presidency

Music of New York

“In keeping with the more dramatic and an emotional level of story telling that I’ve used in New York, I realized that the songs were a must in the film. The media often writes that because I’m a documentary filmmaker, I am against the use of any songs in the film. I love song and dance. I am a trained dancer and was a choreographer in my college days. I feel very strongly about songs being a part of the narrative versus songs being placed for the fun of it. I’ve seen brilliant films getting destroyed by a misplaced song. Bearing in mind the realistic narrative, I cannot have any of my characters singing unless the role of the actor is that of a singer or a performer. So I’ve used all of New York‘s songs in the backdrop. The only misgiving I have about my short time for publicity is that I’m not being able to project the songs enough.”

A good bit of research

“Because of my background as a documentary filmmaker, I will never touch a subject unless I’ve exhausted all research on it. It took me eleven months to put together the script of New York only because of the research. I’ve had a word with people of all nationalities. New York is a global story. Even if you remove the three Indian protagonists of the film and replace them by three Jordanians, it’ll work. I’ve spoken to the people from the FBI, done a lot of reading in terms of books and articles published back then, etc. When it comes to our audience and if the film was set in a la-la land, they’ll be very forgiving. They will let all loop holes pass by. But the moment you make a real film based on real events, the same audience becomes very discerning, which I think is very good because they bring in different kind of sensibilities. For my discerning audiences, I’ve tried to be bang on with my facts and figures.”

New York is a global story. Even if you remove the three Indian protagonists of the film and replace them by three Jordanians, it’ll work

More to New York than just the title

“We went through many other titles. New York was the first title. In fact, the working title of the script was New York. One of the reasons the title was born because we were shooting in New York but more than that, New York doesn’t lend itself to any language because New York is New York, whether its in Hindi, Swahili, Arabic, etc. As I’ve said before; you can enjoy the film at face value as a story of three friends and not go into the layers below. But there are many layers to New York than just a city that never sleeps. It is a symbol of what’s happening in the world today. New York is where it all started from. When you mention Kargil, you don’t think of it as a hilly terrain. You think of other things. That’s the way I’ve used New York.”

Visa problems

“Tell me about it! I did not get a visa for two months because of my name. We’re talking of prejudices about the Bush administration; here we have life imitating art. I’ve shot in the United States of America six times before I started shooting for New York. The FBI had listed twenty nine South Asian names and somewhere there was a mention of Kabir Khan. My name then went through the FBI check. My chief assistant director whose name happens to be Ali was stopped for three months too. In fact, there is another Yash Raj team flying to New York soon for their next film and not a single Muslim was stopped. Already we are seeing the transition from the Bush administration to the Obama administration, I guess.”

John’s nude scene and the real life trauma of the illegal detainees

“John’s nude scene was totally based on facts and from the actual personal account of people who went through that. George Bush had once said that the water boarding instrument cannot be termed as torture. But in the entire process of interrogation, the torture and trying to break them down was done with a very scientifically planned programme. People have also told me that there are certain scenes similar to that shown in Khuda Ke Liye. Yes, there was a chapter in that film which dealt with illegal detention but even the director of Khuda Ke Liye must’ve done his research well. All the illegal detainees were stripped naked and their entire body shaved only to humiliate them. So, John’s scene was as real as it can get.”

I did not get a visa for two months because of my name

Big names down West

“Yes. Let’s hope the film works for more reasons than just one. Irrfan Khan is a huge name in the U.S and after the success of Slumdog Millionaire; he has become Bollywood’s hottest property in Hollywood. Then you’ve got John who has Canada going ga-ga over him, thanks to Water. He has the largest fan following in Canada and the U.K. With a strong story, good cast and an honest approach, let’s hope New York transforms itself into a good film at the box office.”

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