Airlift is an important story from an important event – Raja Menon
Finally, it is expected that Bollywood will have something to cheer about in 2016 when Airlift hits the screens this Friday. The film has been creating tremendous hype, what with the promos getting universal acceptance. Akshay Kumar has shown his mettle time and again, and with this particular genre pretty much patented against his name (case in point being Baby, and Holiday), audience expectations are set. All of this has been made possible by one man, Raja Menon, who was convinced for many years that as a subject, Airlift carried enough potential for a larger mass.
Over to Raja.
Promos of Airlift pretty much give an impression that this is not a frivolous piece of cinema and carries certain maturity to it, right?
Absolutely. It is very important to maintain this messaging. Airlift is an important story from an important event. Once the core ‘sur’ of the narrative is like this, you have to stay true to it and keep it that way throughout. You can’t put in something arbitrary. You cannot have a comedy track come out of nowhere. The audience connect that you establish has to be true to the story. Even the songs for that matter need to be aligned, like for example ‘Soch’, which takes the story forward.
I understand that you are the one who came up with the core idea. Were you carrying it with you for a really long time or the moment you pitched it to Nikhil Advani and Akshay Kumar, the film was on?
I wrote the story over a period of time. I always believed that it was too big a story to find a producer and actors for; it was something that always played in the back of my head. I spent time in getting the story together. It was two and a half years ago when making the film became a reality. Nikhil was a big part of that as he asked me one simple question – ‘Tell me the biggest film that you wish to make but feel that no one would want to make in this country, as they may think that it is too big’. I said Airlift, and he instantly said – ‘Give it a shot’.
Well, in its inception yes, though taking it to the next level was some work for sure. I first narrated just a one page story to Nikhil. Then a couple of days later I met him again after fleshing it further down (along with my writer friend Rahul Nangia) into 40-50 pages. That was the first part of the screenplay and we all felt that there was this level where we could take it further. I knew that as a writer I could perhaps not do that and this is where writers Ritesh Shah and Suresh Nair came in. Once they took the film to a whole second level, the game was on. So as I said, it wasn’t that simple after all (smiles).
Still, considering the fact that you come from a strong advertisement background, just like Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Shoojit Sircar, it must have given you an edge to make a film like Airlift, right?
Advertising is a great tool to learn. We are both the producer and the director there. So we know how to maximize the value of rupee for a producer. Advertising also helps because you are constantly working with a medium where you know how to tell a story in the shortest time possible or how a shot can look like a much bigger shot. These kind of tools help. It is a phenomenal place to learn since the budgets are restricted. You also cultivate relationships with technicians over a period of time and eventually in a film, everything comes down to whether the technicians share the same vision as yours.
As a storyteller, it certain helps.
Yes. Also, when it comes to comparing a film and an advertisement, I guess those lines are being blurred now because ultimately we are looking at telling good stories. Like for instance, I would imagine deep down that Shoojit too perhaps always wanted to make longer format films. Let’s admit that we all crave for that (smiles). Now there are added opportunities where we get a camera in hand and tell a story.
Well, you made best use of the camera in hand. After all, you have shot Airlift at a very lavish scale and that too across continents. Guess it is one of those films that certainly warrant a big screen watch?
There is no question about that as this is a cinematic experience. Sound wise, imagery wise, video wise, big shot taking, city view – Airlift is definitely an epic production. My crew and I worked together for six months on a pre-production mode. We broke down every single shot with each department. We knew exactly what we wanted to shoot and every department came together. Managing logistics is so important, otherwise how do you get 20 cars of a 1990 make in the background? Yes, it was all difficult but at the end of the day, we managed to pull it off. It was largely because the crew was keenly clued into what we wanted. Hence, there was not a minute wasted on the film. We finished the film in 51 days flat without any compromise.