”83, is a once in a lifetime story.’
‘I often say that sometimes, I feel that you don’t choose stories, stories choose you.’
‘Why for the last 37 years was the story not made? It’s staring at our faces, the greatest sporting triumph for India ever.’
Kabir Khan talks about his really interesting life — from his love story to how he walked into a minefield to making Kapil Dev come out in Ranveer Singh — in a candid chat with Neha Dhupia on her chat show, No Filter with Neha.
He also reveals when his much-awaited film ’83 will release.
“It’s a once in a lifetime story and it’s been designed for the big screen. We were very sure that for ’83, every cinema hall is going become to a stadium… I don’t want to rob myself and the audiences of that experience.”
On his love story with Mini Mathur
Mini and I have actually made a conscious decision of not really working together because we are both from similar fields. We said let’s keep our professions apart.
But having said that, we have shot together, we met on a shoot.
There was a channel called Home TV and they were doing this very big show at that point in time where the first prize for that show was like a flat in Bombay. That’s how we met.
I was a freelance cameraperson and Mini was a presenter.
We both went to the production house office to say that we might not be able to do the show because we had date issues.
We didn’t know about each other’s date issues, we met for the first time in that office. In that meeting, and in the course of that meeting, our date issues sort of disappeared and we decided that we do want to do this show.
That was fun because they made us travel all over India together and we got to know each other in the course of that journey and that’s how it started.
On his near death experience
People have asked me what has been the most dangerous moment in your life.
Was it in Afghanistan?
Was it in Bosnia?
Was it in Kashmir?
I said no, it was in Bihar, where I was doing this documentary as a cameraperson for Channel 4 and it was on the gun culture of Bihar.
It was basically on the rising nexus between politicians and gangsters.
We were filming with this one gangster who went on to become a member of Parliament.
We landed up there aiming to film him with his 40-50 gunmen but he thought this crew has come from the UK because it was Channel 4 and (he said) I need to project my clean politician image and he told all his gunmen to go away.
There was only one gunman with him and the producers were getting very antsy as to where are the gunmen, but he took us to a village.
Now while we were doing this, his rival gang — who also went on to become a member of Parliament in some years — realised that he was traveling without any gunmen.
He did not know we were with him.
When we went to this one village, to a little hamlet, it was like rice paddy fields all across and then there were forests surrounding these paddy fields and a mud embankment going up to this hamlet of five-six houses.
We went in there and he had obviously trained the villagers to speak very highly of him and all that happened and while coming back, it was around dusk.
The film actually got renamed Shootout at Sunset.
We were coming back and I remember I was in the first car and the woods, the trees had become pretty dark because the sun was setting.
Suddenly I saw eight-nine flashes go off in the trees and a second later, 10 bullets slammed into our car.
The first one went through my driver’s neck and he died on the spot.
We did not know what the hell was happening and, of course, the guy started screaming and shouting and we realised that it was an attack by the rival gang.
We jumped down and hid under the car — we had Ambassadors at that point — and the cars were getting slammed by bullets.
Another guy was lying right next to me and I remember, I could actually feel a bullet take my hair off and this guy next to me rolled over and I thought oh shit this guy has also gone and he fell into the paddy fields. But it had just grazed him and with the shock, he fell over.
This lasted for almost an hour–and-a-half and I don’t know what prevented them from coming in and finishing us off. Maybe it was a fact that they realised there was a crew there.
The villagers came with their bows and arrows and were trying to fight back, so that was the closest I have come to death.
On being stuck in a minefield
This is very important especially for people who want to be documentary film-makers of how when you go to a conflict zone, a war zone, you really need to be very, very, careful about what you are doing.
I mean I have survived to tell the tale, but I’ve some closed shaves.
I have also think I had that sixth sense of knowing how much to push and know more because some of our friends have lost their lives in Afghanistan while they were filming with us because sometimes you push too much.
This minefield thing happened pretty earlier, on one of my first documentary trips to Afghanistan.
As we all know, Afghanistan is one of the most densely mined countries in the world.
There were like some 10 million mines last count in Afghanistan.
So we were traveling to the Afghan-Tajikistan border to meet General Ahmad Shah Massoud and it was a beautiful place, it was winter, it was February, and it was really cold.
We stopped at this place and I knew that if I walked away from the road, I would get these lovely shots of these vehicles moving with the Hindu Kush mountains in the background. So I said let me do that and without thinking, walked away.
Now most places in Afghanistan where there mines which are detected have these red stones which shows that these are mines and only when they are de-mined, do they paint it white.
I didn’t see those stones.
I must have gone about 100-150 feet inside the field when I saw Khebar, my dear friend and guide and driver at that point in time in Afghanistan.
He started screaming and shouting and it was windy, I couldn’t hear what he was saying. I just heard, ‘Khatra e mine‘ and I realised I had walked into a minefield.
It was -15 to -19 degrees at that point of time and I was sweating. And a good 100 feet in, not just a few feet.
Fortunately for me, it was loose mud and I could see my footsteps very clearly and so I literally retraced my steps, placing my feet in the places where I had already made the marks with that footsteps and got out of that.
That’s how I got back.
On when Bollywood saved his life
That’s the day I realised the power of mainstream Bollywood cinema and I say that’s the day Bollywood saved my life because this was actually when we were trying to go into Afghanistan.
This was post 9/11 and because I already had prior experience in Afghanistan, a lot of international channels got in touch with us, saying would you go back and make a film about Afghanistan coming out of the shadows of the Taliban and the war was still on, I mean the bombings were still on, the Taliban regime was crumbling.
So we decided to go in.
Now being Indians, we go through the usual route which is Pakistan and then you go through Peshawar, Khyber Pass, so we had to overfly.
So we went to Uzbekistan, then Tajikistan and then we got stuck in Dushanbe, trying to go into Afghanistan and we were there for about 14 days and everything we tried.
It was Murphy’s law, we wanted to drive across.
There was like a landslide, an avalanche and we had to come back.
There was a helicopter that they has said would take us to the Tagic airforce, two days before it got crashed and destroyed.
Anything and everything that we tried to get into Afghanistan was just not happening, still, one day I think that was the last day, Rajan and I decided that we will make just one last push and if it doesn’t happen we will go back to Delhi.
That day there were these Russian helicopters going in with medical supplies into Afghanistan and at that point of time, the Russian economy was not as rich as it is now so it was very easy to use our Indian juggad and we took the Russian helicopter pilot aside and he agreed to hide Rajan and me as contraband amongst the medical supplies.
It’s a short 40-minute ride through the Hindu Kush mountains to Dushanbe to Kabul and a spectacular territory.
But then suddenly before Kabul comes, the pilot brings the chopper down, just 20 feet above the ground and he says to jump out.
I said what do you mean jump out dude.
He said Kabul is just 10 km away from here. You jump here because you are contraband, we can’t land at the Afghan airways with you guys in and that’s how it happened.
We had to literally hang from the helicopter and jump down with our luggage and our cameras and this helicopter takes off and we’re in the middle of nowhere.
Like 360 degrees, there were these snow-clad mountains and we don’t know where Kabul was and in a distance, we see this one guy coming towards us very menacingly because he is a mujahideen and he has just seen two guys jump off a Russian helicopter and fly away and he doesn’t know who we are.
We could’ve been special forces, we could have been spies, you know all like a war zone.
He comes charging towards us and he is 6 feet four inches.
I thought that’s it, this is the way it’s been written for me, I am dying somewhere here in the mountains outside Kabul.
Nobody will know where our bodies are because it’s impossible and all we could do is.
We kept saying ‘Hindustan Hindustan’ because we knew that the Northern Alliance mujahideen had a soft spot for Indians because we had helped them in their fight against the Taliban, so they were warm towards Indians, so we kept saying and he was cocking his Kalashnikov and coming towards us and suddenly when he heard us saying ‘Hindustan‘. he just stopped.
This guy smiled and started singing Mere Sapnon Ki Rani Kab Aayegi Tu and that’s the day Bollywood saved my life and he called for a tank and that’s the way we rolled into Kabul.
On the similarities and differences between M S Dhoni and Kapil Dev
There are huge similarities.
They are both legends and there is something that makes legends in a certain sense similar. It’s that absolute focus on what you want to achieve and nothing ever lets you waver from that target and I think that is something both Kapil and Dhoni have in common.
In the stories that I approached in terms of the Dhoni documentary, it was more about the comeback in the IPL, how they went on to win after they were banned.
With Kapil Dev, it’s about this completely uncelebrated Indian team that lands up in London who nobody has hopes on and they actually win the World Cup.
One thing that is very common is the strong belief that they had in themselves.
You know, when everybody was saying this cannot happen, when everybody was telling Dhoni, guys that it cannot happen, you cannot make this comeback especially with this team he had put together because everybody was talking about how old the team is, with Kapil Dev, everybody was saying that these bunch of guys they have never won any significant one day match ever. They are not going to have a chance in the World Cup.
But they believed they could do it, both of them had this belief.
I don’t think it’s about them just saying it after they have won it, it’s about us speaking to people around them and that time when nobody believed it they could do it.
I think that is a big similarity.
The difference, of course, will be in the way they approach the method.
See, in the case of Dhoni, I didn’t spend as much time with him, in case of the documentary as I did with Kapil Dev.
I know Kapil Dev much more that I got to know Dhoni.
With Kapil Dev, there was this, the whole process was something.
He was 24 years old at that point of time, they all thought they were coming for a holiday, seven to eight of them were prepared to go for these extended honeymoons after that and they were all hoped to travel out post the group matches because never had India reached the semi finals of the World Cup, so they were definitely not going to be the first.
And then how slowly one by one because of Kapil’s belief and what Kapil was doing and what the others were also doing on the field, they started cancelling their trip to the US.
Kapil really led from the front and that is something really comes across in this story, how he just never let that belief slip and he truly played a captain.
On landing up at Kapil Dev’s house with Ranveer Singh
We just took our bag and baggage and landed up in Delhi.
I really don’t know, so see, Romiji and Kapil Dev are just the most gracious hosts.
I mean, for them they would always say, our house is always open for you.
A lot of people say that and I don’t think you’re supposed to take that seriously and ‘Hey! You said your house is open.’ So Ranveer and I just landed there.
It was a fabulous time to be able to trail Kapil Dev everywhere.
I remember when Ranveer Singh went like, ‘Sir, hum baith jayenge, aap meeting kariye, we’ll be a fly on the wall.’
He said, Ranveer Singh mere kamre mein baitha hai toh koi fly on the wall nahi hone wala. Like, koi meeting nahi hogi.’
On how Ranveer got into the role of Kapil Dev
Both of them are very health conscious. Kapil sir loves playing golf, he can spend 10 hours in a golf course.
In fact, what he was really unhappy about was that we were stopping him from playing golf enough.
But one day, I remember going with him and it was hot in Delhi and Ranveer and I were walking with him for four hours and Ranveer and I were just looking and this guy is going to stop walking or he is just going to keep playing golf.
But I think it was a very important stage for our prep, those two weeks that we spent over there especially for Ranveer. It really made all the difference in the film.
To Ranveer’s credit, of course not taking anything away from Mr Gaikwad, who has done the look for the film, but today, people are reacting in a certain way and saying that how did Ranveer Singh end up looking exactly like Kapil Dev.
Of course, it’s what we have done in terms of make-up, it is also expressions and that is those 10-14 days is what Ranveer really caught on, how to hold those expressions.
I really believe it’s about getting the expressions right and is something I told Ranveer right in the beginning of the film that it’s not a look-alike contest you know, it’s not about how close you are going to look like Kapil Dev.
In 10 minutes, the audience needs to forget that its Ranveer Singh and you need to go with the character and it’s about you taking on the persona and that something that Ranveer has really cracked.
On ’83 releasing on OTT
No, not at all!
You know ’83 is a once in a lifetime story.
I often say that sometimes, I feel that you don’t choose stories, stories choose you.
Why for the last 37 years was the story not made? It’s staring at our faces, the greatest sporting triumph for India ever.
But it waited 37 years for me, for whatever reason, and I’m really glad it did.
It’s a once in a lifetime story and it’s been designed for the big screen.
We were very sure that for ’83, every cinema hall is going become to a stadium when ’83 comes out on the screens.
So I don’t want to rob myself and the audiences of that experience.
I am going to wait.
I’m an optimist and I know this lockdown is here and this virus is not going away in a hurry.
But I think we are patient people, we’ll sit, we’ll wait, nothing’s going to change.
’83 is a about story that happened after 37 years ago, we can see it 38 years later also.
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