Monday, May 02, 2016

Trashing a Home

COLUMN: Location Diary

Director Raja Krishna Menon talks about his experiences in the Bollywood film, 'Airlift'

By Shevlin Sebastian

In November, 2015, director Raja Krishna Menon was shooting a war scene in Jaisalmer for the Bollywood film, 'Airlift'. The film tells the story of the evacuation of 1.7 lakh Indians in Kuwait, following Iraq's invasion of its neighbouring country in August, 1990.

There were about 50 vehicles that formed a convoy that was taking people from Kuwait to Amman [in Jordan],” says Raja. The production crew had been given walkie-talkies, so that they could communicate clearly with each other. “There were ten of us who were on the same wavelength,” says Raja.

Suddenly one voice could be heard on the walkie-talkie and he kept saying, “Everybody have cool drinks, everybody have cool drinks.” Then he began to give orders to do this and that. “We were wondering what the hell was going on,” says Raja. “A few crew members said, 'Who the hell is that?' My assistant shouted, 'Idiot, we will beat you up'.”

And when this voice carried on, more people began hurling abuses at him. “Suddenly, one of us realised that the voice was familiar,” says Raja. And when Raja looked around he saw that the film's hero, Akshay Kumar, held a walkie-talkie in his hand and a naughty grin on his face.

Akshay had managed to get hold of one of the walkie-talkies and was pulling our legs,” he says. “All of us had a good laugh about it.”

In the film, Akshay plays millionaire Indian businessman Ranjit Katyal. And he stays in a beautiful and well-appointed bungalow, in Kuwait, with fully-carpeted rooms, with plush sofas and glass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. “Akshay told me many times that he loved the house and wanted to stay in one, back in Mumbai,” says Raja.

But, as is inevitable in a war, enemy soldiers entered the house. “I did not tell Akshay anything more than saying, 'This is a scene where you are coming home. And you know that something has happened inside. But I don't want you to see it. Instead, you wait in the vanity van'.”

While Akshay rested, the crew went crazy inside the house. They broke the flower vases, the curtains, cushions and sofas were torn up, while the furniture was pushed to the floor. The chandeliers were destroyed. The glass pieces lay all over the 1600 sq. ft. living room.

Then I asked Akshay to come in, and the cameras began rolling,” says Raja. “And when he saw the destruction, Akshay looked completely shocked. There was no need for him to act. We just shot him looking dazed.”

It was an expensive demolition. The props cost Rs 35 lakh. “We saved the carpet, because it had a price tag of Rs 8 lakh,” says Raja.

In 'Airlift', several cars and trucks were burnt. There was one scene where Akshay drives out of his house. Just near the entrance, a 1982 Nissan car began burning. Normally, before a car is put on fire, all the petrol is taken out of the tank and gas is used because it is safer. “But, when I saw the fire, I realised that it was not gas, but residual petrol,” says Raja. “The crew thought that this was part of what I had planned, but that was not true.”

A frantic Raja shouted at the crew and they ran up with fire-fighting equipment, and doused the fire. “This timely action prevented the car from blowing up and causing huge damage,” says Raja.

Meanwhile, Akshay returned and said, “That Nissan car bursting into flames -- the timing was great.”

Raja said, “That was not supposed to happen. We were inches close to a disaster.” And that was when realisation dawned on the Bollywood star. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram)

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