June 25, 2009 / 9:19 AM / 10 years ago

Terrorism, prejudice in India filmmaker's "New York"

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - Indian filmmaker Kabir Khan can’t seem to get the September 11, 2001 attacks out of his head: his first film, 2006’s “Kabul Express” was set in Afghanistan just as the militant Taliban were fleeing the U.S.-led invasion.

Three years later, the documentary-turned-feature filmmaker is back with “New York,” made on a budget $4.6 million and which tells the story of three friends who live in the city before, during and after the 9/11 attacks.

The film, starring John Abraham, Katrina Kaif, and Irrfan Khan, will be released worldwide on Friday.

Khan, who was in New York when the attacks happened, spoke to Reuters recently about making movies in New York and how Bollywood needs a dose of reality:

Q: Bollywood isn’t really known for its hard-hitting themes. Yet, you have made two films on international terrorism. Why?

A: “I think for too long, our films have been set in la-la land. There is no social context, no political context. Terrorism has become the in-your-face, dominant issue across the world, and the danger is that it also lends itself to a lot of abuse and misuse because it is inherently larger than life. It allows itself to be treated in a romanticized manner. It is a subject that needs to be explored.”

Q: Terrorism as a theme may have made it into Indian cinema, but not many have explored international terrorism have they?

A: “My previous film “Kabul Express” was about the rise of the Taliban and “New York” also deals with international terrorism. We are all living in a time when we all look at each other with mistrust. We all have stereotypes about each other. “New York,” in a way, touches on that. Once you start dealing with prejudices, then there is no logic. It becomes very ugly.”

Q: Is 9/11 an integral part of the storyline?

A: “In a nutshell, it is the story of three friends who start out studying at New York State University, and over the span of nine years, how their relationship with each other, with the outside world, changes with the changing landscape of New York. I try and desist from calling it a 9/11 film or a terrorism film because essentially it is about three friends, about emotions, but 9/11 is definitely an integral part of the backdrop.”

Q: What sowed the seed for the story of this film? A: “I was in the U.S. when 9/11 happened. I came in two days before and stayed on for 30, 40 days after that. I saw how people’s attitudes were changing and insecurities were creeping in. The actual story of “New York” was a one line story given to me by (film producer) Aditya Chopra. I then did a lot of research on 9/11, illegal detainees, how things were being constructed by the Bush administration. It took a long time, almost 10 to 11 months to develop the script.”

Q: What was it like, shooting in New York?

A: “We shot in both New York and Philadelphia and our experience in New York, was great. The authorities are organised and it forces you to work in the same planned, organised manner. Our schedule went like clockwork and we finished five days before time, which is a rarity in Indian cinema. Philadelphia is a much cheaper city, and easier to shoot in. To shut down entire roads in New York is very difficult and very expensive. So when we were shooting action scenes, we had to do that Philadelphia.”

Q: As a city, what does New York lend to your film?

A: “New York is like a character in the film. It is a story that could only have happened in New York and therefore the city very much lends itself to the inherent storyline. New York is one of the most exciting cities in the world. It is still a very accepting, buzzing city. In terms of filming, it is also a delight. And how many other cities in the U.S. would an Indian audience be able to identify, except perhaps for San Francisco?”

Q: Is there anything about working in New York you dislike?

A: “The cost. Everything is so expensive. Bring the dollar down and I would be very happy to shoot there again.”

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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