You may recognize his name from the credits of the mega hit Rang De Basanti: Rensil D’Silva was the man behind the script of that groundbreaking film. He is known as one of the best screenplay writers in Hindi cinema and now he is adding director to his credit line, as well as writer, for the upcoming Kurbaan. Rensil D’Silva did not go the easy road for his directorial debut; he not only picked a very sensitive subject, the film was also quite complex to make. With the backing of Karan Johar and Dharma Productions and with the support of outstanding actors including Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Vivek Oberoi, Om Puri, Kirron Kher and Diya Mizra, Kurbaan is getting ready to give you a thought-provoking and throughly entertaining night at the movies. I got the opportunity to speak with Rensil in between shooting schedules one day in August. He was about four shooting days away from completing the film and was working on the background score. He wouldn’t give a lot away about the film but what he did was fabulous. We thought that with the release of the Kurbaan trailer this weekend, we would go ahead and publish our interview, so you can learn little bit more about this highly anticipated film!
Is directing something you always wanted to do?
Yes, I mean really writing and directing, but directing is something I wanted to do since I was 14 years old.
What made you decide you wanted to do Kurbaan?
Well, really I was looking for a script to make my first film and I was going off to London to write a script about a heist. Just before I went, Karan told me this story that he had had for sometime. He just narrated it to me one evening and it kind of hooked me. We started writing it, and even though I went off to London to write this other script, I couldn’t get very far with it because this script that Karan had told me about had completely captured my imagination! When I came back, I told him I wanted to make it and he said, ‘Yeah sure, why don’t you, because I have had it for the longest time. It would be great if you would make it.’ So, we set out to make it.
What’s the film about?
Well, it is a cross genre … it is a love story, it’s a thriller and it has political comment on global terrorism and the identity of Muslims in the modern world. It is a comment on Islam – the liberal and the conservative elements of Islam. I think there was enough meat for it to absorb me completely and also to my mind it should cross borders, it shouldn’t just only be an Indian film. I think it is a film that can make its way through the global market.
Why the title Kurbaan?
Kurbaan means sacrifice, and the context of that sacrifice will be apparent to the audience when the plot unfolds.
Ahhh, so not going to give anything way then. (laughs)
What went into deciding whom to cast?
This cast was my wish list. Saif, Kareena, Vivek Oberoi, Om Puri, Kirron Kher, Diya Mizra – I was very lucky to get each and every one of them. They all came aboard with just a single reading of the script. I didn’t have to do to much convincing or anything, I just sent them the scripts. In that sense I think it has been a dream run from the casting end, but also from the production end because it is a fairly complex film to make.
Did you find it difficult to make?
Difficult simply because I was looking for subway stations for the climax and because of the kind of material it is, I got turned down; I got turned down in London, I got turned down in Germany. We even went over to other parts of Europe – like France and even Russia. I even had a snag in New York because they turned me down. But the people of Philadelphia were very accommodating and they allowed me to shoot in their station, which, fingers crossed, has turned out well.
How was it working with Saif, Kareena and Vivek?
I was lucky because they are all actors, they are not just stars. I knew Saif and Kirron Kher and Om Puri a bit. I did not know Kareena and Vivek, but by day three I think everyone was in on the film. Like I said, it has been a dream run. They are such fantastic professionals. I had no problems. I am 84 days into a shoot which is pretty complex, and was shot over 2 schedules in the US and I haven’t missed a single day. In fact, I am 3 days ahead of schedule!
Why did you decide to shoot abroad rather than in India, was it because it is a global film?
I think the script demanded it. It is a global film but the script demanded it. 85% of the film happens in New York, so that was a demand of the script, but it wasn’t preset or designed in a way to appeal to a global audience. I just think in the world we live in, the problem, and though I don’t know if it is a problem, only I think that the dimensions of Islamic terrorism as seen by the West and as conceived by people out here in the Indian subcontinent are diametrically opposite ends of polarity of this problem. I think I caught some of this in the film.
Do you have a favorite scene?
The script reaches a point were there is a debate in a classroom between the moderate voices of Islam and some pretty radical voices from the West. Where issues like 9-11 and Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq are seen in a very heated debate where hopefully I have put forward the points. It sees it through the prism of the US using the first invasion of Iraq, with Bush Senior, as a means to further their arms deal and the inclusion of the CIA into what is now the Mujahideen, right from the time of the Soviet invasion. The CIA’s intervention to create the Mujahideen, and now the Mujahideen striking back at the US and their interests; a lot of issues I think that might not have been dealt with in previous mainstream Hindi Cinema – I hope to at least address some of it. I don’t think it would be totally good to say I have resolved it or anything, but at least I have nudged the mind of the viewer more into that direction.
Do you think that is important and that cinema is a good way to get people to think in different ways?
Yes, I have always thought, if you can, provoke thought and go beyond. I think in India there is the obsession with the need to entertain and somewhere our concept of entertainment is almost light entertainment. Films with very serious dramatic issues or social issues – in the past they used to be that in the 50 and 60s – then we kind of lost our way by the 70s and 80s. We started making “blockbusters”, but now I think political comment is coming back. New York is one example of it, mainstream cinema is addressing it. It is very different from mainstream cinema made on these large budgets, usually it was addressed vis-