Imran Khan’s Directorial Debut On India’s Mission To Mars Is A Must Watch
On September 24, 2014, the Mars Orbiter successfully started circling the planet, marking India’s first venture into the interplanetary space. Inspired from these true events and on the eve of Mangalyaan’s 4th anniversary, Johnnie Walker launches a film on Mission Mars which not just shows the country’s technological progress but also its spirit of possibility and commitment to believing in the impossible. To know more about this unique journey we sit down with actor turned director Imran Khan on what drew him to the subject, his personal discoveries about the craft and what lies ahead.
Tell us about the film and what it aims to achieve with the subject matter?
I believe this story would be known by every Indian. Now what this team of people did back in 2014 was a monumental achievement. In 2011 Russia and China both launched missions to Mars and missed. India is the only country on Earth to get it right in the first try. We did it at one-tenth of the budget that NASA did in a similar mission back in 2013 called MAVEN. This is the kind of thing that had it been done in the United States then Steven Spielberg would be making a film about it and Tom Hanks would be starring in it and all of us would know about it. But because it’s in India none of us really talk about it. Here is something that’s actually been done by Indian scientists and engineers using homegrown, indigenously developed technology. It’s one of those untold stories in our country that needs to be told. I want everyone to know what we have done.
What is the reason behind Mission Mars to be your directorial debut?
Well more than me selecting this I feel like they selected me because I had been writing something else. I was writing a feature screenplay last year and was not making headway on that. At that point Punit Malhotra who is a good friend of mine, asked me if I would be interested in making a film about India’s Mars Mission. It so happens that I had been following the mission back in 2013 with a great deal of excitement so I was immediately interested. I came in and said, ‘Look there are better directors around there than me, but there is no better director for this project than me because nobody cares about it as much as me. Nobody is committed to celebrate this achievement quiet in the same way.’
How was your experience working on this film as a debutant director?
It was fantastic. It gave me a great satisfaction that frankly I have not gotten from most of my films as an actor. I had a sense that I was doing something I truly believed in. I was enjoying something that I was proud to hang my hat on and say ‘Yes, this is mine’, which is more than I can say for a lot of the films I have done as an actor.
Your thoughts about Johnnie Walker’s initiative to celebrate India’s progress?
This entire venture over here is something tremendously interesting to me because I feel we are at a point right now where as a viewer we have started to become extremely sensitized to when something is being advertised to us. So now in this kind of an environment, how do you still engage a viewer with an advertisement? The answer is you do something like this. We are taking the brand ethos of Johnnie Walker, the core principles that guide the brand, and translating that into the story. For the viewer, you are watching it and imbibing all these values, these notions. From the crew that we have put in to every single department, the story was approached like a feature film rather than a short.
What are some of the challenges you faced while filming a movie based on true events?
The challenge is kind of a double sided one because on one hand you want to be as truthful and honest to the events that you can, the other side you also want it to be compelling, exciting, engaging and entertaining and sometimes one comes at the cost of the other. So the challenge really is can I have both sides of the coin simultaneously? And I think we have pulled it off in a way that not ruffle any feathers because all of the technical details in the film are exactly bang on. We have fictionalized this string of junior engineers while the senior technicians and engineers in the film have been taken from real life.
Tell us a little about the cast of the movie? How was it working with them?
My lead actor Prakash Belawadi is a fairly well known and respected Kannada actor. His work in Airlift is what drew me to him. I met with him and it turns out that he’s also a skilled engineer which was very helpful to me because I needed him to play a scientist. There are certain scientific and physics concepts which I need to communicate with the viewer and if my actor understands those inherently, truly it becomes that much easier. As it happens 4 out of 7 of my principal actors are engineers. I was so happy from the team I got for this film. Every single person who came on board was someone who cared about it, was interested in the film and wanted to elevate. That’s how it should be. I have been on sets where all departments are not in sync, there is friction. In my entire life, the worst thing that has every happened to me was a film I received the most money for. It was not worth it. I would replay every penny of it if I could remove that experience from my life.
How has your transition from an actor to a director been? Any personal discoveries along the way?
The personal discovery was that as an actor to a large extent I was holding myself accountable to everyone in the world but myself. You are always seeks affirmations, validation from the masses, from the public. You also see yourself seeking validation from journalists, media, critics, producers, directors and other actors. Suddenly the entire world has an opinion about you. You start to change yourself and act accordingly so that you appease those people. Its never going to work. As a creative person you have to say, I want to tell a story, you tell your story, you put it out there because it’s a story that you simply must communicate with the people. And if it is true and honest, you will find an audience somewhere. You have to cut all of that noise out. You have to remove yourself from that echo chamber of people telling you what its suppose to be, what is good for your career, what’s a bad career move. Ask yourself why have I gotten into this in the first place? Why am I doing any films? I have done films because it was a smart career move, because I didn’t want to piss off a powerful producer, I have done films because there is a lot of money involved or it might be good for my career. I have not done films because I wanted to tell a story or because I wanted to be a part of the film. I have made a few that im proud of. But I have been in successful films that I have not been proud of. Why should I be doing work like that? I don’t want to do that.
Going forward are you looking to write and direct more?
I want to but the idea to rush into things isn’t right. There is a notion that if the film is released and even moderately successful you need to act quickly while the iron is hot. It’s all crap. You sit down and you allow the creative process to dictate. That is your timeline. You say am I satisfied by this? Is this a product im proud of and I will happily put my name on and will be proud of. When it reaches that point I’m ready.
You think it’s easier to do that as a director as against when you’re an actor?
Amir (Khan) manages. The thing is Amir (Khan) in his heart is an actor, he loves it truly. I’m not an actor in my heart truly. I like the craft but not so much. He has built a spectacular career by doing things exactly his way. He doesn’t bend. And that has worked for him. That’s why he’s had a career different from other actors in his generation or even of subsequent generation. I’m taking a page out of his book now.
Watch Mission Mars: Keep Walking India Here: