'Abhishek was the first to say we could cut a little from his pay'

Abbas Mustan, the soft-spoken duo behind elaborate thrillers like Baazigar, Ajnabee, Aitraaz and Race, take time off Race 2 to chat about how they over-shot the budget and why they chose to glam up Sonam Kapoor for Players

Why did you take four years after Race (2008) to return to direction with Players?
Mustan: After working on three films back-to-back-- Naqaab, 36 China Town and Race -- we didn't have an exciting script ready. So we turned producers with Life Partner, and gave it our full attention. Then Viacom18 asked us to remake The Italian Job. We had seen both, the 1969 cult success starring Michael Caine and the 2003 version starring Mark Wahlberg. It took us six to eight months to adapt it; only then did we ask Viacom to go ahead and acquire the rights.

Is it a problem for Indian filmmakers to acquire rights of international films?

Mustan: There was no issue because Viacom's sister concern, Paramount Pictures, had produced both films.
Abbas: It was necessary to acquire the rights because we have retained the three most popular aspects about The Italian Job -- the gold heist, the traffic jams with Mini Coopers and the double crossing cum revenge angle. But we added new elements -- instead of one girl, there are two -- Sonam and Bipasha. We have added songs, characters and a lot of emotion. Even those who have seen The Italian Job will not find Players predictable.

Sonam Kapoor and Abhishek Bachchan in Players. Pic/ Harjeet Singh

You are said to have approached Katrina and Priyanka before signing on Sonam and Bipasha.

Mustan: We didn't approach Priyanka. Bipasha was always there. Katrina was supposed to do Sonam's role earlier. She tried to manage the dates but since it was a multi-starrer, it was difficult. We then chose Sonam because she has always played a typical Indian girl. You haven't seen her look glamorous, stylised and hot. The audience will see her in a new avatar. Abhishek headlines the cast of your film but in the last two years, he has not had a successful run at the box office.
Abbas: No one has seen Abhishek do this kind of action till now; no one has utilised his potential for action.
Mustan: He told us, 'After three-four years, I am singing and dancing and playing a mainstream hero.'

The film is rumoured to have gone overbudget and the buzz is that the stars have taken salary cuts.
Mustan: We have shot in St Petersberg and Murmansk in Russia. We have an elaborate traffic jam sequence with Mini Coopers in Wellington, New Zealand. It went a little over-budget, and the actors cooperated. Abhishek was the first to say, "I think you can cut a little from my remuneration."

Yours must be the first Hindi unit to shoot in Murmansk.
Mustan: The temperatures can go to -55 to -50 Celsius but when we shot it was -8 to -10 degrees. Because it's near the Arctic circle, there was daylight for 24 hours. We didn't experience night. We would draw the curtains and sleep. The train heist sequence was shot there -- one train is carrying gold, and another is carrying the players, and it's all about how they pull off the heist. We needed the backdrop of snow-clad mountains.
Abbas: Bobby (Deol) carried biscuit packets from home because he was not sure whether we would get food out there!

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