Though Raja Krishna Menon helmed the Purab Kohli and Nandita Das-starrer 'Bas Yun Hi' (2003) and 2009 film 'Barah Aana' starring Naseeruddin Shah and Vijay Raaz, the writer-director often finds himself being asked if he is new to the industry. For the past several years, Menon, who has an advertising background, had been piecing together the story of 'Airlift', inspired from the real-life drama surrounding the evacuation of Indian expatriates from Kuwait in 1990 when the country was invaded by Iraq. It is regarded as the biggest human evacuation in history, and the director can’t wait for his film, which stars Akshay Kumar in the lead, to reach the audience. hitlist caught him for a brief chat. Excerpts:
Akshay Kumar with Raja Krishna Menon on the set of their film
Q. You have been around for over a decade, but made only three films...
A. Because what works for me may not work for others. But now, I feel the market is more receptive to people like me. When 'Barah Aana' released, it was just after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. It was a small film, which travelled to film festivals and got a decent release. Aamir Khan helped a lot behind the scenes, so the film had its journey. For me, a film is a film; I do not know the difference between mainstream and not mainstream. For 'Airlift', I first narrated the story to co-producer Nikhil Advani through a common friend.
Q. Has being an ad filmmaker earlier helped you now in any way?
A. When you do ads with stars, the interaction is limited. Stars are under contracts with the companies. I am not sure being an ad film director is a positive thing, at least for me.
Q. What prompted you to tell the story of the human evacuation drama in Kuwait?
A. I had family members there who were affected. They would keep telling their stories. Then I would meet their friends who would relate their saga. They would show me their family albums and videos; that was the time Kuwait was the wealthiest country in the region. It was only around 2005 that I realised this was a story to be told. My wife’s aunt was an airhostess with Air India back then, so she has given a lot of first-hand information. The film is about knowing what it means to be an Indian, something that the present generation does not know. We are always complaining about things, but what are we doing? We can be the change, but only if we have a positive approach.
Q. How was it working with Akshay Kumar?
A. He would call me to his house at 5 am for narrations. By 11 am, we would finish off everything and I had a lot of time — the entire day — to concentrate on making the film. Even while shooting in Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah in the UAE, morning was always better for him.