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How a towel inspired Abhishek Sharma to make Tere Bin Laden

Six years on, Tere Bin Laden director Abhishek Sharma reveals what inspired him to make a spoof on the world’s then most wanted man and why he would love to spoof Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.

Mayur Lookhar

Spoofing real-life villains had never been Hindi cinema’s scene, though many a filmi villain was 'inspired' by real-life criminals. The wait ended, however, exactly six years ago to the day, when Abhishek Sharma poked fun at the world’s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, with his satire, Tere Bin Laden.

The Qaeda chief was very much alive, hiding in the terrorist-friendly neighbourhood Pakistan, when Tere Bin Laden was released in 2010. (It was only a year later that Laden was traced to a safe house in Abbottabad and killed by US Navy commandos.) Sharma, though, had hit upon the idea much earlier, inspired by a towel.

“The idea was conceived in bizarre circumstances," Sharma recalled in a telephone interview with Cinestaan.com. "One day in 2006, I was having a terrible headache. So I had wrapped a towel around my head. I had a long beard then. Someone asked why I was roaming around looking like Osama. The casual remark triggered something. I wondered if there were a fake Osama, what could one do with him?"

The train of thought mostly proceeded on humorous lines. Sharma went to work on a script. "It took two years to complete the script, and we started shooting in 2008,” he said. The film starred Pakistani actor Ali Zafar, Pradhuman Singh, and Piyush Mishra.

While making the film, neither Sharma nor his producers, Pooja and Aarti Shetty, feared a reprisal from the terrorist or his sympathisers. Their fear was more mundane, one that almost every filmmaker faces.

“We were not doing anything wrong, nor were we going to offend anyone," Sharma said. "The only concern was whether we would be able to release the film the way we wanted to. We had no big star, there was no love story, and all the characters were Pakistani. The lead actor was Pakistani. Never before had a Pakistani played a solo lead in an Indian film. [Former Test cricketer Mohsin Khan did work in a few Hindi films, but they were largely clichéd subjects. So, we were apprehensive about these things, but never about political ramifications."

Fortunately for Sharma and his team, the film was liked quite well in India, Pakistan and even America. It received a lot of critical acclaim and also did well at the box office after its release on 16 July 2010.

Sharma does not think it was fear that kept Indian filmmakers away from spoofs till he came along. “When we made the film I don’t think there was any bigger figure than Osama bin Laden, who had followers all over the world, including in India," he said. "Maybe I was stupid that I didn’t have that fear. Perhaps, the underworld dons were feared more.

"But Tere Bin Laden wasn’t a biopic, it was a political satire. The possibility of such a character existing in Pakistan was more believable than having him in India. So, to give it that realism, we set the film in Pakistan, without changing Osama bin Laden’s name. Hot Shots! was funny because they used [Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein. Similarly, The Interview spoofed Kim Jong-un. I think more than the fear factor, it is the kind of story-telling which exists in the country. We hardly had any spoofs. The genre was never tried before.”

The sequel to the film, Tere Bin Laden: Dead Or Alive (2016), flopped, however, and the director isn’t shy of admitting it. “The second film was an absolute failure," Sharma said. "Though now I’m hearing that the film has been liked on television."

Sharma believes the problem with the second film was that it came too late. "The problem with such films is that they tend to do well when they are topical," he said. "Tere Bin Laden did well because it was in the heat of the moment, and it was the first of its kind in Indian cinema. Now, Laden is long dead, and ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] is the face of terror. So, we were a couple of years too late. Secondly, it was a meta comedy which gives a tribute to itself and makes fun of itself. I’m disappointed, but there is nothing you can do about it now.”

So, which current villain would Sharma love to spoof today? “I would like to spoof Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator," he said. "The West did make The Interview, but I don’t think they have done justice to him. He is a very colourful character, one I would love to portray. If not a whole film [on him], then I would like him to play a part. The film could be called Tere Bin Jong. North Korea is a mysterious nation. We don’t have any other larger-than-life villains.”

The director is also keenly interested in the sea pirates of Somalia. “One tribe that could be spoofed are the infamous Somali pirates," he continued. "It’s a very interesting part of the world. The Somali pirates can be show in Pirates Of The Caribbean style."

While Sharma would love to spoof the pirates of Somalia, there is no way he would agree to go to the Horn of Africa to shoot such a film.

And how can anyone forget American billionaire presidential candidate Donald Trump?

“I always used to think there could be no one better than George W Bush, until Donald Trump arrived," said Sharma. "He has taken humour to another level. He’s a genius when it comes to stupidity. He has made stupidity an art. The biggest fear is that he could turn out to be the next American president.”

Finally, would the gods/devils have organised a special screening of Tere Bin Laden and Tere Bin Laden: Dead Or Alive for Osama?

“I don’t think so," Sharma replied. "Because Laden sure wouldn’t have gone to heaven, and I don’t think cinema would be available in hell."