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IFFI 2016 Masterclass: People like to see car blasts, but a good script brings success: Peter Hein

One of the most popular and crowded masterclasses on the fifth day of IFFI 2016 was that of Peter Hein. The action director of films like Ghajini (2008), Sivaji (2007), Baahubali (2015), and the upcoming Kaabil (2017) spoke about the risks, passion, and the difficulty of action direction in Indian cinema. 

Photos: Shutterbugs Images

Shriram Iyengar

The fifth day of IFFI 2016 kicked off to a brilliant start with the masterclass by Peter Hein. The award-winning stunt choreographer of films like Ghajini (2008), Robot (2010), the magnificent blockbuster of Baahubali (2015), and the soon-to-release Hrithik Roshan thriller, Kaabil (2017) was in fine form. Speaking to a full house, with moderator Aseem Chhabra overseeing the proceedings, Hein opened with the contradictory statement "Stunt is my wrong job. For many people keep saying that it is the wrong job. I don't know how to answer this. To be honest, I do stunts for survival. We need food, we need money to live, so that's the job I have at the moment." 

Born to an Indian father and a Vietnamese mother, Hein was brought up and excelled in the action industry in India. Now, he is returning to his roots in Vietnam. The action director revealed that he has already begun work on a Vietnamese film, Sum Hoy, which is halfway complete. Hein said, "It is a happy thing that my own country, my motherland, can now see some of my films. It is my true job, direction. The film is called 'Sum Hoy' that is a story which is totally against my type, because it has no action in it. I won't make mistakes in that. " 

Hein at the masterclass

His evolutionary techniques in stunt direction and action changed a lot of things in Indian cinema. However, Hein has not had it easy. He spoke about the difficult beginnings to his life. Hein said that the lack of education often left him with no other option but to learn from his experiences. "These are what shaped my ideas of stunt choreography," he added.

Speaking about his masterclass invitation, Hein said, "When I learnt that I was doing a masterclass, I was a little nervous. What am I going to do in front of people who love cinema, and people who have done wonderful and great things. Then, I started researching like how I do with my stunts and actions, and, then I realised after all this life, after all I have learnt, and what people have taught me, it's okay. Let me go ahead and give this masterclass out of what people have taught me, and my experiences in life." 

One of the key features of the event was Hein's video clips which he used to describe his journey from being one of the youngest stuntmen in India, on the Tamil film Kaaviya Thalaivan (1992) with Vijaykanth, to one of the highest paid stuntman today. He said, "I started off with Kaaviya Thalaivan (1992). I started working hard. Those were the steps I took. As a stuntman, I worked two shootings a day. Not because I wanted money, but because I loved what I was doing. " 

Not that this love was without its risks. Recalling an almost fatal stunt, Hein became emotional. It was during the shooting of Mudhalvan (1999), later remade as Nayak (2000) with Anil Kapoor, that the action director faced a threat to his life. As Hein recalled, "It was a hectic period, because that's when my son was born, and he was seven months old. I had morning shoots for Kanal Kanal, and had to edit for Mudhalvan. I spotted a mistake in colour in one of the action sequences. They had shot the action sequence where the hero is set on fire by the villains, and he jumps off a bridge to escape. To escape the fire, he also takes off his clothes before jumping. Since we had to do a shot without clothes, the director did not use fire. The stunt choreographer said it's okay. I said, 'No sir, its wrong.' When we shot the scene, the fight came well, but the fuel was touching the body, so it has to have fire."  

When director Shankar shot down the idea of using computer-generated graphics, or importing fire fluid from the US, Hein decided to do the shot himself. He said, "My calculation was that once you [light] up the fire, it takes at least three or four seconds and then it can hold on to your skin. I simply told my wife, 'I am going to work. After this, I'll be going to Hyderabad. I don't know when I would come back.' In my mind, I was worried if I would be burned alive, what would happen." 

An emotional Peter Hein speaks about his tryst with accidents

Hein carried out the stunt, but ended up burning the skin on his back due to a mishap by a panicking assistant on the set. Despite this, the Filmfare award-winning stunt director holds no fear of his work. He says, "I enjoy what I am doing. It hurts, it pains. But when you love something, nothing compares to it."

Read: Kannada stuntmen drowning row: Producer, director, stunt director booked for negligence

Referring later to the recent death of two actors during a stunt in a Kannada film, Hein said, "I am always very careful. Today, if you ask me I have broken not less than 49 bones. I have broken my spinal column, my skull, my arms. Whatever be the case, I was the first one to experiment and ensure that my actors are safe. If something was dangerous, the stunt choreographer has to take care of that." 

The only action director to have deliverd box office successes in Hindi (Ghajini), Tamil (Sivaji), Telugu (Magadheera and Baahubali), and now heading the Malayalam action industry with Mohanlal's Pulimurugan, Hein's pride in his work was obvious. Not that the actors he has worked with are any less dedicated. Speaking of his tryst with Malayalam superstar Mohanlal, Hein added, "People were shocked if at the age of 50 he would be doing training. Lal sir had only one answer, "Yes master, whatever you do I'll do it." For the film, the actor underwent rigorous training in Vietnam, and worked on his physique. Hein praised the actor saying, "Others have seen him sweat, I have seen him cry. Such a big star in our country, yet he went through all this. I learnt from him at this point. Even after we came back to India, he continued to train. This is what cinema is all about, we learn from each other." 

Speaking of his style of working, Hein emphasised that the script is of utmost importance to him. Answering Aseem Chhabra's question on the process, he said that he always 'links the story' to his action sequences. He said, "People like to see car blasts, and big action sequences in a single moment. But if you work on your script, you think and control what you do, it brings success." Speaking to the audience, he also added that as an action director he realises that while people will appreciate his action, they are unlikely to remember it after the film. "In action sequences, you have two to three minutes to show your stunts. People don't understand that you don't need to do ten things in an action sequence. The audience, when they walk off they will appreciate your action. But they won't remember what you do. That's what the drawback in action is. But instead of doing ten things, if you do two things in the same time, people might remember what you've done." 

If there was any doubt of the public memory of his work, Hein was reassured by the crowd that thronged the dais after his class. For the next ten minutes, the action director found himself on the other side of the camera posing for selfies by his numerous fans.