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Abbas-Mustan: If we have differences, we deal with it behind closed doors

In an interview to Cinestaan, the veteran director duo talks about Mustafa (Abbas' son), working with newcomers through out their careers and other interesting bits of their filmmaking process.  

Keyur Seta

Abbas Burmawala and Mustan Burmawala are Hindi cinema’s thriller specialists. Known as the duo Abbas-Mustan, they have given a good number of successful films in this genre – Khiladi (1992), Baazigar (1993), Soldier (1998), Ajnabee (2001), Humraaz (2002), Aitraaz (2004), and Race (2008). Although they have had their shares of ups and downs, their identity as thriller makers has remained intact over the years. 

Their last film, Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon (2015) was a comedy. But with Machine, they are back with what they like doing the most. In a friendly and detailed chat with Cinestaan.com, Abbas-Mustan speak about Mustafa (Abbas' son), their career and how they have overcome differences of opinion in their 30 years of working together. 

Mustafa wasn’t supposed to act in Machine, as per what he said. How was he cast?
Mustan: When we sit with the writer to write the script, we don’t keep any actors in mind. Else, a lot of bindings emerge. When we started writing, Mustafa was the assistant director. He was completely involved in the script and he used to give readings and narrations. He used to enact all emotions. We used to see him do that. But we hadn’t thought about him till then. When the script was ready, we realised the character is multi-layered, which gives a lot of scope for performance. Sometimes, you feel like casting a new actor who has no image. We thought of trying out a new guy. One day, Mustafa’s younger brother suggested, why can’t we take him? 
Abbas: He (the brother mentioned above) is the son of our brother, Hussain, who has been an editor with us. He has also been an assistant director with us.
Mustan: We hadn’t thought about casting Mustafa at all. He said this was his suggestion and Mustafa doesn’t even know about it. We asked him to give us some time. Then we three brothers discussed and asked Mustafa to read the script while enacting. We decided then and there and told Mustafa that we would like him to play the lead character in this film. He was so happy. He hugged us. As he hadn’t learnt acting anywhere, he decided to go to the National School of Drama (NSD) to train under its director N K Sharma.
Abbas: We believe there is no ABCD of acting. We don’t know how to teach anyone how to act.
Mustan: He trained there for six months. When we met him after six months, his way of talking and attitude had just changed. He developed the confidence to face the camera. Earlier, he didn’t make eye contact. But after training there, he started making eye contact and speaking confidently. They worked a lot on his personality development. But we haven’t taken anyone’s audition ever.
Abbas: We have launched people like Shilpa Shetty, Bipasha Basu, Preity Zinta, Arbaaz Khan, etc.
Mustan: But none of these actors ever gave an audition. But we asked Mustafa to take few scenes from the movie and make a showreel of 15-20 minutes. After watching it, we were completely confident of casting him.

Was the shoot an emotional ride since it marks the debut of your son?
Abbas: Yes, it was emotional for us since he is our son. So, we were hoping that he shoots each scene well. But we have made the film just like we have made other films. We didn’t put in too much of efforts. However, there is some nervousness from inside as it’s the launch of my son. We are always nervous when our film releases on a Friday. It’s just that there is more nervousness here.

Will both of you guide Mustafa in signing his future films?
Mustan: We would let him take his calls. As we said before, we had not thought of casting him even after the script was ready. He is mature and has been assisting us for long. 
Abbas: We will never interfere with it and won’t tell him what he needs to do. He should do whatever he feels like. 

What is the reason for your special fondness for thrillers?
Mustan: We both have been very big fans of Vijay Anand. His films had music, entertainment, thrill and also suspense. Teesri Manzil (1966) was one such film. Today we think who will see our film if the suspense is out? But despite the suspense being out, we saw the film 10 times. This is because there are other entertaining factors too. His films used to grip us throughout the duration. The audience thinks this will happen now but something else takes place.
Abbas: Likewise, there are a lot of twists and turns in our film. The audience will predict something. But if something else happens, the audience feels happy.
Mustan: That’s why we like the thriller genre. But any film can do well, be it romantic or drama. We had even made Baadshah (1998), a comedy film with Shah Rukh Khan. Last we also made a comedy Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon (2015) with Kapil Sharma. He said he wanted to start his career only with us. We had the subject with us and thought of making it when we get the right actor. We found Kapil and we hadn’t thought it would become a big hit.

Will we see you making another film with Shah Rukh Khan?
Mustan: 100 per cent. Whenever we bump into each other, we keep discussing. We made Baazigar and then we made a completely different subject as Baadshah. Now we need a different subject and we have one in mind. We need to sit and work over it. If we come together after a long time, it will be big news.

The car racing sequence in Machine brings back memories of Baazigar. Is the film anywhere similar to it?
Abbas: No, we can’t compare both the films. This is a romantic thriller. That (Baazigar) was a revenge film.
Mustan: It is a very different film. It is about how the character changes from here to there. It is about following one’s heart. It’s just that there was also a car race in Baazigar.

Your film has the remix version of the old iconic song ‘Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast.’ Remixing or remaking old songs has become a big trend these days. What do you think is the reason for this?
Mustan: Maybe after 10-12 years, someone might recreate some song of our film (Machine). There are a lot of songs that people from today’s generation like to shake a leg in clubs. Nobody can go above the original song. Our film is based in Georgia and there was one situation where this song can be added. We always had this song in our mind.

Both of you have been making films since very long now. Do you have differences of opinion? How do you deal with it?
Abbas: Yes, we definitely have differences of opinion.
Mustan: But we don’t deal with it in front of everyone. We do it in a closed room. We don’t hit each other or grab throats (laughs).
Abbas: But it is only for the script.
Mustan: Anybody can have difference of opinion. We don’t sit alone when we are scripting. We three brothers sit with the ADs, dialogue and screenplay writers. We all sit and have difference of opinion, solve the matter and decide whatever is good for the script. We don’t believe in ego, even if it is a suggestion by Abbas, Hussain, the sixth AD or anyone else. We always follow what is good for the script. We always do our homework before going on the sets so everybody is in sync. We believe in team work.
Abbas: One person alone can’t make a film. Right from our first film, producers have been telling us to mention ‘An Abbas-Mustan film’ in the credits but we never agreed for that. We only wish to mention ‘Directed by Abbas-Mustan.’ Else it seems we alone have made it. Nobody can make a film without a team effort.

There were some reports about Race 3 being planned. Will the film be made? There were also reports about Salman Khan or Hrithik Roshan being approached for it.
Mustan: I think Ramesh Taurani, the producer at Tips, would be the better person to answer this question.
Abbas: The script was changed twice or thrice. But we will take some decision regarding it. We will do something.

Have you planned any other film after Machine?
Mustan: We are working on 2-3 scripts. One is based in a foreign country. We have one heroine based script set in old Delhi. 
Abbas: The format is a thriller but it has a very good message. It’s an issue based story. 
Mustan: We have another script on which we are working. But right now our focus is only on Machine.