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20 years of Soldier: The film was inspired by a real incident, reveals director Abbas

Abbas of the director duo Abbas-Mustan also revealed that producer Ramesh Taurani is keen on a sequel but they haven't found a suitable script yet.

Keyur Seta

Director duo Abbas-Mustan’s action drama Soldier (1998), which was released 20 years today (20 November), was an instant hit. But not many know that the film starring Bobby Deol and Preity Zinta was inspired by a real-life incident.

Abbas Alibhai Burmawalla revealed this in a conversation with Cinestaan.com. Shyam Goel, the film's writer, had brought the news report to the director duo's notice.

Abbas said, "In Punjab, a woman's forehead was branded with the message that her husband was a traitor. Her husband, a soldier, was accused of treachery. She was thrown out of her village. There was no social media [to highlight the instance].”

Goel suggested they could build a script around this incident. “Not too many films were based on real incidents those days," the director said. "Mostly only commercial films were being made.”

From the sets: Abbas-Mustan while filming Soldier

The Purulia arms drop case had also taken place in 1995, with a large consignment of arms being mysteriously dropped at a remote location in Purulia district of West Bengal. The mystery was never solved.

“We took inspiration from that too," said Abbas. "We wrote a story of some corrupt individuals stealing arms from the military and selling them. For that, we formed a team of Dalip Tahil, Sharat Saxena, Salim Ghouse, Suresh Oberoi and Pankaj Dheer. Dheer gets framed in the matter.”

And just like they had read in the newspaper, the villagers inscribe ‘My husband was anti-national’ on Rakhee’s forehead and throw her out of the village. The rest of the film was about how her son, played by Deol, takes revenge on the bad guys and vindicates his father's honour.

At the time of the film's release, the makers did not reveal that it was inspired by a real incident. “We thought it was not necessary," explained the director. "Only a few people knew. There was no social media back then. I remember mobile phones had come in while we were at the final stage of the shoot.”

Abbas said Bobby Deol was their first choice for the lead role. They were impressed by his work in his earlier films like Barsaat (1995) and Gupt (1997). “[Producer] Ramesh Taurani suggested his name," the director said. "We were happy with the choice. At that time he had broken a leg in a horse-riding accident and was on crutches. As soon as he heard the script, he said he would like to do it.”

For a while veteran actor Dharmendra felt his older son Sunny Deol should do the film, but the director duo prevailed. “Dharamji also heard the script," Abbas said. "We have been big fans of his. Just to sit in front of him and talk was a big thing for us!”

With Soldier going to Bobby Deol, Abbas-Mustan have never worked with Sunny Deol, but they still hope to. "We never got an opportunity and the right script,” Abbas said. “But we would definitely like to work with Sunnyji some day.”

Abbas-Mustan signed Preity Zinta for Soldier even before her debut film Dil Se... (1998) was released. They wanted a new face for leading lady and Zinta, famous then as the new Liril ad girl, was suggested, once again, by producer Taurani.

“She was lively, innocent and talkative, which is exactly how we wanted our character," Abbas recalled. "She was talking continuously and we were just silent. In around 15 minutes, we told Rameshji that we have found the girl. Bobby nicknamed her Pritam Singh. Just like that. To this day he calls her Pritam Singh!”

Soldier was one of the earliest Hindi films to be shot extensively in Australia. Abbas claimed that Australian Tourism started promoting the country with images of the Opera House of Sydney and The 12 Apostles of Melbourne only after Soldier. “We shot at those places before that," he said. "There is this Harbour Bridge [in Sydney] where Bobby has sung a song. At that time, it was known as ‘Soldier Bridge’.” 

Bobby Deol has not worked with any other director as much as he has with the Abbas-Mustan duo. “Our tuning always matched. That is why we have done five films with him,” explained Abbas. 

Pritam Singh aka Preity Zinta with Bobby Deol in Australia

The filmmaker admitted that initially they were unsure how it would be working with Bobby Deol as he is the son of a great star. “But he is such a good-natured person," he said. "He turned out to be soft-spoken and humble. We soon started feeling he is family.”

Over the years, the friendship forged between the Burmawallas and the Deols has only grown. “We are emotional and we believe in family relations. That is why their family is close to us,” explained Abbas Burmawalla. 

With the age of sequels well and truly upon Hindi cinema, Abbas revealed that Ramesh Taurani believes Soldier 2 is a possibility. “But there has to be a script that suits the film's heritage and is also relevant today," the director said. "Plus, it should be better than the first film. Else there is no point doing it."