‘Pathaan’: Director Siddharth Anand Unpacks Film’s Success

Filmmaker Siddharth Anand is the toast of India. His “Pathaan” is currently the biggest Indian hit film of the year.

Starring Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone and John Abraham, the Yash Raj Films spy action thriller ended a box office drought for the Hindi-language Bollywood industry, which had a lean 2022, and marked a comeback for Khan, not seen as a leading man since 2018’s “Zero.”

“There was a lot of curiosity to see Shah Rukh Khan back after his hiatus – he took a break from media, from appearances, he just became inaccessible to the world, there suddenly was a thirst that he created for him – today, audiences are used to stars being out there in social media and events and everywhere,” Anand told Variety.

“He created that enigmatic quality, that mystery around him, which a star should have and then did a film that is in a very popular genre. That coupled with the fact that the teaser landed so well, the songs became such huge hits, and to top it all the trailer gave the the impact that it should. Everything just fell into place for the film. That’s what created this mass hysteria,” Anand added.

While all the factors Anand mentions can lead to a big opening, the film needs to be a strong product to sustain it. “Pathaan” has moved beyond its record breaking opening and now has grossed $72 million in six days of release.

“We got things right on paper in the sense that our ambition was to write a really taut and really fast-paced thriller action film – that came first and my thumb rule for a thriller is that you should give enough twists and turns to the audience so that they are they are not ahead of you,” Anand said.

The filmmaker worked closely with screenplay writer Shridhar Raghavan and dialogue writer Abbas Tyrewala, both of whom he’d worked previously with on “War” (2019), to create a twisty screenplay laced with punchy dialogue. The focus then shifted to setting up the six action set pieces in the film, with an emphasis on the emotion behind the action, which is critical for South Asian audiences.

Anand hails the teamwork that went into the making of the film and in particular producer Aditya Chopra in having the confidence in it and seeing the big budget project (approximately $27 million) through at the height of the pandemic.

“Pathaan” is part of Chopra’s spy universe. Other films in the universe include the Tiger franchise, starring Salman Khan, and “War,” starring Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff. A character from the Tiger franchise appears in “Pathaan” and one from “War” is mentioned in the film. Going forward, Anand asks the audience to expect the unexpected in the universe.

“There’s a plethora of possibilities out there that we can do in terms of overlaps, creation of new characters and spin-offs,” Anand said. “I’m sure Adi [Chopra] has some plans. And in time, he’ll unveil them.”

The box office record that “Pathaan” broke for the highest first day gross of a Hindi-language film, was of his own “War.” “These numbers are surreal. When we hit the first day numbers for ‘War’, we were ecstatic, elated, and we thought it’s so tough to do and won’t happen again,” Anand said. “It’s once in a lifetime we get this kind of these kind of numbers going, but to have hit it again in my next film, and then hit it for four days and after that on the weekend, it’s a feeling I can’t even describe. It’s unreal, I just feel sometimes I am dreaming.”

The box office success of “Pathaan” also effectively silenced online trolls who had begun a ‘Boycott Bollywood’ campaign against Hindi-language films in 2022. “We’ve had lots of films with big stars that have come out post pandemic and unfortunately, some of them haven’t worked. But the film has spoken and the film’s intentions have spoken. And the fact that it had nothing offensive, it’s such a patriotic film that it does inspire you,” Anand said. “That’s reached the audience – the audience is too smart to get fooled by fake boycott calls.”

Hrithik Roshan, Katrina Kaif – “Bang Bang!”
Everett Collection

Anand belongs to an illustrious filmmaking family. His grandfather, the late scriptwriter Inder Raj Anand wrote both social dramas and mainstream Bollywood films with equal felicity, and uncle Tinnu Anand was a noted director and actor.

After a stint as an assistant director, Siddharth Anand debuted as a screenwriter with romantic comedy “Hum Tum” (2004). He made his directorial debut with another romcom “Salaam Namaste” (2005), and followed up with sports drama “Ta Ra Rum Pum” (2007) and two more romcoms “Bachna Ae Haseeno” (2008) and “Anjaana Anjaani” (2010), all of which starred Bollywood A-listers.

The filmmaker transitioned to the action genre with Fox Star Studios’ “Bang Bang!,” (2014), the Bollywood remake of “Knight and Day” (2010). “War” followed. Astonishingly, Anand has yet to have a flop.

“I don’t want to be limited by genre. I used to make romcoms. Today I’m making action films. Tomorrow, I might want to make a courtroom drama. There might be a slice of life, or just an outright comedy that I want to make,” Anand said. “I want to be able to shift genres every now and then and surprise the filmmaker in me and keep him alive. Keep him on the edge.”

Next up for Anand is Viacom18’s aerial action film “Fighter,” which reunites him with Roshan and Padukone. Ten days of shoot have been completed on the film and the next schedule is due to commence on Friday. The aim is to release it on Jan. 25 next year, exactly a year after “Pathaan.”

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