It was in 1994 that filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra first mentioned the idea of setting a thriller around two chess players to Abhijat Joshi. Basking in the success of Parinda (1989) and1942: A Love Story (1993), Chopra was busy writing an English language film at that time. So he took up the task of writing the thriller in collaboration with Joshi, who made his official screen debut as a screenwriter in Chopra’s Kareeb (1998), six years later. Initially titled Chess, the title has gone through several changes; Fifth Move and 64 Squares being some of them. The film’s structure, character and probable cast (in the ’90s, Dustin Hoffman was tipped to play the protagonist), too, have undergone a series of alterations. As Wazir, a movie featuring Amitabh Bachchan and Farhan Akhtar releases on January 8, Chopra is happy that the idea for his thriller has finally been realised.
“Now that Wazir is releasing, there is a sense of certain accomplishment. It is strange when an idea that stayed with you for so many years, is culminated,” says Chopra, who conceived the thriller after badminton player Syed Modi was shot dead on July 28, 1988, in Lucknow. “It all started with Modi’s murder. I still have copies of old magazines, which covered this case. However, if you watch Wazir, you would realise it is completely different,” says the director-producer. Wazir is about two unlikely friends — one a wheelchair-bound chess grandmaster and the other a grief-stricken ATS officer, who loses his daughter while chasing terrorists. Together, they fight a dangerous opponent.
Much before Chopra’s Broken Horses released in the US, Wazir was supposed to be his ticket to Hollywood. “At that time, we did not have money. So it was envisaged as an intimate film,” says Chopra. That apart, both Chopra and Joshi were not well-versed with the craft of writing a Hollywood venture. So writing this script became an exercise in honing the craft. “Every day for four years — from 2000 to 2004 — we worked on this script even when I was living in the US. And whenever Vinod visited his sister in Michigan, we wrote it for days together in the basement of her building,” recalls Joshi.
With time, the film’s scale kept growing. “We realised the protagonist can’t be American. We had to bring in our own sensibilities. Our cinema is more flamboyant. So the protagonist needed to be flamboyant too. We thought of making the chess master an Indian and approached Bachchan for it,” says Chopra. Though several studios showed interest in the project, it was not the same for Chopra after Bobby Newmyer, a Hollywood producer, passed away in 2005. A year later, Munna Bhai MBBS (2003) released and its success paved way for heartwarming comedies with a strong message to come out of Chopra’s production house.
Two years ago, Chopra came across Bejoy Nambiar-directed David (2013). Impressed with the movie, Chopra called Nambiar and proposed that the latter take a look at the script of Wazir, which was in English. For the next two years, a bunch of writers worked on adapting the script in Hindi and Joshi was roped in to supervise the process. Chopra approached Bachchan once again to play the role of a chess master. “Bachchan had read the original script 12 years ago. He, of course, remembered it when I mentioned the script,” he said.
While Bachchan’s nod did not come as a surprise to Chopra, Akhtar saying yes to the role of an ATS officer puzzled him. “At that time, Javed Akhtar (Farhan’s father) and I were engaged in a public verbal duel. When I asked Farhan what made him agree to take up the role, he said, ‘The script is so good that I will bear with you’,” recalls Chopra with a chuckle. Though for the film, which is shot in Delhi and Kashmir, Chopra and Joshi consulted chess experts in America, the film is less about chess and more about friendship.
In Wazir, Joshi shares the credit for editing — a first for him — along with Chopra. According to Chopra, the story of Wazir was tweaked and fine-tuned constantly during its seven-month-long editing period. “I strongly believe that a story is rewritten on the editing table. Hence, the credit for Joshi,” says Chopra. While editing the film, Chopra missed his first wife, late Renu Saluja, very much. “Renu had edited Khamosh, a thriller I had made in 1985. She always wanted me to make another,” says Chopra.