Ali Abbas Zafar has plenty of reasons to celebrate. Alongside getting married on January 4 to Iranian model Alicia, the filmmaker and screenwriter is making his web series debut with Tandav. Previously titled Dilli, Tandav will be streamed on Amazon Prime Video from January 15.
Zafar’s previous credits include the movies Gunday, Tiger Zinda Hai and Bharat. Tandav, a drama about a power struggle in a fictional political party, takes Zafar into uncharted waters. The sprawling cast includes Saif Ali Khan, Dimple Kapadia, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Sunil Grover, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Kritika Kamra, Sarah Jane Dias, Dino Morea, Kumud Mishra, Anuup Soni and Sandhya Mridul. Excerpts from an interview.
‘Tandav’ is distinctly different from your previous productions. Why the interest in Indian politics?
There’s always some politics in my films, not the popular politics but emotional or social politics; systems creating their own victims. I have always been very sensitive to what happens around me. I studied at an ICSE school, and Shakespeare was a part of the syllabus since the seventh grade. I always wanted to do a drama set in the centre of the country with a Shakespearean text.
The beauty of politics – which is one of its rare virtues – is that it’s timeless. Anyone in absolute power will be corrupted absolutely. That’s what the show is all about. It’s happened before and it will happen again, across the world.
Does it bother you when people say they’re apolitical?
Being apolitical is also a political stand. That said, I think politics is in everything. It’s a phenomenon that is created by nature – the survival of the fittest.
The belief that politics is only about the people who run the country is only a popular way of politics. How can you be apolitical? Politics happens between a mother and son, father and daughter. It’s an emotional thing.
How have your political sensibilities honed over the years?
I was fortunate enough to be part of Delhi University, where people are very vocal about their thoughts and you have free will around you. I spent three years at Kirori Mal College, which has an active theatre society called The Players. My understanding of what is happening and how to adapt texts comes from my years at college, when I was doing theatre. When you read theatre from all over the world including your own country, then you understand that politics is all around you.
Does ‘Tandav’ have a contemporary setting?
It’s set in current times, and depicts the power of social media, IT cells, cars, gadgetry, everything that is happening around the world. We’ve tried to explore what politics as a world does, rather than any particular person or scenario. It’s the universal idea that if someone is oppressed, someone will raise their voice.
Tandav is a very personal story. The idea and realm are large scale because it’s set in the Centre, in the universities. Every episode has a personal arc and that’s what makes it different from what we’ve seen before.
Was Saif Ali Khan your first choice?
Yes, absolutely. About 99% of the people in the show were my first choice. I was fortunate because whoever we went to with the script understood that this was not a one-man show. Every character is equally important and close to my heart.
What was the biggest challenge you had to circumvent with ‘Tandav’?
To create a nine-hour series. With the little experience I have, managing people and scale is not difficult. What is difficult is to develop the patience to tell a story over nine hours. Every episode has to leave audiences hungry so they come back to watch the next episode and maybe the next season.