Mumbai is most extraordinary looking city: Christopher Nolan on shooting 'Tenet' in India

MumbaiUpdated: Dec 03, 2020, 11:04 AM IST
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Billed as a globetrotting game of international espionage with a time-bending element at the centre, 'Tenet' features John David Washington in the lead alongside Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Kenneth Branagh, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Michael Caine and Clemence Poesy.

Filmmaker Christopher Nolan is enchanted by India as he says the country is "unbelievably visual" with an "extraordinary history" that made it a suitable location for filming his new feature 'Tenet'.

Billed as a globetrotting game of international espionage with a time-bending element at the centre, the film features John David Washington in the lead alongside Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Kenneth Branagh, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Michael Caine and Clemence Poesy.

Nolan and his cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema shot the movie in countries like Denmark, Estonia, Italy, Norway, the UK and the US as well as India, where the crew came down for a five-day shoot in Mumbai last September.

The filmmaker, who previously shot a small sequence of his 2012 movie 'The Dark Knight Rises' in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, said he chose Mumbai as it was one of the "most extraordinary looking cities in the world".

"Every time I go to India, I''m struck by how unbelievably visual the place is. I had shot a couple of days in Jodhpur on 'The Dark Knight Rises' and always wanted to go back and shoot a more substantial sequence, and I had the opportunity to do that on 'Tenet'," Nolan said in an exclusive transcript shared with PTI by Warner Bros.

"We shot in Mumbai, which is just one of the most extraordinary looking cities in the world in terms of its architecture, the amazing people and the abundance of life on the streets there. It''s a really remarkable place with this extraordinary history, so, to be able to take the audience there, it seemed a very exciting setting," he added.

In Mumbai, the movie was shot in areas like Breach Candy Hospital, Cafe Mondegar, Colaba Causeway, Colaba Market, Gateway of India, Grant Road, Royal Bombay Yacht Club, and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
Nolan said that he had a wonderful time collaborating with local crews in pulling off some amazing shots.

"They have such a wonderful love of film and a highly developed film industry, it was really fun to collaborate with the local crews and learn about how they make films and cooperate with them in pulling off some remarkable things, including some of the first-ever aerial shots of Mumbai in a film.

"There are some really interesting things we were able to capture, shooting for a relatively short space of time in challenging conditions because it was monsoon season, so when it rained it really rained. But it was such a wonderfully atmospheric place to be," the 50-year-old filmmaker added.

Nolan also opened up about roping in a star-studded international cast for the project as he wanted the movie to transcend national boundaries.

"It's not about America per se, it's about the survival of the entire human race. I wanted the stakes to be apparent and apparent in the breadth of nationalities. It really is the notion of using the diversity of the cast to express that the threat is a threat to the entire world.

"So from Rob Pattinson playing an Englishman, to Kenneth Branagh playing a Russian, to Elizabeth Debicki playing an Englishwoman to Dimple Kapadia playing an Indian woman... We were really trying to bring in a lot of different national identities to play," the filmmaker said.

In previous interviews, Nolan has talked about how he was always fascinated by spy movies, especially the James Bond franchise, but with 'Tenet', he wanted to do something different.

"I've always wanted to take on a spy film, but I've also known that I would never be that interested in just making the kind of spy film that I had grown up watching."

"What I really wanted to do was find a way to re-energise it for the audience -- to give them a reason to look in a fresh way, in a new way, at some of the tropes of the genre, which was very much what we did with the heist genre in Inception, dealing with the world of dreams."

The filmmaker said he likes to challenge the conventions of a particular genre and present them in a new way to the audiences.

"You get to maximise your input from the audience in a way - they come with an expectation about a particular genre, and you get the benefit of that in terms of propelling the story forward.

"You also get the benefit of that in terms of using those conventions to ground the audience in a set of science fiction ideas that might otherwise be far too abstract to get ahold of in a short space of time," he added.

Another aspect of filmmaking that has made Nolan a god-like figure to many cinephiles is his penchant for fiddling with time. Right from his breakout movie 'Memento' in 2000 and then films like 'Inception' (2010), 'Interstellar' (2014) and 'Dunkirk' (2017), time is a common thread that binds them together.

His answer to this observation is simple -- he is "fascinated" by time.

"In my work, I've always felt an interesting relationship between the process of watching a film and how films work, and the notion of time inside them and how they relate to time.

"So, for me, having narratives that in some way explore the relationship between the way we perceive time in everyday life and the way we perceive time in a movie theatres and watching a film… that's always seemed an interesting place to play around," Nolan said.

The filmmaker said Tenet will feel like a "kind of apotheosis" of some of the ideas he has explored in his movies.

"There is a sense in which the story of 'Tenet' makes literal, makes a physical reality of the story - things that I was doing structurally or metaphorically in earlier movies," Nolan added.

The Warner Bros film is slated to be released in Indian theatres on December 4 in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.