Raff was in Mumbai to spend time with Bollywood filmmaker Nikkhil Advani and his team shooting Prisoner of War — an Indian TV show, slated for a November start, that takes off on Raff’s Israeli series Hatufim. It shows the life of two Indian soldiers who were captured during the Indian Army’s operations in Kargil 17 years ago, and have now managed to come back after fleeing their captors. Homeland was a Hollywood take on the Hatufim storyline.
Raff arrived in India in the midst of all the controversy around the release of the Karan Johar film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and his casting of Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in the movie. Protests by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena almost derailed the release. Raff was happy to talk about the controversy and told ET Magazine: “I see artists as bridge builders, people who support dialogue.”
“I grew up, surrounded by Palestinians. Many Israelis believe in a two-nation solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. I constantly use Arab, Egyptian and Palestinian actors in my shows.”
Apart from India and the US, Raff ’s Hatufim has been adapted in Russia, South Korea and Colombia and set against the backdrops of the Chechnya conflict, the problems between the two Koreas and Colombia’s war with the drug cartels. “There is always another side to every story. When I made Hatufim, in the first season there were three PoWs who were captured by the Hezbollah in Lebanon and two who were captured by the Hamas. In the second season I flipped the story to show the other side.”
Advani chips in that the Indian series will show a bit of what happens when Indian soldiers are held captive in Pakistan. A large part of the show, in the first season itself, is based in Pakistan.
Raff had a whiff of India in Hollywood just before he flew in. He just directed an episode of Quantico with Priyanka Chopra. The two-week stint ended before Raff flew down to India in end-October for a vacation in Mumbai and Rajasthan. “I loved working with Priyanka. She is unbelievably professional.”
Capturing the Real
Raff claims that this visit to India is his first vacation in 18 years. “I could not make it to India after my army years. I went to study in New York and I am making up for it now.” That stint in the US saw Raff landing in Hollywood. His desire to move back to Israel saw him conceive the show Hatufim, but its success meant that he sold its rights internationally and went back to work in the US. Raff has now shifted base to Hollywood.
Raff explains that Israel is a country where terrorism is constantly discussed and the return of prisoners of war is a big deal. “There’s a clamour for bringing our soldiers back, even at the cost of releasing terrorists. As a result there is a raging debate between relatives of the captives and the relatives of the victims the terrorists may have killed about whether terrorists should be released in exchange for PoWs.” He, however, points out that the return of the prisoners is often the beginning of another story that is rarely told — that is the story he tried to tell in Hatufim.
“I am happy that the drama is being recaptured in India, about how the return of these men affects their families. In Hollywood, Homeland was more like a thriller, taking a particular strand of the original story and developing on it. In Russia, the show is more action.”
Ask Raff if Israel and its causes find traditional support in Hollywood, and he reiterates that one should not go by impressions, and that he has faced protests in Hollywood. “Hollywood is pro-profit, and I am surviving there because I am able to create and produce shows that make money.” Hollywood’s bonhomie with Israel is probably one more myth that Raff wants to debunk.