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9am. A quiet cul-de-sac on the outskirts of Mumbai. The crew of the television drama 24 tunes up for a shot. Cameras roll, actors galvanize the action.

It’s the second season of Color TV’s Hindi adaptation of the popular American series featuring Anil Kapoor. On the sidelines of the shoot is Howard Gordon, American writer and the man behind successful dramas and political thrillers such as 24, Homeland, Tyrant and The X-Files. On his first visit to India, and in between watching the action unravel on the Indian sets of 24 in season 2, Gordon sits down for a chat with us. Edited excerpts:

What do you think of the Indian 24?

I was nervous when I first saw it. But I loved it. Anil took what was best about the show and adapted it as per Indian sentiments while keeping it as close to the original as possible. The writers and Anil made it their own.

Anil Kapoor as Jai Singh Rathod in ‘24’, Season 1.
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Anil Kapoor as Jai Singh Rathod in ‘24’, Season 1.

Are you involved in the adaptation or Indianisation of the second season episodes?

So for the first season, I read the first eight scripts and then I watched it. So yeah, you can call me a fan of the Indian 24. But I was not really involved except as a fan. I think Anil is doing a fantastic job on the show.

What made you believe India would be able to pull off a fitting remake?

You know, when I got to know Anil, I understood who he is and how he functions. He really had a vision for the show and he is relentless. The guy doesn’t take no for an answer. He had a very specific version of the show in his mind. Somebody asked me what he was like when he came for the US version, and we were surprised that he exactly got it the way we wanted him to be. He was amazed by what we do, but he understood it right away. And then he got the wheels turning and said, I think this will work in India and I was like, yeah sure. And then by the fifth time I realized that he was actually serious about adapting the show.

How do you sustain a show over 7-10 series? What is the rigour like?

It is a prescription for madness. You can ask my wife because she saw me under the table many nights saying I can’t do this anymore. But at the same time, it’s a little bit like a drug. It’s intoxicating to connect with so many audiences. But I think it’s good to know when it’s time to stop. It doesn’t always coincide with the commercial interest. When it’s a hit, they want to squeeze the very last drop out of it. A good example of that is this: After Season 4 of 24, I said there’s nothing else to do; there’s nowhere to go. I thought Season 4 was our end. After about a 100 episodes, you don’t really know if it’s there. Season 6 was our weakest one, and Season 5 I thought was creatively our best season. So the answer is, you just don’t know when’s the time to end. I will say that when I figured my last image of Kiefer (Sutherland as Jack Bauer), I was able to breathe. Ending is harder than beginning sometimes. And ending it well is important. In the beginning you have the obligation to make the show as good and successful as it can be, but ending it is challenging.

There is now talk of a 24 reboot. Why do that and how different will you be able to make it? How do you top a character like Jack Bauer?

Well, I think that is one of the many challenges of creative people. But at the same time we are trying to find ways to reinvent. And honestly it’s the characters. We made characters that were vivid and real and felt different from characters you have seen before. And hopefully the actors will bring in their own personal touch to the characters.

Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer in the original American ‘24’.
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Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer in the original American ‘24’.

24 was quite inward-looking, and had a different resonance in a post 9/11 America. With Homeland exploring wars outside the borders, where do you take the new 24 now?

It’s interesting because the way we look at it is that it’s a much younger character. Jack Bauer was a character with a daughter and a wife. But this guy is in his 20’s. It’s like the birth of a counter-terrorist agent. But again it boils down to the characters— you have to understand what they want and what happens when they lose what they want and how then the circumstances bend them. So this character to us is like fresh meat: We can mould him, mess him up and then destroy. But it’s interesting that you ask why characters do what they do. Why does Jack Bauer do whatever he does? Why does anybody do what he or she does? What makes a person want to become a President? Who would want to run the government? You have to be a little crazy to want that.

The last season of Homeland was indeed a departure and had some very dark moments. It also eerily resonated with current events. “We may have been breaking the story before the real thing happened," you once said. How do you feel when your ‘imagination’ seems to foretell a reality?

We always say that in the fiction world we occupy the same space as in the real world. Whether it’s the President, the terrorist or the counter-terrorist. So it’s not surprising to me when fiction follows current events and vice versa perhaps. Even while doing 24, we had the strange dance where things were happening that we had thought about six months ago. And it happens because we are drawing storylines from our current events. And then sometimes you go, oh shit, will the whole season get ruined because of a particular incident?

Do you ever fear running out of ideas?

Yes, I do. I have become more of a producer and haven’t written anything much lately. I have been re-writing and working with other people with their stuff. I miss the commitment.

How do you prepare for potential backlash and criticism—what you have yourself described as “the midwife of xenophobia"?

Yes, I have been called some pretty bad things. But I was telling Anil, when everybody is angry, it means you have done your job. People will read into things what they want to read into them. I think if you piss everybody off, you are a good artist.

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