Featherston Street is the buzzing center of Wellington, with its panoramic view of the harbour and the Custom Quay, and its proximity to the Westpac Stadium, Victoria University and Wellington Railway Station. The place is crowded with hurrying pedestrians and honking cars. Yet, director-duo Abbas-Mustan managed to bring traffic to a standstill in New Zealand’s capital city for three days during the filming of Players earlier this year.
Presented by Viacom 18, the official Indian version of The Italian Job, which revolves around a heist, required the ‘players’ to create a traffic jam so they can get away with the gold. “We’d decided we’d shoot the sequence in Wellington Central that is like the Hutatma Chowk of Mumbai. It took us six months of pre-production to plan it to the smallest detail and get the requisite permissions,” admits Abbas.
On the appointed day, the unit landed on location with seven cameras and a carefully thought-out plan of action that included jamming the signals. “Yes, the local authorities not only blocked Featherston Street for us, but also gave us control of the signals so they would flash left and right, and the colours would change from green to red for our actors while the scenes were being shot,” points out Mustan.
The thriller’s climax has been shot at Wellington’s airport, with Abhishek Bachchan, Sikander Kher, Neil Nitin Mukesh and Bipasha Basu zipping down the tarmac in their cars — the iconic Minis Coopers, a plane hovering overhead; and Neil and Bipasha doing a 100-metre dash. “It wasn’t possible to shut down the airport, but we got a 30-minutes window between flights landing and taking off, during which ground zero was cleared for us,” reminisces Abbas.
It took weeks of negotiation that ended after a two-hour discussion with Abhishek and Sonam Kapoor jumping into the fray with their pleas, before the director-duo got the go-ahead from the New Zealand Aviation Board. “It was an amazing experience driving down a real runway,” says Abhishek, who in one shot, is driving a Mini, with the wheel of a plane hovering tantalisingly close to him.
“There was some amount of special effects involved, but the action is still mind-blowing.”