A poster of World on Fire, season-2
A poster of World on Fire, season-2 Image Credit: Supplied

Not a lot of filmmakers can claim to handle diverse genres. But British-South-Asian screenwriter and director Meenu Gaur is among the gifted ones. Having previously helmed the award-winning femme noir web series for Zee5, Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam (2021); and Punjabi feature film, Zinda Bhaag, which was Pakistan’s official submission for Oscar consideration in 2013; she switched up a gear by choosing to direct a war drama, World on Fire’s season 2, for BBC One.

Gaur directed two of the show’s six episodes, the final of which dropped on August 20.

In an exclusive chat with Gulf News, an upbeat Gaur says she was drawn to WoF 2 not because war epics make “trending content”, but because these are quintessentially human stories — something Gaur has a penchant for. She recalls that when she watched the show’s first season she “absolutely loved it… [and] felt very new in the ways that it told everyday stories of people during World War II”.

“Most of our knowledge of WWII is about different battles and events, but in World on Fire, created by Peter Bowker, it isn’t just the battles but the stories of people unfolding in the backdrop of those historical events that keep you glued to the screen,” she adds.

British-South-Asian screenwriter and director Meenu Gaur.
British-South-Asian screenwriter and director Meenu Gaur Image Credit: Supplied

In a way, while 'WoF 2' is a departure for her, it’s not entirely virgin territory.

The new season offers “multiple national perspectives” as it takes viewers from war-torn Britain “deep into Nazi Germany, the resistance within occupied France, and the brutal sands of the North African desert”. A sprawling cast of characters includes Scottish star Julia Brown, French performer Eugenie Derouand, and English actress Lesley Manville, and Pakistani-Canadian Ahad Raza Mir who plays Rajib, an Indian officer in British Army. Gaur says Rajib’s is among the many new tracks in the film.

Excerpts from the interview:

What can you tell us about World on Fire 2? Can an audience, unfamiliar with the first season, enjoy it?

The series brings out stories, events and themes from WW II that have remained submerged and not many of us would have come across. I think those who haven’t seen season 1 can also enjoy season 2. There are quite a few new stories and characters in this season, like Ahad Raza Mir’s character.

When we were casting for the character of Rajib, my producer from a previous show, Shailja Kejriwal, mentioned Ahad whom she had worked with [on 'Dhoop Ki Deewar'] and we were lucky to have him as he is so brilliant in the role.

Ahad Raza Mir plays an Indian officer in World on Fire season 2
Ahad Raza Mir plays an Indian officer in World on Fire season 2 Image Credit: Supplied

Insane detailing, crazy logistics, mind-blowing action sequences, et al. Does it take a lot to direct a war drama?

As far as possible, I try and do a different genre with every project. What excites me about doing genres is to not have to do it in its traditional format but bring something new to it. I hadn’t done war before and I knew it would be rare for me to find something in this genre that I would actually want to do, and 'World on Fire' is so rare in terms of WW II storytelling, and not your run-of-the-mill patriotism. It brings the story of women to the forefront, and shows the vulnerability of the male characters with great sensitivity. It explores themes of [post-traumatic stress disorder] PTSD for both men and women. When I read the script it made me think of the greater ethical and moral questions of what is our responsibility to others in the face of violence. Yes, so many reasons why when the opportunity came along to direct two episodes of the series, I was thrilled.

The action, stunts, shells, and gunfire aren’t the challenging parts of doing WoF 2. Keeping an eye on the individual story and character beats in a series which has multiple storylines is far more challenging. Of course, the absolutely amazing actors of the show carry that burden magnificently.

Actress Lesley Manville.
Actress Lesley Manville. Image Credit: Supplied

It’s an ensemble show. Tell us about your experience of working with a cosmopolitan cast?

I had watched Lesley Manville in all of Mike Leigh’s films, and the first day I met her on set, I set aside a good couple of minutes to just fangirl her. The entire cast was brilliant and a joy to work with.

What can you tell us about your new projects? How come you haven’t collaborated on an Indian/Bengali film project yet?

Presently, I am shooting a two-part Agatha Christie adaptation, 'Murder is Easy', for Mammoth Screen and BBC One, in Scotland. Maybe after this, or in the coming years, I will do a project in India. I do have things in development there.

Usman Ghafoor is a writer based in Lahore, Pakistan