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A word that popped up very often during separate Zoom conversations with Bollywood actors Sidharth Malhotra and Kiara Advani about their new film Shershaah was ‘sacrifice’. Sidharth plays Indian Param Vir Chakra awardee Captain Vikram Batra in the upcoming biographical war film, while Kiara plays Batra’s fiancé Dimple Cheema.
Palampur-born Batra was only 24 when he fought and died in the Kargil War of 1999. Sidharth, who expressed satisfaction that the long process of making the film has finally come to fruition, wants people to “understand the sacrifice that Batra made and his maturity and growth as a soldier” while Kiara weighed in on the sacrifices that families of army personnel make and the strength and support they offer in an atmosphere of uncertainty and potential tragedy.
For Sidharth, Shershaah was a passion project that began when Batra’s twin Vishal expressed the desire to make a film on his brother’s life. “I met the family first, five years ago, and it was just an idea,” says Sidharth, adding that there wasn’t an “exact script” at the time. “
Revealing that the process ran into a “really long period of about a year and half” where no script was finalised, he offered to take the film to Dharma Productions for consideration. “At one point I was so attached to it that I wanted to produce it myself. But when Dharma Productions came on board then you didn’t really need to do anything regarding that aspect. So yes, Shershaah has had a very long journey and there is a lot of personal sense of passion towards the film; hopefully people should see it for the right intention, and then have more respect for Captain Vikram Batra’s life.”
Kiara who recalls learning about the war as a child, feels Shershaah will “move and inspire you”.
She shares, “I had a slight knowledge and understanding of what had happened and then, when I was being narrated the biopic, what intrigued me a lot was Captain Batra’s spirit, his zest for life, his personality, his personal life. I think these were the parts of it that made me want to know more and these were the things that made me feel like, oh my God, this is a story that has to be shared. It’s got so much spirit, so many emotions.”
Prepping for the role
Sidharth admits that there are “certain strict scenes and boundaries that come in” when essaying the role of a man considered a real life hero but the rewards of such a portrayal outweigh the challenges involved. He says he felt connected to Batra because of their shared middle-class Punjabi upbringing. “He was just a very good-hearted Punjabi boy when it came to his friends — a ‘yaaron ka yaar’.
“But then he had another side — in the army he was an extremely focused and good leader yet had this jhalak of the lovable boy.”
The prep for the role, reveals Sidharth, involved meetings with Batra’s colleagues as well as gearing up to shoot on a tough terrain. “I think there is a lot of responsibility involved and I feel as an actor I will never get this chance again. I was prepping for it from the word ‘go’ whether it was emotional prep, getting the army decorum, action training or stunt training. We had army personnel training us in Mumbai. And then we went to Kargil to rehearse the action — the mountains there are some of the most toughest terrains to shoot in, around 12,000 to 14,000 feet above sea level. There is a lack of oxygen. Everything is on an incline and made of very sharp or big rocks — there is hardly any vegetation, which makes it even more difficult because if you’re slipping, if you’re falling, you are pretty much hitting something which is really sharp and it can actually injure you. Re-takes were difficult; I had colleagues and actors who were struggling with oxygen.”
Sidharth hopes Shershaah captures the essence of Batra’s “incredible life” and strikes a chord with viewers. “It’s very difficult to get inside a real life hero’s head, someone who has given his life for the country. I would be lying if I say I truly understand it, because I don’t think any of us can. In all our lives, our biggest obstacle is fear of doing ‘xyz’ things and that’s the reason we don’t do them, but Batra I think actually overcame that fear and that obstacle with such ease and confidence. When he said that iconic line in the battlefield ‘Yeh dil maange more, Sir’ it just gives you a glimpse into his psyche and why he inspired so many of his soldiers.”
A family’s heartbreak captured
When asked if the film brings out who Batra was outside of his army existence, the side of a military man the public doesn’t know much about, Kiara feels “the heart and soul of Shershaah is in the right place.”
Praising director Vishnuvardhan’s ability to blend both the personal and professional aspects of Batra’s life seamlessly into the film, she explains, “Through everything, through his time and his life with Dimple, through all the moments with his comrades, you see that side of his personality which is so lovable. I feel like Vishnu has very beautifully created that aspect of his personal life which even as an audience we don’t know much about in terms of how somebody who is a partner of an army officer, how they feel, and what are the emotions that they go through when their man is going on duty. And those are the key aspects that really made me wonder so much more — we think of our army men on Independence Day, on certain key occasions, on the news and media when things are happening at the border but on an everyday basis, what they go through, what their partners go through, that feeling of ‘I don’t know if they will come back or not’, the support and sacrifice is something that Vishnu has very beautifully incorporated in the script as well.”
Having met Batra’s fiance Dimple personally and researched a lot of material on army wives, Kiara feels she has a closer understanding of the struggles that partners go through.
“I think my attempt was to highlight that strength, that resilience, the independence and determination that they have. It takes a different strong breed of women to really hold fort back at home.”
Small screen, big reach
Both Sidharth and Kiara express hope that in this time of Covid, through OTT Shershaah will reach a wider audience. Sidharth says, “I think the number of countries and number of screens that we will reach right now, we could never achieve if the film came out in theatres. I feel this is the new norm and it is the correct and safest way to get people to watch your film.”
Kiara adds that the story and bravery “of one of our own who is so inspiring” should reach and resonate with “every corner of the world.”
Shershaah releases August 12 on Amazon Prime Video.
‘AMBASSADORS OF BURJ KHALIFA’
Kiara, you were in Dubai last year to shoot the song Burjkhalifa with Akshay Kumar. What is your experience of the UAE — which has many Bollywood fans — having shot at and around such an iconic location?
Well, I think now after the Burjkhalifa song we have our own little equation and relation. We can call ourselves its ambassadors (laughs) — everyone thinks of that song when you think of Burj Khalifa. Dubai has always been such a lovely city — it’s warm and welcoming and I think we have a huge audience there for our films. Films release there even before they release here. In fact a Khaleej Times review is one of the first few reviews that comes out so we’re always looking forward to it. That’s how you know which way the film is going, how people are liking it. So there will always be a special association with the UAE.
HOPE TO BE BACK AT THE KT OFFICE SOON: SID
Sidharth, the first time we interviewed you was at the Khaleej Times office in 2012 for your debut film Student of the Year. You’ve come a long way since then and have made a mark in different genres of films. How would you describe your journey so far?
It’s been a learning experience.
I’m literally a student of Bollywood, I would say, not of the year! I think my understanding of movies at that time was purely based on what happens in front of the camera. There is a whole world that happens behind it, whether it’s the industry itself, the media, your personal life, the expectations, or dealing with creative people.
I have never felt as emotional on stage while releasing a trailer as I’ve felt with Shershaah and of course that is to do with the content of the film. But it’s also to do with the attachment I have to the craft and to the work. And I think that’s a very good space for any creative person to be in. Because then you know that when you are working your intention and heart are in the right place. There is a sense of maturity and a sense of understanding. Maybe I have gone a couple of grades higher as a student than I was 9 years ago. I can’t wait to come back and visit (Dubai). I hope I see you guys at your office in a few months or a year when things are normal! Go back down memory lane and see Student of the Year times!
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