Climb every mountain: Bollywood veterans propel 'Uunchai', playing now in UAE

Neena Gupta, Sarika and director Sooraj Barjatya reveal why the 'climbing' in the film is about more than just a trek

by Enid Grace Parker

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Sarika and Neena Gupta in stills from 'Uunchai'
Sarika and Neena Gupta in stills from 'Uunchai'

Published: Sun 20 Nov 2022, 4:34 PM

Last updated: Mon 21 Nov 2022, 3:35 PM

While buddy films in Bollywood are not uncommon, they tend to chronicle the adventures of youth (3 Idiots, Dil Chahta Hai, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara). It’s heartening to see filmmaker Sooraj Barjatya go down a road less travelled for Uunchai, which revolves around three elderly friends (Amitabh Bachchan, Boman Irani and Anupam Kher) who decide to embark on a trek to Everest Base Camp to honour a departed companion (Danny Denzongpa).

Veteran stars Neena Gupta and Sarika round off Uunchai’s rather impressive line-up of thespians; Parineeti Chopra plays an intrepid tourist guide, Shraddha Gupta.

For director Sooraj Barjatya, renowned for larger-than-life family films and romances like Hum Aapke Hain Koun and Maine Pyar Kiya, assembling this dream cast to tell a simple yet inspiring story on the big screen was hugely fulfilling.

In a Zoom conversation with City Times, he said he was “taken aback by the honesty of the story” which reflected not only the physical but also the emotional journeys of six people.

“It’s about each of the characters (all in their 60s) climbing their own ‘uunchai (height)’. When I heard this story, I realized this is the way to live life. My journey was that this is the first time I was getting a story that was actually character oriented. All my movies, if you see, have all been very straight stories; I’ve taken moments from my life and tried to put them all down. This time, I have characters which are so layered - they start at one part of a climb and reach another - and there is so much of climbing for the male and the female characters to do. That’s what inspired me to take this up and I’m so fortunate to get this kind of cast and this fresh subject.”

Sooraj gave a shout out to his “heroines” Neena Gupta (Badhaai Do, Goodbye) and Sarika (Bheja Fry, Modern Love Mumbai). Sarika said her character Mala Trivedi happens to join the friends’ trek and consequently, her own personal journey unravels. Talking about the emotions that drive the film, she hopes viewers take away “a lot of love and basic respect that the characters share for each other. I personally feel it’s all about friendship, at any age, and how each character is on a journey which culminates as they reach their own heights of overcoming things.”

She appreciated how the “simple” film conveys its message “beautifully” without being preachy, and hoped fans caught it in the cinema to appreciate the beauty of Nepal that is showcased on a grand scale.

It’s interesting to note that while at first glance the film seems to be dominated by the male characters, the women have meaty roles to play.

Neena Gupta, recently seen in Masaba Masaba 2, said her part of Shabina Siddiqui (wife to Boman Irani’s character Javed) is “a typical housewife whose life revolves around her husband.”

“I have a daughter who is married out of Delhi. And so, my whole life is my husband - what has to go in his food, has he eaten his food or not, has he taken his medicines or not? It’s all nice, fine, and happy but the important thing is the way Sooraj ji has culminated my character in Uunchai - it’s very beautiful and progressive and in just one sentence, says a lot for women today.”

'Uunchai' director Sooraj Barjatya
'Uunchai' director Sooraj Barjatya

How will a heartfelt and rather timeless story like Uunchai resonate in a modern scenario where life and technological advancements are both frenetic in their pace?

Sooraj commented, “I think where technology and filmmaking are concerned, everything is going to help. But everyone wants to know what the story is, and everyone is very simple, which is what we try to portray; it’s the same man, he gets the same dreams, he has the same fears. The pandemic has opened everyone’s boxes. If we can all fall sick at the same time we can all feel the same emotions. I believe we are all very ‘normal’ and this is the most ‘normal’ film I have made. And I truly believe women have more difficult climbs than us. Uunchai is about an age group that may not be very good with phones but are dealing with simple things in simple ways which I feel is something that will stand out and look refreshing.”

He was all praise for his accomplished band of actors, saying, “For any director, this is a dream cast, with years of experience and discipline.”

Boman Irani, Anupam Kher and Amitabh Bachchan in stills from 'Uunchai'
Boman Irani, Anupam Kher and Amitabh Bachchan in stills from 'Uunchai'

And what was it like for this “dream cast” to work with each other?

Neena shared, “It was fantastic because when such experienced actors come together the give and take is very good. And we get to learn a lot. I had to do a shot and Anupam who I have worked a lot with, was standing (around) and before the shot, he came over to me and said something in my ear - he gave me a suggestion - which I was missing! And I did it. Neither was he afraid that I would feel bad, nor did I have any ego that ‘he said it, why should I do it’. This is the example I am giving so you know what kind of relationship we all had. And it was very good for Uunchai because the film achieved what it wanted to say through us.”

Danny Denzongpa with Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher and Boman Irani
Danny Denzongpa with Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher and Boman Irani

Sarika spoke of an “absolutely wonderful” experience working with the rest of the Uunchai cast because of all the “energy”.

“I am someone who really believes in energy, in life and especially in your work space. It makes a lot of difference, you know? Because we don’t see energy, we don’t take it seriously. But it is very important - how we are creating, and working, and here it was just so right. And there was a calmness… all the actors were comfortable doing what they were doing, because also it is Sooraj ji’s energy which is so wonderful.

"I’ve always said this - you don’t have to make a big show, you don’t have to make lots of noise, get stressed and pull out your hair to say 'I am making a film'. You can make a film without that - you can just make a good film. And Sooraj ji is absolutely wonderful on the set as a director, so that made it very comfortable for the actors to be in that kind of a space where it was always - just do your work and go home.”

Uunchai is playing now in cinemas across the UAE.

Enid Grace Parker

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