Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

Shershaah Director Vishnuvardhan And Writer Sandeep Srivastava Unravel Captain Vikram Batra Story Like You Never Knew Before

It’s easy to imagine a war story being unravelled on-screen, but it is equally difficult to execute that – shoot it at real-life locations, carve the depth of patriotism on cinema, and at the same time, maintaining the emotional sanctity of the soldier’s family and hundreds of other people directly associated with the story. India.com spoke to Shershaah director Vishnuvardhan and writer of the film, Sandeep Srivastava, about making a story that’s so deeply rooted in Indian history that it’s risky to even think of touching it. There are emotions of billions of Indians attached to each story emerging from the Kargil War of 1999 and narrating one of the most prominent ones – Captain Vikram Batra’s – seems highly challenging and even more sensitive. Here’s how they explained their journey. Excerpts:Also Read – Shershaah BTS Video Shows Sidharth Malhotra’s Hard Work While Filming Captain Vikram Batra’s Life -Watch

How careful you are of not taking the jingoistic route while making Shershaah – a biopic based on war?
SS: Patriotism is a feeling. It’s not a display of the act, it’s an act itself. Your actions define patriotism. Just by shouting slogans, you don’t become patriotic. You become patriotic by doing sacrifices – that’s the feel of the film that we have tried to maintain throughout. Also Read – Pankaj Tripathi Reveals Why He Is More Successful On OTT Than Big Screen | The Weekend Interview

Vishnuvardhan: When the film came to us and when we started doing our research, we knew that we are narrating a story that is very emotional and which has got characteristics of patriotism. So, we never focussed on trying to be really loud. This is as close to reality as possible. Whatever happens, you have to have a sense of patriotism through the characters and through the story. Nobody is screaming and thumping chests here. Also Read – Kiara Advani Looks Gracious in Rs 66,000 White Hand Embroidered Saree at Shershaah Trailer Launch in Kargil

Interview: Shershaah Director Vishnuvardhan And Writer Sandeep Srivastava Unravel Captain Vikram Batra

A poster of Sidharth Malhotra from Shershaah

Most people in the country know the story of Captain Vikram Batra and why his contribution to the Kargil War is considered exemplary. Did you go beyond the available texts and interview videos in your research while designing the character for the movie?

Vishnuvardhan: It’s not the text that we have read or the books that have been written. We wanted to understand it better at a very personal level. With the support of Vishal Batra and general YK Joshi, we actually travelled all over, met the officers who were associated with the war, who were close to him, his family, and friends.

SS: When I came on board, Shabbir (Boxwala) asked me ‘how do you want to go about it,’ and I told him,’ I wanted to do my research first.’ He told me that there is already so much available – there are many books and articles written and then I said that those are someone else’s impression. It’s something that they have gathered. For me – to make it my own material – I have to interact with these people who knew Vikram Batra. It has to be my perspective as an author. I knew I have to start meeting the family, brother, sisters, parents, Dimple (Batra’s fiancee), and also the officers who were with him – his subordinates, and his schoolmates. We collected the data. When Vishnu came on board, he also wanted the experience of interacting with them because a director’s perspective will gather more than an author’s perspective. So, there were two rounds of research that we did. When I started travelling with Vishnu, things really started falling in place in terms of what is more cinematic because he has an eye for seeing things in a certain way. We weaved our story from that research.

Captain Vikram Batra was a hero. His story is already heroic enough. Now, how do you take a story like this and make it look more heroic by Bollywood’s standards?
SS: What he has done as a hero is out there, everybody knows about that. I didn’t have an image of a Bollywood hero where I wanted to fit his heroic image. I just wanted to tell the story of a simple, middle-class boy who comes from Balapaur, who has this passion for becoming a soldier. What he has done is documented but very few people know what he was as a person, as a teenager, how he behaved when he was in school. Who was he beyond the uniform? To me, that person was far more interesting.

The beautiful layer that comes in by exploring the personality of this guy – who was the lieutenant and who became the captain at the war, and finally, sacrificed his life. He won us that and also strategically finished the war in a way. I was more fascinated by the softer side that he had. His struggles and his personal life were like any other guy. His acts made him a hero but at the heart of it, he was a simple boy – a son, a brother, a lover, and a great friend. The empathy that he felt for his fellow soldiers, his juniors, his subordinates – officers who were lower in rank – is what will connect him to the masses in the movie, to everyone’s heart at some level.

Interview: Shershaah Director Vishnuvardhan And Writer Sandeep Srivastava Unravel Captain Vikram Batra

Captain Vikram Batra, OVC (Photo Courtesy: YouTube Video Screengrab taken from NDTV)

What was the best personality trait about Captain Vikram Batra that forced him to go beyond his call of duty and join the war to save his fellow soldiers even when the real orders were to take rest?
SS: He never really cared if he was going to live or survive. All he knew was that the orders were given to him, it was his responsibility, he had to leave his unit, and they had to accomplish it whatever the price may be. He had total disregard for his own safety but at the same time, he was extremely careful of the safety of the soldiers who were behind him. He could put his life on the back burner but he would protect those who were fighting behind him.

How did you and why did you see Captain Vikram Batra in Sidharth  Malhotra?
Vishnuvardhan: Before I came on board, Sidharth was already there. He was approached first with Shabbir Boxwala who had the rights to the film. When I looked at him, and because I knew that Shabbir was close to Batra’s family, I realised why Shabbir was so right about Sidharth. The more I travelled with Sidharth for the prep of the film, the more I started seeing him as Batra. He had taken all the information already. I was sure that I didn’t want him to imitate the hero, it was about taking all the traits and making them a part of your muscle memory and then reacting to it. So when we see Shershaah, we know this is probably Vikram Batra would have reacted. When the first visuals were out, we were so relieved because Sidharth looked so different.

How much personal liberty can a writer take while crafting a story based on a National war hero whose life is already in the public eye?
SS: When you are doing a biopic, the responsibility is immense. Not just about being true to the person whose biopic it is, but also staying true to the portrayal of other people in his life. You can’t take too much liberty over there. When you are approaching a subject like this, it’s also about the interplay of all the other characters. You have to bring in this interplay to suit these characters without jumping the skin of any of these characters and be true to your narrative. It is challenging to strike that sort of balance.

So, does it all depend on the writer?
SS: Yes, the writer has to strike the first balance. Then, there’s the director who finds the flaws and tells the writer about toning it down at some places. So, it’s a collaborative process.

Interview: Shershaah Director Vishnuvardhan And Writer Sandeep Srivastava Unravel Captain Vikram Batra

Sidharth Malhotra and Kiara Advani in stills from Shershaah (Photo Courtesy: YouTube/ Amazon Prime Video)

How justified are the songs in a movie which is based on a real-life event or a war movie for that matter?

SS: I am not averse to the idea of songs. There are narratives that don’t require songs but if there are songs that take the narrative forward, then why not? If the story is being taken forward by that song and the whole emotional draft is not being jarred by the use of that song, then why not have that song? It’s a beautiful medium – you can capture 20-30 years of someone’s life in a three-minute song, and that’s a great device to take the narrative forward.

Vishnuvardhan: The songs in this movie are pretty much in the background. Being in that moment, choosing to express those emotions – that’s what it is about. Personally, I love songs.

Sidharth and Kiara are dating in real life. That’s one of the biggest buzz around the movie. How do you see your characters in them when you already know that their real-life chemistry is extremely popular?
Vishnuvardhan: For me, it is not necessary to see what is happening in their personal lives. We had a couple of options for Dimple’s character because the love story between him and Captain is something you can’t imagine. Sometimes, it fascinates you. She’s a very strong woman. We needed someone who is very simple looking and at the same time, has got a lot of depth for the character. I couldn’t see anyone else but Kiara playing Dimple. I knew she would be perfect. She stood by it. She’s one of the smartest, sharpest, and intelligent actors we have. Their personal thing aside, I looked at them as Dimple and Captain Vikram Batra.

What was the order of people coming on board for Shershaah?
Vishal Batra – family
Shabbir Boxwala – had the rights to the story
Sandeep Srivastava – writer
Sidharth Malhotra – actor (he took the film to Dharma Productions)
Karan Johar – agreed to produce the film
Vishnuvardhan – director
Kiara Advani and other actors joined in later.

Shershaah is set to stream on Amazon Prime Video from August 12.

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