Indian National Award-winning filmmaker Neeraj Pandey is back to what he does best: making nail-biting thrillers filled with memorable characters and peddling anti-establishment ideologies led by a clutch of determined men. Aiyaary, which boasts a testosterone-charged gang of talents including Sidharth Malhotra, Manoj Bajpayee, Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah, doesn’t deviate far from Pandey’s 2008 acclaimed thriller, A Wednesday!.
“In its tone, Aiyaary comes closest to A Wednesday!. But it’s far more complex,” said Pandey, the director, writer and producer of the film.
A Wednesday! remains one of Bollywood’s most beloved thrillers as it dealt with a disillusioned common man in India (a superb Shah) slyly taking on a bunch of terrorists and outsmarting Indian police officers.
While the genres between his hit film and Aiyaary coincide, the latter delves into the world of the Indian Armed Forces. It is the tale of a young army officer Jai Bakshi (Malhotra) going rogue and taking law into his own hands. He’s up against his senior colleague, played by Bajpayee. Their generational gap and their clash of ideologies form the spine of the film.
“You can’t blame the youth here. The inheritance they have got is because their older generation did not act responsibly enough. That’s the essence of Aiyaary,” said Pandey.
Aiyaary was initially planned for a January 26 release but was delayed due to its clash with Padmaavat, and a delay in getting clearance from the Indian censor board (CBFC). The movie is now ready to be rolled out. So how did Pandey get access to the world of the Indian military, which is considered to be a closed, clannish unit from the outside?
“Frankly, I have got more friends in the armed forces than in the film industry now. It’s great fun to interact with them and get their point of view on so many issues. There are great stories lying [around] and I consider myself very responsible when it comes to doing my research and telling a story in the right manner,” Pandey said.
MEET THE MEN IN UNIFORM…
Who: Sidharth Malhotra as Major Jai Bakshi from the Indian Army.
His signature: An army officer who goes rogue.
His role in his own words: “I play a military intelligence officer who is a young entrant into his job. He’s very hard-working and earnest. He has a set of beliefs about how the Indian Army must function, but soon finds out that it’s not the way he thought it would be. So he is willing to take some extreme steps to correct the wrong. Jai Bakshi has several shades of grey in him.”
Aiyaary in his own words: “It’s an action-filled spy thriller about a younger spy taking on his older mentor and colleague. We are used to Western films making films on spies and intelligent officers going rogue, but Neeraj Pandey is one of the directors who has done enough research to make a film on this subject. Aiyaary means someone who can trick people through their disguises.”
His most challenging disguise in Aiyaary: “I don’t want to give the details away, but my disguise just before the intermission of the film was thrilling. We worked very hard with the prosthetics team that was flown for the UK to make our disguises look convincing. We spent more than four hours doing make-up for that disguise. I can’t wait to see how people will react to that scene.”
His first-meeting with director Neeraj Pandey: “I have always been a big fan of his works. I met him while he was making MS Dhoni and we had an informal meeting around that time. Eight months later, he called met to speak about Aiyaary. What intrigued me was that he is one of the few directors who can make commercial cinema based on real, relevant topics. His thrillers won’t be about multiple costume changes or inserting songs for no reason. All the twists are realistic and situational. Therefore, to play an antagonist in a Neeraj Pandey film was as good as it got.”
On doing his own stunts: “It’s not an action-heavy film per se, but an espionage thriller. I am not like the hit Hollywood spy James Bond and there’s no room in Aiyaary to wear a tuxedo or drink a martini. We have made our own real, gritty version of how Indian military officers function. Bond and we work in the same MI [military intelligence] department, but our lives aren’t as glamorous. We are just hard-working.”
Who: Manoj Bajpayee as Colonel Abhay Singh from the Indian Army.
His signature: He’s determined to nab his protege Bakshi who has gone rogue.
His role in his own words: “Colonel Abhay Singh is a patriotic man and he will not tolerate any wrong-doing when it comes to his country. He’s in charge of a covert operation team who are on a tight deadline to complete their mission in two days. He’s a great dad, a great husband and a chilled-out friend. If you are on his right side, then he is a great support. But if you end up on his wrong side, then he can be a dangerous force. He’s no nonsense and is cold-blooded when he comes to his duty.”
Aiyaary in his own words: “This film chronicles the relationship between a mentor and his protege and the twists that they face. The conflict between the two generations that they represent is highlighted in this film. Sid belongs to the new generation and I belong to the older one with a strict ideas about nationalism and patriotism. It’s a clash of their ideologies on nationalism and what constitutes patriotism. This is the backbone of the film and the irony is that both of them are right. But sometimes, your own truth cannot be the only determining factor for your country’s fate and security. The film shows how your country comes first and how sometimes you have to look at the larger interests of your country than an individual cause or their version of truth.”
On working with Neeraj Pandey: “He’s the writer of Aiyaary and he has invested many years into writing the script and doing adequate research. He was armed with the research material and information during filming. I used to sit with him and we used to talk about each and every working of my character. We spent two months talking about my character and that gave me a fair idea of what I was getting into.”
Will Aiyaary be cloyingly jingoistic?: “Aiyaary is an intelligent thriller and it’s not just about bashing up your enemy country to play to the galleries. The characters, their stories and their definition of patriotism is what makes this Neeraj Pandey thriller outstanding.”
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Aiyaary releases in the UAE on February 15.