Bollywood actor Sidharth Malhotra describes his latest war film ‘Shershaah’, chronicling the life of late Army officer Captain Vikram Batra, as his career’s toughest film.
After all, it’s not often that an actor puts aside five years of his life for a single film, without giving up faith or hope. At one point, Malhotra, who made his acting debut with ‘Student of the Year’, was even considering financing the project just so that it sees the light of the day.
“It has been a massive learning journey in terms of understanding my craft when you are playing a real-life character … It’s not like any other fictitious stories of ours where we can change things or improvise … As an actor, you have to hit that precise target. It required control and planning,” Malhotra told Gulf News over a Zoom video call.
Directed by Vishnuvardhan and produced by Karan Johar’s production house, ‘Shershaah’ brings to life the brave innings of Captain Vikram Batra who lost his life while fighting the Kargil War in 1999. His bravery and his fierceness is a part of army folklore now.
“Captain Vikram Batra’s life is the kind of story that people can gauge inspiration from … Although we can’t sugarcoat war, we want to hopefully show the human side of it … There are no winners or losers in war, both sides suffer just the same,” said Malhotra.
Excerpts from our interview with Malhotra as we talk about his ambitious new film, the pandemic, and the human costs of war …
Why should we watch your film ‘Shershaah’ releasing close to Indian Independence Day (August 15)?
It’s a story — no matter which part of the world you are from — that will inspire you. It’s about this young boy from Palampur [in Himachal Pradesh], who studied in Chandigarh, and then went on to become a very fierce soldier. It’s a story of an inspiring leader. At just 24, he walked the talk and gave his life while on duty. It’s a story of a man with immense leadership quality too. He stood for his country and trust me, the youth of our country will be nudged to ask a few question about his passionate nature at 24. After watching this film, you will ask yourself whether you are so passionate about your country that you are ready to sacrifice your life down for it … Even if you don’t intend to join the [armed] forces, I feel this film will inspire the youth to be more focused and be more passionate at a young age itself. I want everyone to be inspired by Captain Vikram Batra’s life story.
How involved were you in the making of this film … Bollywood folklore has it that you spent several years invested in this war film?
I was technically involved way before this particular team of this were involved. Around five years ago, Captain Vikram Batra’s brother [Vishal Batra] approached me along with Shabbir Boxwala, a producer. At that point, it was a broader and more massive script because when it’s someone’s life story there is so much material and content. Back then, it was a completely different team and at that time I was not convinced that this film was going in the right direction. I felt we had to get the right team and with the permission of Vishal Batra, I took it to Dharma Productions … At that time around three years ago, Dharma had never made a biopic but we got the ball rolling ...
After writer Sandeep Shrivastav and director Vishnuvardhan came on board, Kiara [Advani] came in. I have seen its long journey and seen the script go through various stages. It was a weird process to see the scrip go through various stages, but this is our best version of the script. It may not tell you everything about captain Vikram Batra’s life, but it doesn’t leave out the significant bits. It’s been a long journey and it’s the first time I’m playing somebody who was there in flesh and blood and it’s my first time I am playing someone who has given his life for our country. It was a collaborative effort, but I was much more involved in this film than my previous projects.
Did it make you feel vulnerable putting aside five years of your life for this project?
This film definitely tested my patience over the years. In the last few months, I saw different version of this film because it changed many hands. Our core idea was to get a solid team … I was the only constant over the years. At one point, I wanted to produce it purely because I had immense faith and belief in our content. I felt it was an amazing story that needed to be told. It has added to my performance because I am far more focused and far more emotionally attached to the outcome. I am invested deeply on how my character and events are portrayed of how it’s coming across to the viewers. But it doesn’t matter how long the journey is as long as you reach your destination.
War films and Bollywood biopics are notorious for being jingoistic and glossy ... How will ‘Shershaah’ be different and does it address the trauma behind being brave?
From the writing board itself, we have consciously made an attempt about not digressing from Captain Vikram Batra’s life story. We are not here to make a statement as to what happened and who did what. People already know all the details because enough has been documented in the public domain about it. We just wanted to tell this journey of this soldier, his family, and his sacrifice that he made. We wanted to show you the humane side of war, but you cannot sugarcoat war. We were intent on putting facts out there ... Captain Batra’s interaction with his own comrades is well-documented and we were not worried about it being jingoistic. This film is his personal journey and about his heroic character. We wanted to keep it as real and authentic as possible. In today’s age, we can’t make everyone happy, but we it’s a deeply personal and human story.
War films make for perfect theatrical viewing … Are you disappointed that it is now premiering on an OTT platform?
A: During the inception of the film and while we were shooting the action sequences, it was designed for the big screens. But this film was supposed to release last year in the theatres, but we were hit by a pandemic. In Maharashtra, the theatres are still shut and it’s such a massive market for Hindi movies. Right now, we want this film to be watched by as many people as possible and an OTT platform is the best possible medium. It’s also the safest way to watch a film in today’s times. I just hope that people now have bigger television sets and better sound systems to watch this. This is our labour of love and hard work, and I want everyone to watch it.
Don’t miss it!
‘Shershaah’ is out now on Amazon Prime Video.