He dived from a 90-foot cliff into water, stood under a waterfall for two hours and braved snakes and leeches in Kerala's forests. Unsurprisingly, Abhishek Bachchan says shooting for Raavan was emotionally and physically challenging.
The actor revealed that he decided to jump from scary heights despite a ‘no' from director Mani Ratnam.
"I did jump. There was a professional diver to train me how to do it," said Bachchan, who has teamed up with wife Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in the movie.
"When we went up there, it was 90 feet or something. So the insurance people said, ‘We can't allow him to do it. You can't put your lead actor's life at risk,'" he said.
"Mani said, ‘No, I am not going to risk my actor jumping off that [cliff].' Actually, the current of that river is very intense. There are rocks at the bottom," he said.
"In the meantime, a five-year-old boy came and dived into the water. We were shooting it at Hogenakkal [a waterfall on the Cauvery river], where these local kids jump off for money. So five or six people jumped at the end of the day and finally the shot was taken," Bachchan said.
"This is the most challenging film I have ever done. I haven't done such a physically and emotionally challenging film in my life. And it's not about going to tough locations or tough scenes. The film drains you and you feel so good when you go home at night because you feel that you have done something. Getting a movie like Raavan is so rare. You don't get such a role today."
The film is said to be a modern interpretation of the epic Ramayana. It also stars southern superstar Vikram, who plays a cop married to Aishwarya.
The director shot Raavan simultaneously in Tamil and Hindi at various locations, including the Athirapally forests in Kerala, Ooty in Tamil Nadu, Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, Kolkata, and the Malshej Ghats in Maharashtra. The film has lots of action scenes and stunts performed by the actors.
Ratnam completed the film despite health problems.
"Once you work with him, you will be in awe of him because of the talent he brings to the table. The minute he says cut, he turns into a dear friend. He is someone very close to me. I really feel a strong bond with him. But in front of the camera, you don't have to work to give him the respect it just comes... He is truly just the best," said Bachchan.
It was Ratnam who gave Bachchan his first hit in Yuva and they later worked together on Guru.
Talking about his character, Bachchan said: "Beera is the most fun character I have played. Fun because when we work on a character, we draw an outline and then fill in the blanks. But Beera is so unpredictable that you can get away with everything.
"I believe if you can look the character, 50 per cent of your job done. I think when you get the body language correct, half of your work is done. And if you have understood the body language, your dialogues after that would just come."
Ratnam loves shooting on real locations to extract the best from his actors, said Bachchan. "On the first day, he puts us under the waterfall for two hours and, trust me, you are in character. Mani loves to shoot at location. You will think, ‘Where have we come?' The jungles of Kerala, the snakes and leeches... then you realise that he puts you into the situation where in a day or two you start reacting instinctively as your character would react because you are actually facing that.
"You don't need to act that much, you are just reacting naturally. So when you go to locations like that, it brings out the character automatically."
Ash is confident...
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan started her film career with Mani Ratnam's Tamil film Iruvar in 1997, but says she feels "confident" about doing more Tamil films only now after the multilingual Raavan.
"I understand a bit of Tamil and speak a bit of it. For me, it is very important that I understand the meaning of my dialogues before I deliver them," she said. "I can't just mug up the dialogues. So for Raavan, I made sure I knew what I was saying and yes, I have improved a lot on the language and I am confident about doing more Tamil stuff in future," Rai Bachchan said.