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Meghna Gulzar: ‘With Sam Manekshaw, there’s no scope for villainising anybody’ | Bollywood News

TELLING THE story of someone as iconic as Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw comes with its set of unique requisites. Meghna Gulzar, co-writer-director of his upcoming biopic Sam Bahadur, chose to always place the camera lower than eye-level of actor Vicky Kaushal, who plays the titular lead, so that “it looks up at him”. For Kaushal, however, the “toughest task” was to find Manekshaw’s “heart and spirit”. Gulzar and Kaushal were speaking at the Express Adda in New Delhi on Monday.

Giving a peek into his process of playing Manekshaw, Kaushal said: “The aura that he had was not limited to his uniform. So I have to give it to Meghna, who held my hand through this, because otherwise it was impossible for me to even attempt this.”

Essaying the role of Manekshaw, who fought five wars, was intimidating for Kaushal initially. “He has left such a legacy. It seemed like a big task for an actor to pull off. At first, I was really happy about the opportunity I got. At times, when I would get to know the details of his life, I used to think that it’s a massive responsibility. It was intimidating but at the same time one of the most fulfilling experiences as an actor,” said Kaushal, who received the National Film Award for Best Actor for Uri: The Surgical Strike (2019).

Asked whether the film shows Manekshaw’s association with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and how as a director she has navigated it, Gulzar said: “It is a biopic and shows four decades of his life. The story of the film starts from 1932. I have shown his dynamics with Mrs Gandhi from the lens of it being the film on the life of Field Marshal Manekshaw.”

Sam Bahadur is releasing in theatres this Friday alongside the Ranbir Kapoor-starrer Animal, triggering speculation about a big Bollywood clash. Kaushal, however, believes that both movies will ultimately contribute to the business of Hindi cinema. Citing a cricket analogy, the actor said: “When two opening batsmen come to the crease, playing for the same team, you won’t say that the two batsmen are clashing with each other, they are playing for a single team. So, we are playing for Hindi cinema…While one player might hit fours and sixes, the other player will be at the crease and take ones and twos and maintain the strike,” he said.

Festive offer

Sam Bahadur is releasing in Hindi while Animal is releasing in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada.

When asked which films will be hitting the boundary, Kaushal said, “The audience will decide that.”

Gulzar and Kaushal, who were reunited for Sam Bahadur after their earlier successful outing Raazi (2018), were in conversation with Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express group, and Shubhra Gupta, Film Critic, The Indian Express.

Speaking about her experience of working on Raazi vis-à-vis Sam Bahadur, Gulzar said that the “circumstances” and “perspective” often define a person.

In Raazi, Alia Bhatt essays the role of Sehmat, an undercover India spy who marries a Pakistani army officer. Gulzar said: “I had a lot of empathy for Sehmat. There is a lot of grey in her. With Sam (Manekshaw), there is no scope for villainising anybody. It’s not that story and he is not that man. He didn’t do it in his lifetime and I can’t do it in his film. He fought to defend his country without villanising his enemy. Otherwise, the treatment that he gave to the 93,000 prisoners of war that we had would not have been given. He treated them with humanity and respect that a soldier merits.”

In the audience were Manekshaw’s daughter Maja Daruwala and a number of retired Army officers. Daruwala, who has already watched the film twice, said the last two seconds of the movie made her tear up. “When he (Kaushal as Manekshaw) turns to the audience, smiling, that kills me every time.”

Offering insight into his mind and craft while working on Sam Bahadur, Kaushal said: “The job of an actor is much simpler than that of a director. All that is expected of an actor is honesty. It is only the honesty of the emotion that I have to hit. At that point if the truth has reached the audience that is what they wanted. When it comes to marketing of a film, it’s a whole different drama which I am still trying to understand.”

Kaushal, who made the audience take note with his breakout performance in Masaan (2015), has established himself as one of India’s finest actors. His impressive filmography includes Manmarziyaan (2018) and Sardar Udham (2021). After Sam Bahadur’s release, Kaushal will be seen with Shah Rukh Khan in the highly-anticipated Dunki, which will release on December 21.

Gulzar’s last directorial outing, the Deepika Padukone-starrer Chhapaak (2020), was based on the life of acid attack survivor and activist Laxmi Agarwal.

When asked whether Padukone’s visit to Jawaharlal Nehru University on January 7, 2020, three days before the release of Chhapaak, during the student protests affected the film’s box-office performance, Gulzar said: “I am sure that the answer is pretty obvious. Yes, of course, it made a dent on the film because the conversation went from acid violence, which I intended the film to amplify, to somewhere else. So, of course it impacted the film. There is no denying that.”

Known for helming some powerful dramas, Gulzar made her directorial debut with Filhaal (2002). She is known for her sensitivity and deep understanding in the way she treats her characters and tells a story.

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