Sidharth Malhotra has been receiving critical acclaim for his role as Captain Vikram Batra in Shershaah.
Bollywood actor Sidharth Malhotra has become the talk of the town even since he portrayed the 'Shershaah' Captain Vikram Batra on screen. The actor has more things in common with Captain Batra than he would be willing to accept. Right from its inception five years ago to what Shershaah is today, Sidharth has seen a lot of changes in the film.
The actor spoke to OTTplay exclusively about how the project was extra special to him. Sidharth discusses what went behind making Shershaah, bringing Karan Johar (Dharma Productions), Kiara Advani and Vishnu Vardhan on board. He also discusses all the ways in which he feels connected to Captain Vikram Batra.
Excerpts from the interview...
Tell me the first reaction when you got the call that you would play Captain Vikram Batra.
I got the first call from Vishal Batra and Shabbir Boxwala around 2015-16, while I was shooting for A Gentleman. It's been a really long time. We had a meeting where they narrated whose story they wanted to make. I was already aware of Captain Vikram Batra's story so I was certain that I wanted to be a part of the project. I wouldn't get another chance to portray such a real-life legend. At that time, the team and script was completely different. It took almost 5 years to get made but we're a much stronger team today. So many hands changed and I kind of took over and told Vishal Batra to let me get the film made with a solid team. I approached Dharma Productions. I was very happy to take this script and develop it, get the writer. We then got Vishnu Vardhan to direct his first Hindi film, then we got Kiara on board. So it fell into place. If you put so much effort and time into a project, you obviously get emotionally attached to it. This anyway was such an inspiring story that I really connected with. Today we have an overwhelming response. It's something everybody wishes and prays for. They see it for the story we tried to make and with the intention we tried to make it. I'm extremely happy and overwhelmed with the love coming our way.
Your life is similar to Captain Vikram Batra's life in the sense that you also have a brother who you are close to, your mom is a homemaker while his were teachers and of course, the Punjabi connection.
Definitely. Just to give a slight background to it, my daadu was serving in the Indian army. He fought the Indo-China war and got injured. He and my grandmother lived that life. He passed away when I was really young but I had the stories to gauge, as to what the Indian army has to offer and what the soldiers and officers are meant to be. So when I met Vikram Batra's family, A) We have a very similar background culturally so there's that connection. B) Since my daadu and dadi were telling me those stories, this could very well be my relatives or family. We come from a similar upbringing. I grew up in Delhi, he grew up in Palampur. There was an instant connection, so much that I knew what their house looked like. Every culture has a certain aspect to their houses so definitely there was that connection. I don't have a twin but an elder brother. I know the rapport that you can have. I can only imagine what Vishal and Vikram Batra had and how painful it is for them. Coming to parents, they feel like a family that could be my own. They could be my cousins, uncles or aunts. So definitely there is an instant connection, especially (in the sense of) the cultural background and the families that we come from.
Your father was also a captain in the merchant navy. Did you approach him when you got the script? Did he have any advice?
He was extremely happy. He's seen the army life through my daadu much more. He himself has been away from home in the merchant navy, travelling to different parts of the world. He would joke that at least one of his sons became a pretend army officer. He was very happy and proud after seeing the film. Both my mother and father think that this is the best character I have portrayed on screen. I'm just extremely happy and emotional. It all fell together in a film like Captain Vikram Batra's life story. It needed that. When I met the family, I also felt extremely responsible to them. Putting my best foot forward was needed with this project. There shouldn't be any inhibitions in showing his character, elements and thought process. I'm extremely happy, ecstatic and emotional that people are liking it.
What kind of research went into your character?
The research was very extensive and detailed. It started with me researching from textbooks and books in the first year. It was a different team back then. We got Dharma involved, the writer Sandip Srivastava on board, then Vishnu Vardhan came in. Post that, I had interviewed all the jawans who had served with Captain Vikram Batra - just talking to the camera about what happened, narrating their version and their impression of Captain Vikram Batra which was extremely valuable and detailed for me as an actor. To just keep watching and hearing their impression of how the gentleman was, how he behaved with them, his mannerisms and what he made them feel. We used most of that in the film that you see. Then we prepared for the physical aspect of the role. We trained with the Indian army. An army officer trained us in Mumbai every morning. We would start with physical training on the field and would do gun training. We would march and do battle formations, like a mini bootcamp to get used to being one of the troops. Of course we trained in Kargil when we went there. It was above 14000 sea level where we trained. It definitely wasn't easy with the extreme conditions. We had to really push ourselves. Of course, Vishnu and Sandip would sit in my house going through different scenes everyday two months before. A lot of time in prep went in because everyone together felt that the film needs that. It's not your run-of-the-mill commercial films. Everyone came in with the sense of responsibility and obligation to the family to put their best foot forward. There was a mental prep happening and physical prep too. So many things change on sets and shoots. Shooting in Kargil changes so many things. It was a long, gruesome journey and I'm happy people have noticed that.
You also talk in Punjabi in the film. What was that like?
This again stems from the cultural similarities between me and Captain Vikram Batra and the households we grew up in. It was something that I used as an actor. It's more Hindi Punjabi and not a complete Punjabi to make it more palatable for the world and the rest of the country. Hopefully it's a Punjabi that everyone will understand.
Also, there's a scene where you and Kiara are talking in Punjabi. So did you turn a language expert for her?
It was very refreshing for me to use this lingo which I spoke in Delhi many years ago. I have been in Mumbai for 14-15 years now. I came here when I was 21. I don't get that chance to speak that much Punjabi in my household here because it's only me so I was very excited to do that and use that lingo. I still wanted to keep it more Hindi-driven. There was a faint Punjabi accent in certain Punjabi words. It wasn't the same case for Kiara. She's not from a Punjabi household. She grew up in Mumbai. For her, she had to start from scratch. Kudos to her and thumbs up for the efforts that she made to learn Punjabi. I gave her some kind of help because I have an ear for Punjabi. I would guide her with her accents. She was very receptive while rehearsing them. She's done a fabulous job to portray Dimple Cheema ji who is a proper Chandigarh's sardarni.
You brought Dharma Productions on board. Karan Johar has mentored you and gave you a launch in Bollywood. Was the filmmaker involved in something more than production?
He's producing many films but he's equally involved in all his films creatively. He wouldn't have time to do research but he is a creative producer because he is a director himself so he's definitely involved but not in the day-to-day functioning and research of the film but on the creative aspect of it. I feel extremely happy that a production house which has given me this career and opportunity with my first film, that I could do something by presenting them with a script and story they're proud of. So far, it's one of the most loved films that we all have been a part of. Whether you go on IMDb, the rating the film has got is the highest for a Dharma film, me of course, Kiara as well as an Amazon film for the last 10 years. It's the highest rated feature film. I would give credit to Sumit and our production team. They made Kargil shoot-friendly which is a humongous task. Everything there is a trek up and to organize those locations for a massive action beat is commendable. Nobody else but Dharma Productions could have done that.
What was your experience working with Vishnu Vardhan?
We're really lucky to have an experienced director. He's made enough movies in a different language which I don't think is a barrier when it comes to moviemaking. He came in with a lot of experience and ease on how to function. He prepped a lot and has been an asset to everyone's performance. What I liked is that he knew how to manage the stress on sets. He never showed it to us as actors. He would calm us down. He's technically very sound. Kamaljeet Negi and him gave a fresh look to the army portions of Shershaah. Vishnu is here to stay and make many more Hindi films. Hopefully I'm a part of them.