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In Netaji's shoes


What was it like to play a firebrand freedom fighter like Subhas Chandra Bose? And what next? Actor Sachin Khedekar in a freewheeling chat.


WHAT was the most difficult moment for you in shaping Netaji, the forgotten hero?

"Give me blood and I'll give you freedom". That speech of Netaji was the most difficult moment in the film. It's the best-known incident in Netaji's life, probably the only thing most people know about him today. I was terribly tense. Imagine having to deliver it before the whole army! They were actors of course, but still 5,000 people before you! A non-actor doesn't fear the audience but I'm a good actor.

Maharashtrians are said to be dry, austere. How did you turn yourself into a Bengali firebrand? Without a helpful family background of freedom fighters, and living in this age of disillusionment, how did you understand the passions of the past?

It was difficult. I had no freedom fighter grandfather or grand uncle. To become a firebrand was even more difficult. For two years I studied all the material on the Netaji — books, audio recordings, film footage, talked to people who knew him, and then tried to get at the "mood" of the man and his times. There was a whole range of things on my mind that I couldn't get into the performance. You have to follow the script, there are technological requirements, oh, a hundred things to adjust to. But that knowledge stayed within me. I'm sure it made what I actually did deeper, richer.

Was it frustrating to have your creativity curbed severely in having to play a real man with a defined history and image?

That's precisely the challenge! I got disturbed (laughing) mostly when it was horribly cold in Uzbekistan, Ladakh, in the Peshawar scenes. If I hadn't been trained as a theatre actor I could've never done this role, certainly never made those rousing speeches of an intellectual, with a passionate love for his motherland, an inspiring leader, a man of such immense stature! Most of it synch sound, not dubbed. So watch for the audio quality! I've worked with good directors. May be trite to say `twas great to work with Shyam Benegal, but it's true. With 30 years of film making his understanding of the medium is something else. So many directors shoot any beautiful frame. But he won't okay a single shot unless it's justified. The way he interacted with actors! With a single line he'd know what to expect and how much to guide that actor. Minimal instructions, nothing to confuse, and he gets the best from each. (Admiring) Can't explain that knack. With that on my side I had to be confident, right?

EPIC PROFILE: A scene from Bengal's film.

You are ruefully happy saying you don't think you'll ever get a better role.

I'm hoping to get better roles after this film. But we all know that commercial films offer little to actors like me, they go for the stars in a multi-crore production. Who but Benegal could have imagined Sachin Khedekar as Netaji? I was thinking about other biopics — films like (Attenborough's) "Gandhi" and "Lawrence of Arabia" have budgets a hundred times more than ours, they have the luxury of achieving depth and detailing we can't dream of. But Benegal's "Making of the Mahatma" shows Gandhi crafting his tools of ahimsa and Satyagraha in South Africa, Paresh Rawal's is a fantastic performance as Vallabhai Patel in "Sardar"... D'you know, I did the Marathi dubbing in "Ambedkar" for Mammootty! I liked all the Bhagat Singh pics. Their quality is something else, but the intentions were honest. For me who knew virtually nothing about the freedom struggle, all those films provided the excitement of learning about our own past. The best thing for me in Netaji was researching and re-living those experiences, thinking about those people, their purpose in life, what drove them to action. It was moving to meet people who knew Bose in Burma, and see their bankbooks with INA salaries...

How did they feel when their hero vanished mysteriously?

(Pause) Didn't think of asking...

How did you feel about Bose's controversial meeting with Hitler and his uneasy relationship with Gandhi?

We know Hitler didn't agree with Netaji's comments on his war strategies, especially with Russia, but he gave him permission to launch the INA, and gave a U-Boat for Netaji to travel to South East Asia. With Gandhi I think the differences of opinion were healthy, they respected each other.

Indian cinema rarely gets an international cast. How did it work?

Germans, Japanese and Russians along with Bengali, Delhi and Bombay actors! Rich texturing. But you'll see!

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