‘I wasn’t pretending, I was Dhoni’

Sushant Singh Rajput about the gruelling process that helped him transform into M.S. Dhoni and excelling at the helicopter shot

As he settles down for an interview, Sushant Singh confesses that when he was in college he had hoped to crack the civil services exam. “The Hindu was the only paper I would read then.” Excerpts from an interview with the actor, whose M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story releases today:

Considering how you both hail from the heartland and have found success in your respective fields, were there parallels you could draw between your life and Dhoni’s?

When I started off in theatre, I would go about getting into a character by identifying all its similarities and dissimilarities. I’d then work on the dissimilarities in order to become that person. But I’ve changed my approach now, especially after working with Dibakar (Banerjee) and Shekhar Kapur. With experience, I learnt not to have an inflated sense of self and this helps maintain a clean slate. What I do now is figure out the person I’m going to play and start thinking like him for a long period of time, to the point where I behave like him without thinking. It’s like picking up a language… it begins with a lot of listening. I stay with it until my subconscious picks it up.

But do all films give you the luxury of time to do that?

It took me 13 months just to prepare for M.S. Dhoni... I started by watching every single video I could find of his, repeatedly. After three months, people who met me started saying that they could see similarities, and I knew I was on the right path.

After this, I started analysing the character by understanding the intent of the director. You need to know what he wants to punctuate with each scene. I kept meeting Dhoni throughout this period too.

What were discussions with Dhoni like?

In our first meeting, I just asked him how he looked back at his life and career, and I would just listen. After a few months, I started asking questions, ranging from his thoughts, his beliefs, fears and desires. And then, I gave him a multiple-choice questionnaire with 250 questions, asking him things like what he would do in a particular situation. This is the kind of research you do to be sure. On the first day of the shoot, I wasn’t pretending to be him… I was Dhoni.

Ideally, would you prefer to be given such a long time to prepare for your characters?

Not necessarily. In this film, I have to look like him as well. As we were shooting backwards, I had to become 89 kg from 74. Then, I had to come down to 70 kg. Also, though I was a big follower of cricket, I was not very good at the sport… so, I had to train really hard at both batting and wicket-keeping.

Which did you prefer of the two?

I think wicket-keeping. When you watch a game, it’s so easy to say ‘yaar catch chhod diya’. The ball comes to you in 0.7 seconds and if you miss, you get hit. I kept getting hit. I practised to the point where I became numb to pain.

And you even managed to pick up Dhoni’s helicopter shot…

My cricket training began with the basics, so I not only look like a cricketer but also think like one. I worked with Kiran More sir and a Ranji team analyst who would break down each shot into frames. He would explain the helicopter shot in terms of how the transfer of weight happens and how it should look for the camera. I would first practise it without the ball. Then, More sir would bowl using the machine and I would practise 200 to 300 times every day.

Talking about those moments when you’re totally immersed in character, could you describe how it feels to be M.S. Dhoni?

We have a tendency to judge everything based on success or failure. He doesn’t look at life like that. When he’s doing something, he does it because he’s interested and excited about it. Our behaviour is coloured based on our need for psychological security, vis-à-vis career, relationship, and money. This ingrains in us a fear, and that fear starts defining us and our decisions. But when you’re not worried about all that, you’re free to just be in the moment. Like Dhoni does. It’s very liberating.

On a lighter note, given Dhoni’s imminent retirement from the game, could we see you filling in for him in a game or two?

With the kind of injuries I’ve suffered, I’m glad to stick to acting (laughs).

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 10:56:37 PM |

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