It’s been 22 years since Kargil war hero Captain Vikram Batra was killed in action, fighting for his nation, but ultimately inspiring the Indian army to victory against the Pakistani soldiers and becoming a household name across the country. After the war, Batra, who was just 24 when he succumbed to enemy fire, was posthumously honoured with the Param Vir Chakra.
Now, a tribute to his legacy comes with the war drama Shershaah , that stars Bollywood hotshot Sidharth Malhotra as Vikram Batra, as well as his twin, Vishal Batra.
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Though the actor has experimented with several genres since he burst onto the scene with Student of the Year almost a decade ago, he is still largely popular — and recognised — for his romcom persona, thanks to films like Kapoor & Sons , Baar Baar Dekho and Hasee Toh Phasee.
While other successful projects like Brothers and Marjaavaan have given Sidharth scope to go out of his comfort zone, Shershaah does places him in hitherto uncharted territory — literally — as the star says it’s the first Indian film to have been shot on Kargil war terrain.
With Kiara Advani (who plays Vikram Batra’s fiancée) starring alongside him, and Tamil director Vishnuvardhan helming the project, Sidharth is rooting for the biopic to establish him as a performer who can take on any kind of role with élan.
Excerpts from an interview:
Captain Vikram Batra is known for his valour and patriotism, but he also seems to have been a larger-than-life character in real life, with his exaggerated dialogues and personality. How do you represent someone like that in a film?
You’re absolutely right. Going through Captain Vikram’s book or all the stuff that is written about him, you find that he was an extremely filmy person, for lack of a better term.
I was fortunate that the first person that I met was his twin brother; who else better to tell me about him? And of course, I met his parents, his family, and chatted with his comrades who were in his battlefield. That’s where the idea of what he would be like started from, because there’s so much already written about him in the public domain.
Absorbing from two different sides of his life, I kind of built this character, which I thought would be a more realistic version of Captain Batra, because he said actual lines like, “Yeh Dil Maange More!” on the battlefield. He was an extremely fearless yet emotional and driven person, and for me, had two different aspects to his personality. One is this lovable Punjabi boy, and the other is this very focused and direct leader when it comes to the forces. So we tried to strike a very nice balance to showcase both sides, and hopefully, by the end of the journey, show you a graph of how he matured.
He joined the actual service when he was just around 20, but his seniors talk about how when they saw him on that battlefield, he wasn’t all talk — he could walk the talk — and was actually going out there leading his troops. As an actor, attempting to show that maturity and growth involved a lot of preparation from all the references we had. So much detail has even gone into his look and styling, from his facial hair to the gear he used to wear.
We also had army personnel training the cast members, and helping us shoot in the Kargil terrain. I think our action pieces would look slightly fresher and new, because we’re the first Hindi film to shoot in Kargil; the most authentic places possible where the battle actually happened.
What was the most memorable part of the film for you?
In Shershaah , it is not the destination, but the journey that matters. For me, the most memorable or challenging part of the film was that last scene where you know he’s not going to make it. That’s something which was playing in my head way before we started shooting itself, as there are many ways to approach it. We had to strike the right balance for the audience, because they know that that’s the outcome. It was very satisfying by the end as an actor, and fingers crossed, everyone likes it.
How was it like to work with director Vishnuvardhan, who is making his Bollywood debut?
I had actually earlier seen one of Vishnu’s commercial films with Ajith: Billa ! After we connected, I went on and saw some of his other films too. Shershaah has been through an odd journey from when I first heard it years ago, with a completely different production and directorial team attached. But after all the changes, once Vishnu came on board, his energy was so enthusiastic, and he himself was so eager to be a part of this. He has been a cinematographer at one point, so he’s also very aware of the camera, lensing and technicalities which is a huge advantage to the actor, as the director is so visually sorted. I think that’s the reason that the film will look visually different from other war films.
Full marks to Vishnu and our cameraman Kamaljeet Negi to give it a very real and raw feel, and shooting with a minimal setup on top of that mountain, be it wind, rain or any kind of difficulty.
Shershaah premieres August 12 on Amazon Prime Video