We’ve just finished an extensive outdoor photoshoot with Sidharth Malhotra and Kiara Advani. It’s been a long day’s work and while everyone else is close to exhaustion, the cover stars are raring to go. They are crackling with palpable energy. Maybe it’s the black coffee they’re having, maybe it’s the excitement for their big release Shershaah, maybe it’s just the way they are… Their energy is something we could use in large measures, right now. Exhausted as we are from the heat outside. As they sit down for a chat in their suite at the Taj Lands End, we can clearly see the pride in their eyes. They’ve put in a lot of hard work in the film and can’t wait for the world to witness the heroic tale of the Kargil martyr, Captain Vikram Batra (PVC). Amazon Prime Video’s Shershaah is a biopic on the braveheart who gave up his life for his country during the Kargil War. The trailer of the film was unanimously appreciated. It gave a good idea of the blood and sweat Sidharth has put in to portray his character convincingly. Kiara Advani plays Dimple Cheema, the martyr’s fiance and his biggest emotional support. The experience of doing this film has definitely been an enriching journey for the two actors. Hearing the real-life stories, reliving their struggles has changed their perceptions about love, life and the armed forces. What’s more, the film has also bought the two of them closer than ever before. Professionally speaking, the film has all it takes to be a complete game changer for both Sidharth’s and Kiara’s careers. Excerpts…
A Big Film Release After A Long Time For You Both, What’s Going On In Your Minds Right Now?
Sidharth: Yes, a film for me after a long while because of various reasons. There is a lot of intrigue and anxiety, especially because this format is new to me. Shershaah is releasing on OTT due to the current situation, people will see it on Amazon. Of course, it’s a film I’ve been a part of for many years. I remember meeting Captain Batra’s family towards the end of 2015 and around the beginning of 2016. It has been a long journey because the film changed hands in terms of producers and the director. The only thing which was constant was me, so I’m happy that it’s finally out for the people to see. I think in this medium it will get a much wider reach and people from around the world, specially in today’s circumstances, will get to see Shershaah.
Kiara: It’s got its heart and soul in the right place. I’m excited for people to see the film. At the age of eight, I was aware of the Kargil War, but I learnt so much more after playing the character of Dimple Cheema in the film. Knowing the story just fills my heart with so much pride. I’m excited and grateful to be a part of it and excited for people to watch it.
The film will air on Amazon. Does that take the stress away a bit for an actor, as box-office numbers aren’t an issue?
Sidharth: I’ve never experienced it so it’s a new world for me and I’m sure for all other actors too. We all were launched in Hindi movies that were released in the theatres and have only done movies for theatres. So, I’m intrigued to experience this new feeling because it’s not about that Friday, which possibly might be a relief. But there is that culture of watching cinema that I grew up on or what all of us are used to. I am a fan of that big-screen cinema, so I think that will never die for me. But with the current circumstances and Amazon having a wide reach, it will open up many more doors. It will definitely give us more screens. People will see it in the comfort of their homes, they’ll probably rewind the stuff they like or watch it at their own pace.
Kargil is one of the most remarkable and memorable victories for our army. And Captain Vikram Batra was a real-life hero. What can people expect from the film?
Sidharth: I’m anxious to see what Captain Batra’s family thinks of the film. This is my first time playing a real-life character, a real-life true hero, where I’m doing all the things which might look heroic and filmy but they actually happened. We are not making stuff up. All the action in the film, even the dialogue are memorable, the quotes ìDil Maange Moreî, ìYa toh tiranga lehra ke aaunga ya tirange mein lipat kar aaungaî all these might sound very filmy but these are researched and this is what he said. I’m eager to see what his twin brother Vishal thinks, his parents also, because they are the ones who I met first. Like your first film chooses you, for me I think after many years this film has chosen me. So yes, it includes Kargil and a soldier’s journey. We have also gone a little bit on India’s take on the war field, or what is happening politically in the film and we’ve touched on his personal love story. Kiara is playing the role of a person who exists in real life i.e. Dimple Cheema. She is still here
Kiara: He was a hero in every sense. For us, the people we are most excited to see the reaction of would be the family. I want to see what Dimple feels.
How did the role come to you?
Sidharth: Shabbir Boxwala, the original producer of the film, went to Captain Batra’s family and said we want to make a film on your son. Captain Batra’s twin brother Vishal and his father had two dreams – one was to write a book and the other was to make a film on Vikram. So, the book happened and Shabbir Boxwala became the medium for the film about five years ago. I look like a Punjabi guy and share certain similarities with Vikram, if you see his interviews. We have similar family backgrounds as well. So that’s when the conversation started. I had heard of Vikram, of his story, of his iconic line ‘Yeh Dil Maange More’ in the battlefield and I was intrigued to know what they were making on it. But then it took a long journey because there was a lot of material to write and the script took a long time to come through. Initially, it was with a different production house. I being a Dharma loyalist took it to Karan saying there is a lot of work in this film. And even though Dharma had never done a film like this then, they’ve recently done Gunjan Saxena, which happened after Shershaah, they liked the material. So Shershaah was the first biopic they greenlit in the company. They got Vishnuvardhan on board as the director, then we had Kiara on board as Dimple. So, I think it’s got a very unique journey. It tries to say a lot about the personal aspect of a soldier’s sacrifice and the political environment we were in at that time.
What are your personal memories of the Kargil War?
Kiara: I was about eight years old but because it was big and televised, I’m sure my parents and relatives were aware of it through the news channels. I obviously got to know so much more about it by being a part of the film. Which is why I’m hugely excited about it and I can’t wait to share it with the people. This is one way of paying homage to Captain Vikram Batra in an entertaining way and also making people aware of the war and of everything that took place at that time.
Sidharth: I was 14 or 15 years old. I remember NDTV being the first channel which brought an Indian war right to our homes. We all know that Barkha Dutt went there at that time. I’ve watched those snippets and it’s kind of surreal to now realise that I’m playing out those very situations. We have mentioned it in our first teaser as well that it was India’s first televised war. That’s what I remember as a child, at home flipping channels and my parents watching it. I remember this line of Vikram Batra when Barkha (Dutt) interviewed him and he said ìYeh Dil Maange Moreî. It is a surreal experience today to actually play that character that we all were sitting at home in Delhi watching, and to say that iconic line.
Sidharth, your family has been in the defense forces. How did they react when they saw you in the uniform in the posters?
Sidharth: My father’s very excited. He was recently sending me pictures of my grandfather serving in the army. One more similarity between Vikram Batra and my family would be that my Dadu was in the Indian Army. My dad went into the Merchant Navy after wondering whether to join the Indian Navy. Vikram Batra was deciding whether to go in the army or the Merchant Navy at the start of his career. My Dad got excited to see me in uniform. I unfortunately didn’t interact much with my grandfather as he passed away when I was young. I only have pictures and memories and stories about him told by my grandmother. I have some cousins and I have other grandparents who are from the armed forces. I’m excited to show the film to them.
Tell us about the training you went through for this role.
Sidharth: I feel when you’re playing a real-life character you have certain restrictions and you need to do certain things the way they actually happened. So, I got a lot of information from his family, his parents. He has a lovely house in Palampur which I went to, where we were shooting as well. They have a two-storey bungalow and they have made a museum on the first floor. Thanks to Shabbir, we interviewed all his comrades who were fighting with him. So, we had a lot of footage, they would narrate stories like the first time he experienced a bullet rushing past his ear or how Kargil treated him. They said he loved leading from the front. He didn’t have to but that’s the way he was. We also met Major Jamwal, who is a character in the film. He met us again during the training of the film and we got the cast together in Mumbai and trained for about a month with actual drills and with the army personnel training us from the basics – from holding weapons to having army decorum. The only person I have not really met and discussed his life with is Dimple Cheema.
Kiara: I have met Dimple. It’s interesting because we always hear the sacrifices of the men but it’s beautiful to know that there is a human side, there is a personal life they have and the support they get from their families or loved ones that we don’t really know of. I spoke with Dimple and heard her reminisce about their years of courtship and the love that they shared. She still remembers him with so much fondness and she speaks about how they are going to meet soon. She believes in eternal love and romance which is just so beautiful and really tugged at my heart. It is amazing to see somebody who is so strong and who’s stuck by her decisions and made the choices she’s made and still leads a happy life. Just having him in her heart and memories is enough for her. So, this is what really touched
She never married, right?
Kiara: She never married. She chose to live her life as his widow despite never marrying him.
As a woman yourself, what do you think of that decision?
Kiara: I feel that their love for those four years, their relationship must have been so strong and so solid that she chose that no matter what, even if it’s just been four years, this is the only relationship I want in my life. She does believe that they will meet again someday on a different plane. I almost wanted to ask her, ‘Did you ever think of moving on’? But I didn’t.
Sidharth: I think that speaks volumes about their relationship. In those four years, they only met for a couple of months. They were either in college or he was working. They were on the brink of getting married when they realised there was a conflict happening and they all saw him on television. And they realised that it was the last time they would see him. So, it is a shock for her family. I’m sure it’s far more severe for the loved ones who are left behind because they have to bear the pain all their lives.
Kiara: I loved the way she supported him. Even in the moment where he considered joining the Merchant Navy, she was with him. She supported him in his dream of joining the army. She didn’t want to hold him back from what he wanted to do and inspite of having only 12 months of physical contact over those four years because of his career, it’s amazing how much those months must have meant. Like Sidharth said, it really speaks volumes of their relationship. When I heard the narration and all the scenes of the love story, I was like ëit’s quite filmy’ but when I met Dimple, I realised that this is exactly what happened. She narrated those very scenes. Even the way he proposes to her ñ by cutting his finger and putting his blood in her maang. And I’m like ëthis happens in movies only’.
Did it change the perception of love for you guys?
Sidharth: Absolutely. You have more respect for them and it’s difficult to relate to your own self because there’s a much more intense relationship when they are not together. But it’s commendable that the other partner who’s left behind is still so intensely in love and has chosen to spend her life with his memories. It’s a wonderful thing. I think it’s lovely that there is still love like this in our generation.
Has this film got both of you closer?
Sidharth: (Laughs) She is speaking a bit of Punjabi and that has gotten us closer. We were practicing speaking Punjabi in Chandigarh when we started, so culturally we have gotten closer.
Kiara: Before I worked with Sidharth on this film, I always thought he was this good-looking boy who is a great fun person. And as an actor I liked his work in Hassee Toh Phassee, Kapoor And Sons and a couple of his films. But working with him I realised that there is a side of him which he doesn’t show to a lot of people or even if he does, I think that is yet to be explored by people who have not worked with him. He’s passionate as an actor and as a film artiste because I know he dreams of directing, making, producing film. And I feel that he is very close to that because of his understanding of cinema and because he has worked as an AD. There are very few actors who are so driven and he is extremely focused on the set. He is not someone faffing about behind the monitor, chatting and chilling. He’s fun on the set but he constantly likes to have an acting coach with him. They’d just jam together during the breaks and add certain nuances.
I really thought he was just a pretty face before.
What was your perception about her?
Sidharth: We had met on the set of Lust Stories. She has worked for quite a few years and still has a very non-filmy vibe. She could be working in any other profession and
I find that refreshing. Maybe because I don’t come from this background myself. I come from a working class, middle class Punjabi household in Delhi. So, I find that refreshing and endearing at the same time. Looking at this from a very professional point of view, this is our job but we also have our lives and you need to balance
that. Which is where we actually bonded – our attitude towards our work is quite similar. If you meet us travelling the world, people won’t be able to guess what our job is. I sometimes do that for fun. When people abroad talk to me, I make up things and not tell them I am an actor.