NT: I watched a lot of matches. I studied wrestling. I met Kripa Shankar Patel, Bishnoi sir and learnt about wrestling, to use that knowledge while making the film. I had to understand the mindset of a wrestler or else I wouldn’t have been able to write the story. As a writer, we initially set aside the fighting sequences will we had a technician on board, to help us with writing those parts of the script. Sham Kaushal came on board as the action director. Together, he and Kripa Shankarji were a lethal combination.
BOI: How close is the film to the final script? Or did you make any changes as you went along?
NT: In terms of philosophy and the emotional graph, it is same. In terms of events and magnitude, of course, it’s different. Liberties have been taken to cater to audiences who want a cinematic experience. As a filmmaker, you need to realise one thing… never try to prove a point. I have a certain responsibility to my audience, who is spending good money and taking the time out to sample my product.
If they wanted an exact replica of actual events, they would have watched the documentary on YouTube. I am not making a documentary; I am making a feature film. So we did quite a few things to enhance the experience.
We maintained the scene on the terrace where Mahavir Singh is talking about wrestling, so that the audience understands what wrestling is all about. If they understand the concept, it will help them like the film even more.
Also, since the scorecard used in the Commonwealth Games is very difficult to understand, we simplified it for the lay person. Just one look at the scorecard tells you what is happening. This was our way of being responsible to the audience. The audience needs to be kept engaged, so you need to have that kind of impact. You’re not changing the output, you’re changing the impact.
NT: Shooting for every wrestling sequence was very difficult as it was very difficult for every artiste to train for it. The biggest challenge was that we had no reference point. There was no film with wrestling so much in focus for us to refer to. Earlier films have only a few montages of matches whereas, here, we are talking hardcore matches… Aamir sir’s fight; Zaira’s first dangal, which is a fully fleshed-out fight; Aamir sir versus Fatima; and then the three big rounds.
The three matches in the Commonwealth Games had three rounds each and we had to make sure all each fight looked different from the others. So it was very complex. We had to show a lot of wrestling, and to top It all, people are not really familiar with wrestling. You want to create excitement and show each fight in a different light. And you have to maintain interest and excitement levels. We spent a lot of time figuring out the wrestling matches and how to shoot them.
Even the shooting patterns are different for different matches. Not only is it a different fight emotionally but physically too it looks different. We kept the graphs very different in all the fights. So, for example, in Zaira’s first dangal, very carefully planned and executed and the point of reference is the audience. Of course, she fights beautifully, but the audience has to be kept engrossed.
People had already assumed that she was going to lose. This was the starting point and she immediately had to win trust so that some people were on her side. When she initially attacks, there are some people on her side and but there are others who switch to her side only much later. They still have hopes that she is going to lose when they say hath karake chit kar gayi. But you know some people are converting as the say baach gayi and one of them ends up saying waah!
As she fights, the audience ka mood changes and the audience ends up completely supporting her but she loses. It would have been easy for us to make her win and then it would not have elicited any response from the audience and you want to play with the emotions of the audience. So, unless she loses in her first dangal, her victory later wouldn’t have been so sweet.
We kept all this in mind in the screenplay so that we not only shot the film differently but it was a different platform emotionally too. Like she does not score a single point during the semi-final fight, which was the only way to separate it from the quarter-final and the final as she scores plenty of points in those. But the semi-final is still gripping because of the way it is choreographed. Also, Fatima is the super-underdog out there and she just had to hold on to this girl who looked relentless. It keeps you on the edge of your seat because it is not about scoring points but about how interesting the fight actually turns out to be.
BOI: The hero is not part of the climax. Did it bother you that you were going against the grain of Hindi cinema?
NT: That is probably one of the most remarkable things about the screenplay. I am not saying so because I have written it but it was gutsy for Aamir sir to take it up as it is. It is unique because you break the mould. When Mahavir Singh fights with his daughter, it doesn’t matter whether he wins or loses; either way, the relationship would have gone for a toss.
It comes as an even greater shock when he loses because you are not expecting him to lose. You assume that she would either get injured or he would defeat her and teach her a lesson, saying ki beta tu galat ja rahi hai.
But, very soon, you start to realise that this guy is going to lose even though there is hope that he will not lose. Also there is the sheer intensity with which we have shot it. One, she is ruthless; and, two, we have never seen a father and daughter engage in a physical contest before. It is also very emotional woh lihaz nai karti, the way she goes to do chit to him. To me, that is a very different way of writing. Also, Mahavir Singh is not present to watch the final match. We had written four or five endings and nothing was as exciting as this one. In fact, we shot an optional ending that we did not use.