Director Navdeep Singh and actors Deepak Dobriyal and Manav Vij talk to Padma Iyer about their new film Laal Kaptaan and what they learnt while making this film
Navdeep, this is your third film and looking at your work, it looks like you are attracted to dark subjects.
Navdeep Singh (NS): I think it has something to do with the fact that maybe I have a dark outlook towards life. Having said that, I think it is the drive to do something different. Even if I had to make a musical I would want to do something different. Even in thrillers, there aren’t many different things explored and I think that is what draws me to this space. And given so many musicals and romantic films are being made, getting that one unique idea is not easy. Hence I think that is why end up working in this genre.
Manav and Deepak, how did you both come on board Laal Kaptaan?
Manav Vij (MV): The first thing is that I came on board very late. I was maybe destined to do this film. I was nervous. Actually I was nervous even when half the film was done. But then it became easy because I completely surrendered myself to Navdeep. And he was very clear about what he wanted.
With regard to character creation, I have always said that even with my previous films it is all about surrendering. That is my theory. I believe that the people who can see film in its totality are the director and writer. And when we come into the picture, our jobs become easier when we surrender ourselves to them. But on the other hand, there are people who work on their characters and that is also another way of approaching the role. But I prefer the former. I am lucky that I was able to surrender.
My character Rehmat Khan is intense. A lot of hard work has gone into it. We have changed the voice, the way he thinks. The character sketch that I had in my mind is that he is born as a tiger. But because of his karma, he has lived his life as a wolf and he dies like a snake. There is an animal-like side to him, but there is also a psyche behind it. We have not made the character purely dark. Even dark people have another side to them. They also have a point of view… you could say, we all have shades of grey.
NS: I genuinely believe that the antagonist or the villain of any story, in his mind he is the hero. We have to always go with that approach that as well.
Deepak Dobriyal (DD): When you get a phone call from one of your favourite directors, it is indeed a happy moment. So when you approach the film you are already in a positive mindset. Now coming to this story, when I heard it I knew that this is something different. This is not something that you can visualise immediately. The expression of some aspects of the character lies in the emptiness. And even in the emptiness he carries the prominent visuals. It is very different from what I have done and when I read the script I knew that it was going to be a lot of hard work. I had waited long for a good role and I knew that this was it. And the way my character developed as we shot, it happened over time. Even I don’t know how it did. But it was a gradual progression. I didn’t have to prepare, it just happened. For the voice, I assumed, since he is with dogs, what if he had rabies! So that became a characteristic.
We are influenced by the people around us. Some of their nuances and mannerisms unknowingly creep in. Now this man lives with two dogs. So, it seemed natural for him to imbibe their traits.
It is interesting that both of them spoke about animals as a reference point for their characters. Navdeep was it also the thought when you created these characters?
NS: Yes, it was more in this film. But normally that is my approach. I usually ask my actors to think of one animal that describes their character. It could be deer or a dog or whatever. I think it helps them focus.
Saif Ali Khan is an interesting and unconventional choice for a role like this. What was it about him that made him the perfect choice for Laal Kaptaan?
NS: One of the things I like to do is make actors do things out of their comfort zone. In my first film Manorama Six Feet Under, Abhay Deol played a father; in NH10 Anushka Sharma did a very different role. In Saif, I had always felt that he had a potential based on some of the films that he had done. He has a certain swagger, a dangerous side to him. At the same time, he is a very likeable person. This makes a very interesting combination, which I feel that not many filmmakers have tapped. So I thought it would be exciting to play with that side of him through this film.
What were the challenges that you faced making this film, given that it has been shot in real locations?
NS: When you are working in these kinds of extreme locations, weather becomes one of the biggest challenges. But the entire crew and the actors they were so supportive. They were passionate about the film and they brought a certain reality to the final product as well.
MV: We as actors are very passionate. We will run behind anyone who holds the torch of the same passion and drive. He (Navdeep) was that person and we just went behind him. We just had to follow him. And if we ever faltered, we looked at him and seeing his determination, we were enthused enough to not give up. We were each other’s support system. And Navdeep was a one-man army managing everything for us and making sure that we got to the end.
DD: We are all used to our comfort zones. But this film is about getting out of it, being uncomfortable and getting into difficult situations. At the same time, you have to enjoy that difficult zone. And that was the challenge. I have to say that all through the shoot, despite the extreme conditions not a single person cribbed about it or made an issue. Each one found a way to get through it, someone was just sitting idly or meditating or doing a yoga pose!
MV: There is another thing also that made it less challenging. No one has ever put so much trust in me. This is the largest ever role that I have ever played. Of course, there have been films that I have been appreciated in but for him (Navdeep) to out that kind of trust in me and have the confidence that I could pull it off was a huge thing.
Deepak, you are known for your comic timing. But with Baaghi 2 and now this film, is it a conscious effort to change that perception about you?
DD: It was a conscious effort, yes. How much ever you try to convince people that you can do other things, there is a tendency to offer you the same kind of roles. Sometimes I feel like sending a note to all filmmakers that whichever role you think that I cannot do, that is the role I want to do. Of course, there can be certain limitations, but at least they should trust and offer different parts. And I enjoy working with such filmmakers who are willing to try something different with me and take that chance. This film is commercial, it has action, it is also a thriller and more. The trailer is just a glimpse, but there is so much more to the film.
Finally, what are your expectations for the film?
NS: The characters in the film are larger than life and that I think is what will connect with the audience. It has dialoguebaazi and action, which are your mass elements. And of course, there is the novelty of the subject, which will appeal to the multiplex audience.
MV: I have never had such a journey and I am extremely proud of it. This film has given me self-respect and made me think better about myself. It is a very special film for me. So I have already won the battle.
DD: In this film, if there is any hero, then it is the locations. People will be surprised and curious to know where these places are. So there is a visual treat. There is something in it for everybody and that should appeal to a wider audience.