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"Zero-to-hero stories really inspire me"

Here’s director Omung Kumar talking to Team Box Office India about his upcoming release, PM Narendra Modi, his motivation to make this film and his passion for bringing real-life stories to the big screen

You have made Mary Kom and Sarbjit, and now PM Narendra Modi. We sense an affiliation to real-life stories here.

It is not biopics that inspire me. It is a story of zero-to-hero that inspires me. These are stories that people should watch, wonder about and experience a realisation. I wanted to make movies that stand out, and biopics just happened to me. I always thought I would make larger-than-life films with big and colourful sets, etc. I had actually started doing that until Mary Kom came into my life and I became excited as I got to know the subject. 

It changed what I was thinking. But underneath all that I always thought that even if I am doing a dance film or something else like that, the protagonist would have to go from zero to hero. Superhero films used to be really exciting for me. Right now, it just so happens that people’s everyday lives are exciting.

The film was shot on a very tight timeline. How challenging was that?

It was because of the well-planned pre-production. But even though we had been planning it for a long time, when it came down to shooting it, it was very challenging. A movie like Mary Kom took 52-57 days to complete. We shot this film in 38 days. The coordination among everyone was very good. But, yes, every day was a challenge because we tried to finish five to six scenes a day, which is unheard of. There are people who take a couple of shots and then pack up but here we were shooting five to six scenes, that too at different locations and in different climates.

Then there is make-up, which was a huge deal. If we wanted to shoot during sunrise, at 5.36 am, it meant that Vivek (Anand Oberoi) had to be up by 2.30 am to dress up and get his make-up done. Then there are people who are playing characters like Amit Shah, whose make-up also took time. He had to wear a bald cap etc. Also, I had thousands of people to show a huge crowd as the movie needed these crowds. I had a fantastic crew. They were very hard-working. They skipped meals to finish the project. You are exhausted by the time you go to bed. But, yes, we did it all with good planning.

We shot in terrain we had never dreamed of working in. In the extreme cold in Gujarat, we had a shoot schedule from 7 o’clock in the evening till 7 o’clock the next morning. Then we went to a place where the temperature was minus 20. We froze and nobody had a bath for four days. But that is filmmaking.

You have an expansive cast, Vivek Anand Oberoi is playing PM Modi. And there are Boman Irani, Manoj Joshi, Darshan Kumaar and many others. How did it happen?

Thanks to a good casting director, Mukesh Chhabra. Obviously, we knew who we were casting as the main characters. For the other characters, we had to decide whether to take lookalikes or to change the appearance of the actors to resemble the real-life characters. It’s not like everyone knows about every political person or every character. It’s just that the character should look good in the film. We scouted for actors for a long time but the shoot was completed very quickly. A lot of planning went into the film, considering everyone’s look, costumes, make-up and so on.

Boman Irani did a small cameo for us. I have been chasing him for all my films and finally he did a cameo in this one. Darshan is like a lucky charm for me. This is our third film together. He fits in very well. I can mould him as I please. With a good cast, each scene changes automatically. What we see on paper is one thing but when it comes to life with good actors, it is very different. Vivek is a fantastic actor. I was judging India’s Best Dramebaaz with Vivek and we struck up a good rapport. Everybody had assumed that the two of us would work together.

Suddenly Sandip Ssingh, my partner and producer, came up with this story.  He had this story for a long time and he asked me to make the film. I thought this was a huge film and if I don’t make it, then somebody else would. He suggested that I speak to Vivek for the main character. When the script was narrated to him, he immediately said yes. Coincidentally, somebody had approached him four years ago to play the part of Narendra Modi. That was one reason he said yes immediately.

The film is under scrutiny as it is about the Prime Minister. Did you have any apprehensions taking up this project?

Opinions will always be split 50-50. Ten people might not like it and 20 might. We already knew this would happen. The thing is, PM Modi is everywhere. You see him every single day, when you open the newspapers or on television. People like him, people hate him, but they cannot avoid him. With this film, we knew what we are getting into. We knew there would be opposition but I am not a political person;  I was making a human story. If you look at it that way, you will like it, whether or not you are a supporter.

Also, if you are making a film on a person who has devoted all his life to his country and who is in the politics, then I will have to show it. When I was doing Sarbjit, people said, woh kyon itna chaati thok kar baat kar rahi thi? I showed it because Dalbir Kaur actually did that. That is why movies are made on people who are larger than life and who are inspiring. Movies are not made on commoners like us. There is no harm saying ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ because everyone says it. I am not making this film larger than life; I am trying to step into his shoes.

What will the audience take back after they watch the film?

Well, obviously, he is the Prime Minister of India and this is first time that a biopic has been made on a ruling Prime Minister. That was a huge call to take. But I am talking about a person who I want people to be inspired by. There are lots of lines in this film which will inspire you as well as question your beliefs. But it is true that many people who are larger-than-life started very small. Again zero to hero.

 

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