‘We wanted to capture Major Sandeep’s spirit’

‘People only knew about the hundreds of people he had saved and his Ashoka Chakra.’
‘I came to know about this beautiful life that he had lived, that was so much more than the way he died.’
‘I was interested in that being.’

Adivi Sesh, known for Telugu films like Baahubali, Panja, Kshanam and Goodachari, brings the story of the late 26/11 hero Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan on the big screen.

“They are teaching about Major Sandeep in some Hyderabad schools. We, as kids, learned about Gandhiji and Bhagat Singh. I feel like he is today’s freedom fighter,” the actor tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Radhika Rajamani in the first of a two-part interview.

What inspired you to make a biopic on Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan?

When it comes to stories like this, the inspiration is the man himself.

I remember we saw the attack on television. I was in the US then.

When Sandeep’s photo was up, I wondered who this person was, who looks like he could be my older brother. So many of my cousins look like him.

The more I started reading about him over the years, the more I became his fan.

The more I became a fan, the more I became an admirer.

People only knew about the hundreds of people he had saved and his Ashoka Chakra.

I came to know about this beautiful life that he had lived, that was so much more than the way he died.

I was interested in that being.

As we are artists, the idea to tell his story in a film began.

How did you gather all this information regarding him, besides talking to his parents?

We spoke to his colleagues, the people he trained, the people he trained under, his superiors, his childhood friends, people from his school, his cousins…

You name it, we did it.

We also read articles and books on the operation.

Did it take a year or so to gather all the details?

Yes. We announced the film in early 2019, but didn’t start shooting until early 2020.

When we started shooting, the first wave (of the coronavirus pandemic) happened, so we had to wait for six months.

Then when we finished 50 percent. the second wave started.

Somewhere between the second and third wave, we were able to close the shoot.

But as we were getting into post-production, the third wave started.

Each wave caused delays. So we were only able to start the post production this February.

Were his parents receptive to the idea of a film on him?

I think it’s important to Uncle and Amma that the legacy of Major Sandeep be preserved, that people have the context to understand the value of the sacrifice.

Today, they are teaching about Major Sandeep as a chapter in some Hyderabad schools.

We, as kids, learned about Gandhiji and Bhagat Singh. Today, kids are learning about Major Sandeep.

I feel like he is today’s freedom fighter.

So his parents were interested in his legacy being preserved in any way, whether it is a textbook or a film or a song.

How was it talking to his parents? They must have been overwhelmed with emotion while recounting their son’s early days and his sacrifice.

Yeah, absolutely.

There was a lot of laughter, a lot of sadness, a lot of tears, a lot of anger, a lot of beautiful nostalgia.

It is everything that sums up a life.

We often wondered if we were doing right by bringing up everything for them, but we realised that they were very clear that they are bringing this all up because they respected and believed that we are going to do justice to that retelling.

So you know, when you tapped 31 years of his life, you can’t tell it accurately because it will have to be a 31-year-long film.

We wanted to capture the spirit of Major Sandeep in whatever scene we told, whether that is something that we created or something that actually happened.

We’d often create small fictional situations, and ask Amma and Uncle how Major Sandeep would react in such a situation.

How much cinematic liberty have you taken making the film?

It says clearly on the poster of the film that it is inspired by his life.

I would say it is a retelling of his life.

Everything about this film has been very transparent and honest.

You have been involved right from the script stage to the execution of the film.

I wrote the story and screenplay with script guidance from my guru, Abburi garu (Abburi Ravi, the well known Telugu screenwriter).

He has written all my dialogues since Kshanam, Goodachari and Evaru.

He took it to another level with his execution of my thought.

He gave it a vision.

We had to shoot for 120 days across 75 locations.

We built eight sets for the film.

We filmed in army locations across India.

A lot of people don’t realise that it is a period film.

We are recreating the ’80s and the ’90s.

We think of Major Sandeep as a contemporary, but it has already been 14 years since he died.

How did you get Sashi Kiran Tikka on board to direct? Is it because you share a good rapport having worked in Goodachari?

We do share a good rapport.

Goodachari was a super hit.

He is a dear friend and I knew he was busy doing a film for Naga Vamsi garu (the well-known Telugu producer S Naga Vamsi).

I requested Naga Vamsi garu that I need Sashi only for one year.

I brought him on board for Major, but that one year turned into three!

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