Earlier in April, Adivi Sesh unveiled the teaser of his ambitious project, Major, based on the life of NSG Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who sacrificed his life during the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.
The teaser was well received by the audience and in an exclusive conversation with Spotboye.com, Sesh talks about his experience of living Sandeep’s life, why it is not just a 26/11 film, experience of working in Hindi and more. Read excerpts from the interview:
How has it been dealing with the reception of the teaser?
We are just floating in the sky. It has been a couple of years of hard work and is still going on. We have some shoot left but it’s getting difficult to get location for shoot right now due to Covid. At the end of the day, it has been my biggest teaser and people have been sending reactions from across the world. Someone recently sent me a Nigerian reaction to the teaser and it felt nice that people are seeing it worldwide. My whole intention was that. A lot of Telugu and Tamil films are being made as pan-Indian nowadays and I feel Pan-Indian films are all Indian films. I believe Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan’s life story is something everyone should see from Kashmir to Kanniyakumari.
How was your experience of working in the Hindi language?
In Hyderabad half of the people speak Telugu while the other half speaks Hindi. So, everyone in Hyderabad speaks both languages already. Moreover, I grew up in California and in the ’90s there weren’t many Telugu people there. There were mostly Gujarati and Punjabis, so I ended up learning Hindi from them as they didn’t know Telugu and Hindi became a way of making friends and connecting to my roots.
Sandeep has had a remarkable life, but what was it for you that made you decide to make a film on it?
It was a lifetime of experience of thinking about this great man. When he was martyred in 2008, I couldn’t take my eyes off the TV screen because he looked like an older brother. I have a lot of cousins who look like his carbon copy and that intrigued me. I couldn’t take my eyes off of his. If you notice, there’s a slight smile on his lips in his infamous photo. He was not a typical army guy. Later on, when I spoke to his parents, I got to know that he was actually trying to control his laughter while taking this picture. I am a fan of him, an admirer. In 2018, I got the idea to make a film on him as everyone knows his sacrifice but not how he lived his life and that was way more beautiful. I wanted to talk about that.
You share a facial resemblance with Sandeep. In your earlier interviews, you had mentioned that even Sandeep’s mother said she saw her son in you. Do you also feel that?
I do think we share a resemblance; we just have different skin colour and body type. I am more of a casual guy who loves chocolate while he was army fit, so I had to work really hard and be on an army like diet to look like him. There is a facial similarity too, but that kind of increases the responsibility on me. You are portraying someone who is infinitely greater than you ever will be, so how do you find his soul within yourself.
While working on the film, did your perception towards army men get affected in any way?
My experience with patriotism has been very unique because I grew outside of India, but I always was in love with India. When I was very small, I remember AR Rahman’s Vande Matram playing in the US and I just stood up while others were gawking at me in surprise. I always had a love for Indian armed forces and perhaps I got a better understanding of what they live through due to this movie. It’s not a joke to stand at a glacier in -10 degree Celsius without any sweater or protection. While I was shooting, my assistant would come with a blanket and there was a heater for me, but still we were shivering. So, I could just imagine what they would do.
You have mentioned that you are close to Sandeep’s parents. So, what was their reaction to the teaser?
How close I am to them is something uncle and aunty should say. I love them with all of my heart. As for the teaser, Uncle told me he had a lot of complaints with me after the event. When I asked him what he didn’t like, he said he didn’t like the colour of my shirt on the launch. (Laughs)
I told them that it was very important for me that they like whatever it is I do with this film. When I asked uncle if he had any problem with the teaser, he said absolutely not and I was happy. It’s fine if he has a problem with Sesh, but Sandeep se nahi honi chahiye. I felt like a fourth grader trying to make my parents happy with my marks.
The fact that uncle has comments on my attire, it means that he has accepted me as his own. When I told him that he was scolding me a lot, he said that’s how he treats family. With them, everything just comes naturally that comes just with family and I am trying to live up to that. I don’t want to be just words.
And how was it seeing them in your on screen parents, Prakash Raj and Revathy?
The fascinating part that not many people know about is that Unnikrishnan uncle and Prakash Raj sir already knew each other from before in Karnataka. Here I was, talking to one person to figure out what he was like so that I could tell the other one on how to portray him on screen. But what I didn’t know initially was that the two already were talking to each other and one was playing the other.
As for Revathy ma’am, she is an extraordinary actor. You can see in the teaser how little she does and still makes the scene extraordinary. We, as actors, put in all our facial muscles and body language to enact a scene, whereas she just acts with her eyes and I love that. She has done tremendous amount of good work already but I still feel that people still haven’t woken up to how great an actor she is
You reunite with your Goodachari co-actor Sobhita Dhulipala for Major. Was there a comfort zone you shared since you already worked together before?
Absolutely. We were fighting like family members do on set. But it was all out of love. Goodachari was a successful film, and we have the same director, same actors and music director. The experience is still going on since we are still shooting, but I think the essence that Sobhita was able to show as a hostage was extraordinary. Saiee represents a part of Sandeep’s childhood and nostalgia, while Sobhita represents the coming disaster, the dark times and how she needs to fight it and he would come and change that.
As for Saiee Majrekar, she is a newcomer. How do you see her potential as an artist?
Saiee is so innocent. She is so delicate like a flower and we were very careful with her as she is such a pure talent. She gives such wholesome expressions and that’s what her character needed. Even the poster we released with her, got rave reviews. It was in the form of an inland letter that was in circulation in the ’90s. It is her words and her innocence that made it so fresh, soft and heartfelt.
During the teaser launch, Sobhita had said that during the shoot of Major, she experienced that her emotions changed with the language. Did you also have a similar experience?
I experienced something interesting that the crew members pointed out, that my Hindi takes were better than my Telugu takes. It was frustrating as I didn’t want any one language to be better than the other. I wanted both to be equally good. I don’t want things to be different for my North and South audience. So, it was like a competition that when someone would say that one take was better, I would do the other one again. My issues were practical, not necessarily emotional when it came to language.
How did living Sandeep’s life on screen change you?
It is a very vast thing to answer. But to concise it, my takeaway from the experience has been to be able to look at things from the eyes of optimism. He was a person who could smile through the darkness. He seemed like Suryaputra Karna to me. He was glowing but had darkness all around him. That’s how I tried to find the light within. It has been a dream for a long time coming.
You have mentioned it multiple times that Major is not a 26/11 film but a film on Sandeep’s life. How important is it for you that the audience understands it?
There are so many chapters in the book of his life. He fought in the Kargil, he was a captain in the Hyderabad cantonment, He did his schooling in Bangalore, did his NDA in Pune, he was in IMA Dehradun, a training officer in Manesar, Haryana and was martyred in Mumbai, So, how can I say where he was from. The film is not about Mumbai attacks, it’s about a beautiful life that came together for India in Mumbai.
With the current Covid situation and you still having a few days of shoot left, do you think you would be able to keep up with the original release plan in July?
We hope so and we are going full steam ahead. We have lost a few locations and since it is a period film, it is not easy to recreate sets. Our art director doesn’t like the use of green screens much and prefers shooting in real locations or sets. We are trying to be as authentic, so I would be able to answer this question better in a month.
Apart from Major, have you signed any other Hindi film?
My second Hindi films is already confirmed but I can’t yet talk about it, otherwise producers mujhe chappal se maarenge. I’ll let you know when I have my third one confirmed though.
Image Source: Instagram/adivisesh
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