I approached the film with a sense of responsibility to my audience,” says Nitesh Tiwari, the director of 2016’s highest grossing film, Dangal. The director maintains that the movie’s team wanted to do “full justice” to wrestling as a sport. “By the time we finished making the movie, we knew we had exceeded expectations. The love and appreciation that the film has received is beyond imagination,” he says.
Films based on sports have done well in India over the past few years. Priyanka Chopra’s Mary Kom (2014) highlighted boxing, while Shah Rukh Khan’s Chak De! India (2007) brought hockey to the forefront. But despite movies focusing on different sports, cricket continues to dominate the scene in the country. Nitesh opines that this will change only if more “heroes” are created in other sports. “In our country, the popularity of a sport is directly connected to the number of heroes that we have in that sport. Cricket has a lot of success stories. Hockey used to be popular until hockey players stopped performing as well as they used to. If we produce more heroes, then the sport will be brought back to the limelight,” he says.
Watch: Dangal trailer
Zaira Wasim, who played the younger Geeta Phogat in Nitesh’s latest movie, recently posted a letter on Instagram apologising for hurting sentiments, though it wasn’t clear what she was referring to. The post sparked a controversy and speculation that she was threatened for meeting Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti. Speaking about the matter, Nitesh says, “I will always wish well for Zaira. Whatever happened, I would just want Zaira to get over it, move on, and continue to be the strong girl that she is. I personally believe that she is very talented and is destined to do well in her life. She should not let any of these things affect her.”
Besides Aamir Khan, Nitesh has also worked with Amitabh Bachchan in Bhoothnath Returns (2014). He says that both actors bring “value” to their characters. “It’s incredible. They come with experience and put a lot of faith in their director,” he says. The director adds that with newcomers, it’s a constant process to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. “One only hires new actors who are talented. Your job is to use their talent in the best possible way,” he adds.
Watch: Hanikarak Bapu from Dangal
While Nitesh admits that Dangal wasn’t promoted in the conventional sense, he says that promoting movies is important. “Promotions can get you audiences on the opening weekend. But after that, it’s all about word of mouth. Chances are that you may have gotten a very good opening day, but you will not succeed with just that,” he says.