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19th Kargil Vijay Diwas: Reel stars recall the thrill of playing real-life heroes

As we arrive at the 19th anniversary of Kargil Vijay Diwas (July 26), Bollywood actors Suniel Shetty, Akshaye Khanna, Puneet Issar, and Sharman Joshi, and director J.P. Dutta talk about how playing the role of an Army officer increased their respect manifold for the men in uniform.

bollywood Updated: Jul 25, 2018 18:18 IST
19th Kargil Vijay Diwas,Kargil Vijay Diwas,Kargil War
On the 19th anniversary of Kargil Vijay Diwas, Bollywood stars talk about playing the role of an Army officer.

On the occasion of the 19th anniversary of Kargil Vijay Diwas, which is celebrated on July 26 every year to commemorate India’s victory in the 1999 Kargil War against Pakistan, we speak to Bollywood names who have been honouring the efforts of the Indian armed forces through cinema. These films evoke a sense of pride each time you see the patriotic fervour of an Indian soldier. And, so we speak to these actors about what made these films so special for them.

Actor Suniel Shetty (starred in Border, 1997, and LOC Kargil, 2003)

Suniel Shetty says that starring in two war movies has made him ‘immortal’. (Photo: Yogen Shah)

“What the film has taught me is how important it is for an actor to play the role of a real-life hero. It could be anyone in a uniform; anybody who’s constantly working for us. I’m probably immortal today because of LOC Kargil and the character of Bhairav Singh (in Border). When I spent time with the boys, I realised that the Indian Army is the best, because the boys think of giving their lives for their motherland. There’s no other hidden agenda. They say ‘Jaan de denge hum desh ke liye (we’ll die for the country)’ and they mean it.

“When the Kargil War was on, I had the opportunity of spending time with the boys. Hurt, injured, without an arm, without a leg — but each one said ‘maa shakti’ (Suniel’s last dialogue in Border) when they saw me. That’s when you realise how important it is to make such films.

“And my character was so real. Me using the machine gun, it choking, me firing it — I was taught everything, they were real bullets; there were no dummies. When the tanks came in on the first day of the shoot, there were clouds of dust. At three in the afternoon, it looked like it was eight in the night. The entire earth was shaking, and I thought what must the boys be going through when it’s actual war? When it wasn’t war, we were trembling in fear. What would it be like during a real war? Hats off to them. Even the sand in December was like ice water. Difficult terrains, can’t walk, can’t do anything. But they live there and walk there. It was an absolutely life-changing and humbling experience for me. Even today, people see me and shout ‘maa shakti’, and its only because of the character. And whether people like me or not, they have to watch me [on TV] on August 15 and January 26 every year.”

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Actor Akshaye Khanna (starred in Border, 1997, and LOC Kargil, 2003)

Actor Akshaye Khanna played the role of Lt Balwan Singh in LOC Kargil. (Photo: Yogen Shah)

“The experience that I remember very clearly was sitting inside an Army tank for the first time when I was shooting. I remember how scared I felt and how unnerving it was to sit inside that tank. It’s extremely claustrophobic. And the barrel of the gun, it recoils just centimetres from where these people sit. I used to think that if I’m at a shoot, sitting inside a tank and feeling uncomfortable, what must it be like when you’re being shot at by other tanks, planes and the enemy fire? It must be terrifying. I remember having the highest respect for the officers in uniform who do this on a day-to-day basis. It’s really something, [this] extraordinary kind of junoon (obsession) for selfless service to the nation. Hats off to them.

“When I was playing the character of Colonel Dharam Vir, I remember how he goes on leave and he is suddenly called back because war has broken out. There must be millions of people in the armed forces who must not think twice about that. The moment there’s that call for duty, they must get up and leave. That discipline is amazing.”

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Actor Puneet Issar (starred in Border, 1997)

Puneet Issar played the role of Subedar Ratan Singh in Border. (Photo: Prodip Guha/HT)

“I’ve grown up in a family that had a lot of [armed forces] officers and the feeling of nationalism was instilled in me right from childhood. So when I got the chance to play the role of Subedar Ratan Singh in Border, main ek mahina pehle hi chala gaya (I went there a month early) and I stayed with the regiment just to get the feel of the character. I observed everything — the way they talk, their drills, they way they live and everything else. And in doing that role, I got an unparalleled joy and feeling of completeness that no amount of money or commercial success can bring.

“These officers protect us and keep us safe by staying in difficult terrains and bearing freezing temperatures. Even when the enemy is at an advantage, the officers are like sitting ducks and death is sure-shot... our soldiers like (Captain) Vikram Batra say, ‘Yeh dil maange more’, and win the peak. Yogendra Singh, who’s still alive and took multiple bullets, lived without water and food — bled for hours and still survived. They’re the real heroes; we’re reel heroes. I bow my head in respect before their sacrifices.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but I still have the uniform I wore in Border. I didn’t get it made by a costume designer, I got it stitched by an Army tailor who makes actual uniforms. And it’s made from the same cloth with which actual uniforms are made. It’s the highest medal for me.

“When we were shooting there, we were very close to the Pakistan border — close to no man’s land. So Sunny Deol, Suniel Shetty, Akshaye Khanna, and I decided to go touch the soil and stay there for a while. When we reached, we could see the Pakistan picket and when I stood there, I felt like I belonged there.”

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Actor Sharman Joshi (starred in War Chhod Na Yaar, 2013)

Sharman Joshi says that playing the role of an Army officer is a feeling of achievement. (Photo: Prodip Guha/HT)

“Being able to represent your country, even if it’s on-screen, is a great high. It’s a feeling of achievement. I watched a lot of videos to get the form right, as I wanted to look perfect on-screen. I didn’t need anyone to inspire me; I just knew I was getting to play one of the most revered characters (that of a soldier) in a film, and that thought alone was my inspiration. We all have immense respect for our Army men — they fight for us, so that we can lead a happy life, which is scare-free and stress-free. I have deep respect for them, and I’ll surely try and do [something], if there’s anything to prove my respect for them.”

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Filmmaker J.P. Dutta (directed Border and LOC Kargil)

Filmmaker JP Dutta says that every war film he has made changed him. (HT photo)

“The journey of LOC has too many memories... but if I had to choose one — on my trip to Ladakh for the shoot, I flew from Delhi to Leh in the IL8 aircraft that carries the troops and the tanks, etc. Sitting in that Hercules aircraft alone with the troops is something I will never forget!

“Every war film I’ve made changes me... because I make sure that I connect with the martyrs’ families. In LOC Kargil, the fact that the war had only recently happened... the wounds were still very new in the minds of the families. So meeting each one of them, I lived their sons’ stories through them and experiences like that change you, always. My greatest gift from LOC was when, after watching the film, the mother of one of the martyrs said, ‘I want to thank J.P. Dutta for bringing my son alive for four hours’ — there is no greater feeling than that.”

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First Published: Jul 25, 2018 18:15 IST