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Meghna Gulzar interview: ‘Wanted to show Sam Manekshaw’s life story in the most comprehensible manner'

Jan 25, 2024 08:52 AM IST

In this exclusive interview with Hindustan Times, Meghna Gulzar talked in detail about making Sam Bahadur. The film releases on ZEE5 on January 26.

Sam Bahadur, which reunited director Meghna Gulzar and actor Vicky Kaushal after Raazi, opened to strong word of mouth as it released on December 1. The biopic on India's first Field Marshal, Sam Manekshaw, covering four decades of his fascinating story, was not an easy task to envisage on screen. (Also read: Vicky Kaushal thought he was ‘not handsome enough’ to play Sam Manekshaw in Sam Bahadur)

Meghna Gulzar and Vicky Kaushal during the shoot of Sam Bahadur.

In this exclusive interview with Hindustan Times, director Meghna Gulzar went into detail about researching Sam Manekshaw's life, making sure all the details felt authentic in the narrative, and why it's the story that matters the most to her as a filmmaker. Sam Bahadur will stream on ZEE5 from January 26.

Congratulations on Sam Bahadur. We want to begin by asking you about your interest in this particular real life story, and how you first talked about it during the making of Raazi. Tell us a little bit about that interaction, and whether you always saw Vicky as Sam Manekshaw.

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Interestingly, when I was telling him about Sam Maneskshaw, during the making of Raazi, I was not seeing him in the part because I did not have a script. We were at the research stages at that time. I was just talking about the man because I just find Sam Manekshaw extremely inspiring and fascinating as a human being. I am in complete awe of him and I think I will remain so for the rest of my life. So, that interaction was just that!

It was only when I had my script in place, is when I actually reached out to him and this was during the post-production of Chhapaak. I said, ‘Come, meet me and this is the story and would you like to do it?’ He was like, ‘I was waiting when you were going to ask!’ It was all serendipity, nothing was planned. It just feels like we were all destined to come together and do this film.

We are sure you have been asked about the clash with Ranbir Kapoor's Animal in the past, but may we also mention how Sam Bahadur stayed strong despite that concern, and picked up steadily at the box office. It also celebrated 50 days recently. How has this journey been for you as a filmmaker, witnessing how the audience has reacted to your film?

Extremely gratifying and very fulfilling! This is where Ronnie Screwvala's acumen as a producer comes in, because these decisions are not something that me, and the actors, or the film team will take. This is purely a producer's decision and his belief in the film shows in his decision on its release date. I am just grateful that his faith in the film, and all our hard work in the film was validated by the audience and their love for Sam Bahadur.

Sam Bahadur covers four decades of the person's journey- with so much history and legacy left behind. Talk to us about your concerns as a filmmaker; given there were so many episodes and circumstances that had to be part of the narrative.

So, the aspect of ‘episodes’ was actually one of my concerns. That it should not feel like we are flipping from one thing to another. All three of us- Bhavani Iyer, Shantanu Srivastava, and me worked very hard at the script level to tie the screenplay in such a way that we covered all the important, yet important, and yet fascinating, incidents and milestones of his life. Because its important to understand the smaller things also, that he has lived and experienced, so that we know why he was the man that he was. So, for him to be the first to get punished at the Indian Military Academy, and the same person goes on to become the first Field Marshal of India. To understand that arc, we must show both those incidents. That's what we all believed, that we don't want to do one chapter of his life. We wanted to show his life story in the most comprehensible and comprehensive way possible.

My second huge concern was the authenticity and the correctness of the uniforms, and the ribbons; because we as an industry often get slammed because we do not get that authenticity right. Everyone in the team knew that we intended to make a zero-error film. That I think, was one of our biggest challenges- and as a team we all came together to make sure we achieved that.

While I was watching the film, I was also fascinated by how the action sequences were directed and choreographed. Talk to us a little bit about that process as this is the first time that your film has so much action…

(smiles) It almost looked like, 'Abhi tak ke jitne filmein hein (all the films that I have done), as many as I have made, I have kind of redeemed the not having action bit all-in-one! I mean that was actually the joke that was doing the rounds on the set. But no, the action had to be authentic to the period that it was occurring in, right? It had to remain faithful. If it was in 1942, it had to be fought and filmed like that, and so on for 1960s and the 1971 war. This is where I feel that our action director Parvez Sheikh comes in. Huge kudos to him, because he is also someone who is doing the mainstream action films today, and for him to understand what was happening here- where they would be fighting with wooden rifles, so the way they are going to run, the way they fire, and to do hand-to-hand combat is going to be different… To be able to design it in a way that it is still aesthetic and still exciting with the period details was not an easy thing to do.

So, from our action team to our production design team to the cinematographer and even to our choreographer Vijay Ganguly, because Badhte Chalo is a song which had action and choreography happening together, which was again a very fascinating experience for me. This can happen only when a team synergizes, and that's what ends up showing onscreen.

From Talvar to Raazi, and now Sam Bahadur, your films have only grown bigger over the years. What is that one directorial instinct that still guides you as a filmmaker as you take on these stories?

(smiles) You know, the thing is, films growing bigger is not something that is intentional. I think the story inherently has its own canvas size that it needs. See, Talvar was a film that was about an investigation in a flat, and a few police teams. So the canvas was such. Raazi was a slightly larger canvas because it was about travelling from India to Pakistan in 1971, and then everything that goes on in Pakistan Army and so on. Sam Bahadur, because its four decades, starting from 1932, all the way to 1973- naturally has a larger canvas. Because we tried to go everywhere that Sam Manekshaw himself went, we had actually shot across the country. So it was never like my previous film was successful so I need to make a bigger film, that was not the intent.

Everything comes from the story itself. Tomorrow, if I choose to make a story that is a smaller canvas, I am not going to because of its smaller than my previous film. As long as the story inspires me, hooks me and is consequential in whatever way, I will tell that story. But as a filmmaker I think the one instinct that I carry with me is, ‘Be honest, and keep it simple.’ That has stayed with me. Everything else falls into place after that.

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