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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 

 

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Trailer success meet and song launch of Major: Lookout, big fish, here comes the goldfish

Trailer success meet and song launch of Major: Lookout, big fish, here comes the goldfish

Three big, real BIG pictures are on the verge of release, simultaneously. Two are from the South, and one from Mumbai. Anybody who has been following release schedules will know that these three are Prithviraj from Yash Raj Films, KamalHaasan’s Vikram and a major film from Hyderabad, called, Major. I wonder whether the other two have been shown to anybody except the most selected of selective audiences, but Major’s makers have shown it to 1,700 viewers so far. That, they say, shows the confidence they have in their product. Equating Vikram and Prithviraj to big fish, writer-star Adivi Sesh defined Major as the gold fish that will stand out.

Present at a media-interaction at PVR multiplex, Juhu, were, besides Adivi, heroine Saiee Manjrekar, director Sashi KiranTikka, music composer Sricharan Pakala and singer Armaan Malik. Like Nikamma, this one is a Sony Pictures International Productions, collaborating with the veteran Mahesh Babu's GMB Entertainment and A+S Movies. Whereas it is easy to trace the roots of Vikram to the Tamil industry and Prithviraj to Mumbai’s filmdom, Major is genesis defying, at least partly, vehicle.

Saiee is the daughter of Mumbai-based actor and director Mahesh Manjrekar and played the lead in Dabangg 3. That’s one Mumbai connection. Armaan Malik’s mother Jyothi belongs to a Telugu speaking family, while his father is Daboo Malik. That’s half and half. Then there is Revathy, who has several successful Hindi film roles against her name. Prakash Raj, after so many villainous roles in Hindi films, might even be considering moving permanently to Mumbai, from Karnataka. And Murali Sharma? He is there in every second Hindi film for a decade and more. Adivi summed it up nicely, “We are all Indian film-makers, neither Tamil, nor Telugu, nor Hindi.”

What comes as a big surprise is the fact that Adivi speaks good Hindi! How did that happen? “I grew up in the USA, where all my friends were either Punjabis or Gujaratis. So, to communicate with them, I picked up Hindi. Sadly, they did not pick up any Telugu. But let this debate rest. We just make films, whether in Tamil, Telugu or Hindi. Bi-linguals and remakes are not new. They have been there since Ram Aur Shyam, which was a remake of a Telugu hit (Chanakya's 1964 Telugu film Ramudu Bheemudu), and before. In fact, one can find at least 182 remakes of Telugu films in Hindi on the web. We are releasing Major in three languages, Telugu, Hindi and Malayalam. Telugu, because that is the language in which it was first conceived, Hindi because we want to reach a wider audience with this story of a soldier’s bravery and Malayalam because Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan hailed from Kerala, and we want his family and friends to watch it in their language.”

November, 2008, left a scar in memories of all Indians, especially those who live in Mumbai. In a terrorist attack that lasted four days across South Bombay, at least 174 individuals lost their lives, including 15 policemen, and 2 NSG Commandos. Among these Commandos was Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who was serving in the elite 51 Special Action Group of National Security Guards. He was posthumously awarded India’s highest peacetime gallantry award, Ashok Chakra. He was born on 15th March, 1977 in Calicut, to retired ISRO Scientist K. Unnikrishnan and Dhanlaxmi Unnikrishnan. He grew up in Bangalore and later graduated from the 94th Course of NDA and 104th Course of IMA. He was commissioned on 12th June, 1999 as a lieutenant, in the Bihar Regiment of Indian Army. In his years of service, he served in Gujarat (during Gujarat riots, 2002), Jammu and Kashmir, Hyderabad, Siachen and Rajasthan. He was later selected to join National Security Guards, and underwent training. He was assigned the training officer of 51 Special Action Group, in January, 2007.

This is the true story. The film, Major, is merely inspired by it and pays tribute to him. No attempt is made to replicate his life or the operation against the terrorists, as it occurred. Why did Adivi choose to play the title role himself? “I look quite a bit like him. In fact, some of my cousins look even more like him. Moreover, I have done many action films, so this was not a major challenge.” Did the writer and actor combo in Adivi lead to confrontation on the sets? “No,” replied Tikka, “the writing was all done behind walls, while on the set, he was playing the character and following instructions.” Added Adivi, “We did have a few run-ins, but after each argument, I always emerged the richer in knowledge.”

Someone asked Saiee whether she got Adivi to taste Mumbai street food, like vada pav and samosa pav, and she said “No. He has had vada pav so many times before we met.” Corroborating Saiee, Adivi revealed that his earlier film was processed in Mumbai, so he had so many vada pavs during those days. “In fact, she ordered a pizza for me here.” Saiee corrected, “No, that was in Hyderabad.” She went on to add that she was super-thrilled to have a song dedicated to her character, titled ‘Oh Isha’! which was superbly performed by Sricharan and Armaan, in both Hindi and Telugu, with only a ukulele for accompaniment.

Major will find Saiee grow from the age of 16 to the age of 28, and it will be worthwhile watching her performance graph too. Meanwhile, Adivi kept on parrying questions put to him like a veteran. Almost every reply drew applause. And his language was a judicious mix of Hindi and English. He stated that during the making of the film, Sandeep’s real-life parents became like his second parents, and he would like to become their second son. This, coming from a man who is a very funny person in real life, has deep meaning.

Very protective about Sandeep’s life, his parents, family, friends, army colleagues etc. did not reveal too much about the brave-heart, so taking cinematic liberties became a necessity. Yes, they did share some of the info, but what the unit found remarkable was that all those persons were not sad or gloomy, but, rather joyous and happy. In fact, it was after several phone calls that Sandeep’s father picked up Adivi’s phone, and agreed to give permission to this unit only because he felt that many others who had approached him had come with an attitude of “we are doing you a favour”. This team, he felt, would do justice to the story about the feelings and emotions of Sandeep, besides his bravado on the action front.

Asked by this writer whether they had shot at real locales, or sets and VFX/CGI were used, Tikka confirmed that real locations were not used. Sets, VFX and CGI were indeed employed to recreate the venues. Adivi pointed out that the first 30-40 seconds of the trailer are slow, mushy, romantic, featuring Adivi, Saiee, Revathy, Prakash Raj, and Saiee’s sister. This is because the film, too, has 30-40 minutes of emotions and romance, before the action kicks in. Yes, you will see both of them aged around sixteen, in school uniform.

What stays with you after the trailer is over is Prakash Raj’s booming baritone, stating that a soldier is one who says I will give my life, but I will not give my country. That is true patriotism and nationalism, if it needed to be defined. There are patriots and nationalists in every corner, but a soldier is the true protector of patriotism.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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