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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for 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. 



Uunchai trailer launch: Heightened expectations

Uunchai trailer launch: Heightened expectations

Uunchai is not about family. It is about friendship. How far will you go to fulfill the last wish of a dear friend? Mount Everest? There can be no greater Uunchai (Height) on earth, and never mind the spelling. Should be Oonchai, but I guess numerology dictated the changed spelling. Numerology again seems to be at play in choosing the release date: 11-11-22. But two factors have kindled keen interest in the film: firstly, the return of Amitabh Bachchan to a banner that cast him in Saudagar, and secondly, the fact that Uunchai is not about family and has been shot in the great outdoors, unlike the studio productions that in-house director Sooraj Barjatya is known for. In the Rajshri organisation’s 75th year, and his 35th, the grandson of founder Tarachand has completed his seventh film. That is poor output. But almost all seven have been super-duper hits.

An ensemble cast is seen on the posters, holding hands and throwing one leg in the air, as if in a folk dance. Nothing remarkable about that. Hum Saath Saath Hain had a similar poster. But here is a cast that high on nostalgia. Amitabh for one. Then there is Anupam Kher, who began his career with Saaraansh, a film on which Sooraj was the 5th assistant. And Sarika, who made a very comely pair with Sachin in Geet Gata Chal. Also in the team are Boman Irani, who almost refused the film on grounds of personal trauma and was persuaded by Anupam, who used verbal third degree to talk him into it, Neena Gupta and Danny Denzongpa. Danny is not seen in the posters, and there is good reason for that, revealed below. And lastly, there is Parineeti Chopra. Elaborating on his unwillingness to do the film, initially, Boman told this writer that he was going through a bad patch at that time, on the personal front. There had been deaths among his near and dear ones too, including that of his best friend. But once he agreed, he found the whole experience of working with Rajshri and Sooraj so spiritual that the role served as a catharsis.

Although this is not a family film in the true sense, Sooraj insisted that the format remains the same. The difference is that the family is supplanted by friends and indoors are replaced by outdoors. He recalled that as a young man, he had asked his grandfather why did he choose Goddess Saraswati (Hindu goddess of knowledge and wisdom) as the company’s logo, and was told, “Whatever we make, Saraswati should be in it.” All present on the dais co0mplimented Sooraj for extracting the best out of them with the least effort. He would go to everybody’s room or vanity van and explain the day’s scene, even if it was a continuation of the previous evening’s scene. During the course of the conversations, it was revealed that Amitabh would come on the set with the whole scene memorized, never mind if it went into two pages. It is a difficult film, physically, and Amitabh was hesitating a bit before agreeing to do it. But Abhishek’s insistence did the trick. Anupam, who is terrified of flying, agreed to be in a helicopter ride for 90 minutes, just because the film inspired him to do it.

PVR Juhu multiplex’s Auditorium No. 2 was the venue, where the producers of the film and the main cast were present to interact with the media. It was a long wait, nearly 75 minutes, but I can vouch for the fact that Anupam had arrived before time, because he was in the lift with me. I couldn’t resist quipping, “Here we have to go up just a little, but in the film, you have to scale great heights.” He replied, “Life is what takes you great heights. But I really hope this film will reach great heights.” Danny and Parineeti were absent, while Amitabh was present courtesy a video link. He apologised for not turning-up and attributed it to the Covid virus of which he has been a victim thrice in the past, so he was taking no chances. Answering a question by the host, about what were his thoughts on ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed,’ he replied, with characteristic flair, “A friend should never be in need.”

Rajshri’s distribution arm was established on 15 August 1947, the day of India’s independence. They are an all-India distributor, and Gemini’s Chandralekha, made in Madras, was one of the earliest hits they distributed, thereby opening the doors of all-India distribution to films from the South. These days, films from South India enjoy tremendous success outside Madras (now TamilNadu) too. Their production wing was launched with the film Aarti in 1962. This was followed by the musical super-hit, Dosti, made on a shoe-string budget and in black and white, in 1964, when colour had fully arrived. I still rue my family’s refusal to let me play the blind boy, the protagonist in Dosti, who lip-synced to all those heavenly songs, tuned by Laxmikant-Pyarelel and sung by Mohammed Rafi. The proposal was brought by Gobind Moonis, a writer and assistant to director Satyen Bose on Dosti. Decades later, Gobind Moonis directed Nadiya Ke Paar, a rustic, ‘fisherman’s’ version of Hum Aapke Hain Koun, produced by Rajshri themselves. Hum Aapke Hain Koun remained the highest grosser in Indian Cinema for one and a half decades, and this No 1. status was unaffected by inflation and higher ticket rates.

Sooraj Barjatya debuted with Maine Pyaar Kiya in 1989 (shooting probably commenced a couple of years earlier, hence the 35 years in 2022), and then went on to give hit after hit, with Hum Aapke Hain Koun, Hum Saath Saath Hain, Vivaah and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. He returns to the big screen after seven years with Uunchai. He draws inspiration from his grandfather, who had this adage displayed on a plaque in his office, ‘If I can run, I will run. If I can walk, I will walk. If I can crawl, I will crawl. But I will keep moving.’ Though known for larger-than-life sets, contemporary costume and ritual dramas and musicals, Sooraj Barjatya has chosen a different mood of film-making with Uunchai. The film's trailer takes you on a road trip from Kanpur to Delhi to the Himalayas, in Nepal, with Amitabh at the wheels.

Uunchai is one of 2022’s biggest and most awaited releases. The film’s tagline – Friendship Was Their Only Motivation--is the backbone of the film’s trailer, that opens with a voice-over of the trekking guide, Parineeti Chopra. Soon, we see that Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher, Boman Irani and Danny Denzongpa are long-time friends. A song celebrating Danny’s birthday has a foot-tapping number (music Amit Trivedi, lyrics Irshaad Kamil), with the foursome dancing and having the time of their lives. But soon, everything changes as Danny suddenly passes away. The trailer establishes Danny’s wish to take his friends to the Everest Base Camp, wanting to relive his childhood with his friends.

Post Danny’s death, the three friends of Uunchai–Amitabh, Anupam and Boman--decide to take the trek in his memory. The trailer underlines how difficult it will be for these 65 plus (I am sure Amitabh will not be shown as 80 years old, his real age) men to take this challenging trek. Parineeti Chopra is seen explaining the difficulties of the trek, but unsure of the trio’s chances of completing the trek. Neena Gupta plays Boman Irani’s wife, while Sarika’s role remains a mystery. The trailer finishes with a dose of nostalgia, as Big B’s voice echoes – “Bhupen ka favourite gaanaa,” and Rajshri’s classic, a number from their 1972 film Piya Ka Ghar, ‘Yeh jeevan hai’, fills the background. A golden jubilee tribute? Uunchai, its 60th in 60 years, is Rajshri’s most ambitious film to date. Shot at 17,000 plus feet above sea level. It is produced by Rajshri Productions, in association with Mahaveer Jain Films and Boundless Media.

Lastly, the lead character in all of Sooraj’s films has always been named Prem. Is Amitabh being called Prem in Uunchai? No. But, interrupted Anupam, “My pet name is Prem in the film.” You can take Sooraj out of Prem, but you cannot take Prem out of Sooraj.


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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 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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