Loc kargil special J P Dutta & starspeak
The One-Man Army And His Army
Everyone who worked on this film agrees that it felt like working on 5 movies at the same time. The number of people in the Unit is quite phenomenal, reading almost like a small army. 32 stars, of course. 11 cameras, including the Jimmy Jip and the Steadicam. 55 camera crew. 1000 Army men at any given point of time. At least 150 crew flown in from Mumbai. And around 200 locals to help carry heavy loads, as they are used to the high altitudes (e.g., while the Still Photographer had his regular Assistant, this Assistant had a 'Local' Assistant to help with heavy items!). 12 hotels to accommodate everyone. The equipment itself took a week to be transported from Chandigarh to Leh...
....The numbers can continue to roll (like the 1500000 feet of exposed film) and continue to astound, but what is truly surprising is that the numbers are so small!!! As a Production Manager puts it, "For a War Film of this size, if you look at the End Credits of a Hollywood production, you will find double the numbers. And if you check out an Indian production, you will find Foreign Crew and Imported Equipment. We managed without all that, and yet managed to create the Biggest Film in India. May not be the costliest, but certainly the Biggest."
Thanks to the indefatigable energies of Producer-Director J.P. Dutta who is "a one-man army," continues the Production Manager. "He is everywhere, looking into everything so that all is perfect. His instructions are precise, his research is intense, and his detailing is immaculate."
Creating That Authentic Look
So, there are around 200 notebooks with JP's handwritten notes on the background of the War. He has had at least twenty-six meetings with dead soldiers' families. There have been rounds of in-depth meetings with the Army to get every detail right. "So, whereas in most other films on the Army, you will find complaints that the badges are not correct or that the Regiment colours have been wrongly represented, JP insisted that we have an advisor from the Army present at all times, so that we do not get a single uniform wrong," says Mrs. Bindiya Dutta. In his quest for authenticity, he did not allow the stars' uniforms to be tailored by the stars' regular costumiers. "If the regular film guys had stitched them, they would have been tailored to highlight every bulge of the stars' biceps and other muscles. Instead, JP insisted that we get the uniforms made elsewhere, so that we would get the authentic, 'ill-fitting' look," says Mrs. Dutta. A week before the Shoot, he got his stars to get Army crew-cuts. He even conducted a 'boot camp' - all the stars were given their boots way in advance, and asked to wear them constantly, so that the boots were "broken in". 'Live' ammunition was used always. And the guns were authentic Army issue: The AK 47, INSAK rifles, SLR's, Medium Machine Guns, Light Machine Guns, Bofors, Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers, 105 mm ... They were all there. And any blast or explosion that had to be "manufactured" sprung from the ingenuity of J.P. Dutta and Action Director Bhiku Varma. Bhiku-da says, "JP-saab is always thinking. I know how to make a stunt look awesome. But he takes me one step further. He is great at making stunts look more awesome than they are by bringing elements close to the camera and by using different kinds of focus. He is the master at creating more 'dhamaka' than there really is. If he has to, he can create a whole Tank Regiment by using just one Tank. But we didn't have to; because we had everything we needed - 'real' and 'live'. It's a challenge working with him. It's a challenge working with 'live' arms. It's probably the best work I have done."
Acting Or 'Live'?
The 'authentic' feel was further accentuated by the actors. Abhishek Bachchan says, "I once asked, 'What exactly am I supposed to do?' JP-sir answered, 'You know what, you are in a war, you don't know exactly what you are supposed to do. Do you think the soldiers at Kargil had someone to tell them what to do during the surprise attack?' And believe me, when they started firing guns and blowing up bombs around us, we reacted perfectly to the explosions." And the 9-camera set-up was designed to heighten the 'real' feel. Cinematographer Kareem says, "We kept the cameras at ground level. This kept the camera at head-to-shoulder level. So, when the actor was running, you got the feeling that you were running with him. We designed the explosions so that the Steadicam could run among the stuntmen. Once the 'attack' started, you could go from camera to camera; the movement would create a frenetic feeling."
The Enemy That Stayed
The Indian Armed Forces had driven away the Enemy from Kargil. But the Film Unit was faced by a set of Enemies that wasn't going to go away. The inhospitable environment. The cold. The height. The lack of Oxygen. The film was to be shot in possibly the highest battlefield, in probably the coldest inhabitable area of the world. So, preparation commenced a good six months prior to the Shoot, with an extensive race through Chandigarh, Leh and Ladakh. The first objective was to ensure that basic human needs were looked after. The first shoot schedule was set for March, in the dead of winter. All of the area, including the hotels, closes down at this time, and the inhabitants move down to Jammu. The hotels were asked to stay open. Then came the question of food. Since the hotels are customarily shut during winter, they had to make provisions to store food. . underground! Hotels place the food in special, hermetically-sealed containers. They then dig a hole through the ice and snow in the ground. The containers are then placed here, and these holes are covered up. Since the temperatures are sub-zero up there, the ground acts as the perfect natural refrigerator! Of course, fresh food was also organized. Vegetables, meat and milk were flown in daily - by the same choppers that carried food to soldiers on the Siachen glacier. On an average, 200 kilos of vegetables and 130 liters of milk were flown in daily. Electricity goes off at 11 p.m. Arrangements were made that huge Burshane gas heaters would provide warmth through the night. And Oxygen cylinders were placed outside every room, on a 24x7 basis, in case of any emergency. The recce team left no area unexplored, even looking into the "boredom" factor. Cable was set up so that the cast and crew could watch TV any time they wanted. Newspapers and magazines were flown in daily.
Walk Like A Yak
The Army was categorical that if one wanted to shoot at these heights and minus-20 temperatures, special precautions had to be taken. You couldn't swing into 'action!' the moment you landed. You had to spend 4-5 days getting "acclimatized" i.e., you literally did nothing until you got used to the heights, the cold, the lack of Oxygen. Even the gentlest movement - like walking from one room to another -- could exhaust you. As the locals put it, "You have to walk like a yak for a week!" Medicines were flown down from Mumbai after consultations with Army doctors in Leh. 'Acclimatizing Pills' were provided to cast and crew to prevent Nausea, Headaches, Vertigo. A doctor was flown in from Mumbai for the first schedule. For the next schedules, there was an Army doctor and an Ambulance present 24x7 at the shoot. All Emergency facilities were present at hand.
And Those Back Home
After a long time, here is a film where the women are dressed in traditional Indian dresses. It is refreshing to see the heroines clad from head to toe - the viewer is drawn by nothing else but their natural beauty (J.P. Dutta actually asked Esha Deol to remove ALL makeup and then took her first shot!) and the tragedy in their eyes. Mrs. Bindiya Dutta, who designed the girls' dresses, says, "It was difficult to come up with different 'looks' for each girl because they were all from the North. So, how many variations can you make on a 'salwar-kameez' or 'churidar-kurta'? Therefore, I classified the girls according to the cities they came from. One, from Delhi; the other, from Lucknow, etc. And I designed accordingly, playing with colours, embroidery, cut, etc. It was tough, but I think each girl now stands out with her own individual look ..."
"Yes," says Sunjay Dutt, "it is probably the 'biggest' movie anyone has attempted to make, and the hardest to mount for a number of reasons, including the costs and getting commitments from the Stars. But when you look at the movie, the vision is enormous. It's bigger than most things that one has seen on Hindi films. Its epic sweep reminds you of the 1940s, of Sohrab Modi, Mehboob or even David Lean. It's an amazing piece of film-making."