THE MAKING OF LOC
J.P. Dutta is back with another war film, which possibly is the biggest multi-starrer Bollywood has ever seen. Based on the Kargil war of 1999, each actor in the film plays the character of a real life soldier or army-man who fought the Kargil war. Here's presenting all the rough weather and hardships that went into the making of this epic film.
The One-Man Army and his Forces
Everyone, who worked for LOC agrees that it felt as if they were working on 5 movies at the same time. The number of people in the unit was phenomenal, almost forming a small army.
55 camera crew (including 11 cameras, the Jimmy Jib and the Steady cam)
1000 Army men, at any given point of time.
150 crew, flown in from Mumbai.
200 locals to help carry heavy loads at high altitudes.
12 hotels to accommodate everyone.
15,00,000 feet of exposed film.
The equipment itself took a week to be transported from Chandigarh to Leh.
But the numbers are still so small! As the 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. But we managed without all that, and yet succeeded in creating the Biggest Film in India.
LOC may not be the costliest, but certainly the Biggest Indian Film.”
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
J.P.Dutta had at least twenty-six meetings with dead soldiers' families. There were around 200 notebooks with JP's handwritten notes on the background of the War.
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 colors 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 tailors. “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' where all the stars were given their boots way in advance, and were asked to wear them constantly, so that the boots were “broken in”.
'Live' and 'Real' ammunition was used always. And the guns were authentic Army issued: The AK 47, INSAK rifles, SLR's, Medium Machine Guns, Light Machine Guns, Bofors, Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers, 105 mm … They were all there.
The Hard-hitting action
Any blast or explosion that had to be “manufactured” sprung from the ingenuity of J.P. Dutta and action director Bhiku Varma. Bhiku quotes “JP-saab is always thinking. I know how to make a stunt look awesome. But he takes me one more 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 what it 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.”
The Realistic Camerawork
A 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 Steady cam 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 and the lack of Oxygen! The film was to be shot in possibly the highest battlefield and probably the coldest inhabitable area of the world.
So, preparation commenced a good six months prior to the shoot, with an extensive research through Chandigarh, Leh and Ladakh. The first objective was to ensure that the basic human needs were looked after. The first shoot schedule was set for March…in the dead of winter. All areas including the hotels close 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. Which they did 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 litres of milk were flown in daily. Electricity goes off at 11 p.m. So arrangements were made such 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. 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.
The non-glamorous look
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, other from Lucknow, etc. And I designed accordingly, playing with colors, embroidery, cut, etc. It was tough, but I think each girl now stands out with her own individual look…”
“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.”
“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.”