To get the story of hockey legend Sandeep Singh right Shaad Ali reveals he spent considerable quality time with Sandeep and his family. “I spent close to four months with Sandeep and his family in his hometown Shahabad in Haryana, as well as in Delhi and Mumbai.
For me, it wasn’t enough to just go through paperwork and files and archival material on him. I had to observe and absorb his life first-hand. This is the only way to make a film on a life as inspirational as Sandeep Singh’s.”
Comparison with the other famous hockey film Chak De is odious but inevitable.
Protests Shaad, “There really is no common ground between Chak De and Soorma except hockey. But Chak De focused on the coach. So in that sense, Reema Kagti’s forthcoming Gold(about India’s first team to win a gold medal at the Olympics ) is more likely to be compared with Chak De.”
Interestingly Shaad had no intentions of doing a film on Sandeep Singh. “When Chitrangda Singh who produces Soorma, came to me we were thinking of something entirely different on the lines of a smalltown drama like my film Bunty Aur Babli. When Chitrangda suggested we do this ( the story of Sandeep Singh) I wasn’t sure. But then when I dug into his life I was amazed at how dramatic it was. Sandeep’s life is so eventful it feels like fiction. I had to wade through the drama to get to the core of the man.”
Soorma has been made with the active co-operation and support of Sandeep Singh and his family. “He opened up his life for me. Gave me access to his family and friends. Soorma couldn’t have been made without Sandeep Singh’s participation. It’s important to take the subject of a biopic into confidence.”
Sandeep Singh is very happy with what Shaad has achieved in Soorma. “He gave me the freedom to tell his story my way. He had that trust in me.”
Diljit Dosanjh was the first and only choice to play Sandeep Singh.
“We needed a Sikh actor. And who better than Diljit Dosanjh? He has given so much of himself to Soorma I can’t imagine anyone else playing Sandeep Singh. Of course, it’s not imperative for a Sikh to play a Sikh. Farhan Akhtar did such a fine job of playing Milkha Singh in Rakeys Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhag.”
Shaad’s last few films have not worked at the box office. Neither has he been very prolific in his career. “I don’t know why Jhoom Baraabar Jhoom in 2008 didn’t work. We shifted the original story from India to a foreign country. I had enough of the smalltown ambiance in Saathiya and Bunty Aur Babli. I wanted to break free of my smalltown image. With Kill Dill, I knew something had gone wrong. The balance was missing. There was a huge gap between my second film Jhoom Baraabar Jhoom and my third film Kill Dill. That was not laziness. It was just an absence of a script I wanted to shoot. Also, I spent a good 3-4 years assisting my mentor Mani Ratnam on his film Raavan.”
The abiding reverence for Mani Ratnam won’t go away. Shaad’s last film Ok Jaanu was a remake of Mani Ratan Tamil film.
Says Shaad warmly, “In fact, I again took a break from my own filmmaking to assist Mani Sir on his current new Tamil film. My equation with him cannot change.”