THOUGH director Omung Kumar bagged a national award for his film Mary Kom, he was not looking at making another biopic. So last year when the production designer-turned-director was approached with the script of Sarbjit, he didn’t immediately say ‘yes’. Based on the true story of a farmer who unknowingly crossed the Pakistan border and was mistaken for a terrorist, the story caught Kumar’s imagination only after he watched videos of Dalbir Kaur (Sarabjit’s sister) and he “felt the need to draft a new script so I got in touch with Dalbir Kaur.” The 48-year-old director went on to draw out the intricacies of the story from Kaur when he met her. “I would ask her about the jail, how prisoners would come in and sit down, what’s the smell like, how she felt when she entered it,” and the answers were infused into the new script.
Kumar’s enthusiasm was infectious and soon actress Aishwarya Rai was drawn into the project. “I wanted a woman who is mature and commands respect. When I approached Aishwarya, in the process of explaining the ageing of her character, I even applied make up on myself,” laughs the director.
On the other side was the method actor Randeep Hooda playing Sarabjit, whose extreme transformation and methods for the role is not new to anyone, as he dropped 18 kgs in 28 days. “I started shoot with an intense scene where he was about to be beaten up. I did not even realise he was on set as he had confined himself to a corner on the floor and was completely dirty, mucky and in character,” explains Kumar who was born in Chennai and currently resides in Mumbai.
Talking about the most challenging scene of the movie, Kumar says, “The first time Sarabjit’s family visits him in jail after 18 years was extremely emotional and difficult to shoot.” He also assures that the movie will keep you on the edge of the seat. But does that mean he has deviated from the true story? “An infusion of a song is the liberty one takes as a director, it’s just a way of connecting the dots. For instance the song Tung Lak reflects the spirit of celebration in a Punjabi household, which is to be expected,” explained the director. His next is a pyscho-thriller which he remains tight-lipped about.
Sarbjit releases on May 20.
— Seema Rajpal