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It was a story that needed to be told. Before we forgot. Even if it meant doing a war story, which he had sworn never to do after Border.
J P Dutta's emotional reaction to the bravery of the Indian soldiers during the Kargil conflict of 1999, is manifested in his magnum opus, LoC-Kargil. The movie releases December 25. The filmmaker speaks with Lata Khubchandani:
What was the inspiration for the film?
I reflect my times. That is what I always say. When I was a student of cinema, I learnt that a filmmaker's job is to reflect his times. The most important issue in the times I live in is our neighbour. We are troubled all the time, so is our neighbour. And the conflict is constantly on.
Something happened during Kargil. Our boys from the army and infantry did a fantastic job in a hand-to-hand combat in a place like Kargil. That too, in this nuclear age where everything happens at the push of a button. Someone had to tell that story, instead of walking away from it, turning one's back and going off into the Swiss mountains to shoot some sweet story.
How did you handle the difficult shooting locations and a huge cast?
I had gone mentally prepared. I knew I would have a lot of problems. But the army helped me a lot. Besides lending us support, they were also morally supportive. The troops -- the generals and brigadiers -- would come and talk to my boys [actors] regularly.
It was a very tough terrain, but there are 75,000 troops living there. It is not as if it there is no habitation there. You can survive if you take a few basic precautions. It was something everyone had to come to terms with, the climactic conditions, the hardships.
It is the same anywhere where Nature dictates the way of life. You don't live against Nature. You live with Nature. That is what Ladakh is about. It tells you to live in harmony with the environment. You have to live with it, not fight it, even though you may be the biggest star in the world. It is really very educative.
How did your stars take it? Were they demoralised at any point?
On the contrary. When we first went in March, it was snowbound when we landed at Leh airport. The locals said they had not seen such heavy snowfall in 15 years.
Nights would drop down to -20 Celsius and the days were -15 Celsius to -10 Celsius. They said it was the worst winter.
I panicked. I didn't know how we would shoot. Would my boys be able to take it? I sat them down and told them we would go back because we were not prepared for this.
Everyone turned round and told me, "No way, Sir. We have come here. We will finish our work and go." They stuck it out. We stayed for 25 days in the first schedule.
Our second schedule was in the summer and we shot for 60 days. We would start at 2pm and shoot till 7am. The entire unit stuck it beautifully. We had a ten-camera setup there.
Yes, one gentleman in the unit died from a heart attack. When we did a post mortem, we found he had almost 75 per cent blockage [to his heart]. If you acclimatise yourself in the first few days, there is no problem to your body.
If anything serious happens to you, it is not because of conditions there, but other factors. He used to drink, too, which is a serious no-no there.
We worked with live ammunition and fired live ammunition and all sorts of things. Luckily, nothing went wrong.
What kind of boost did your stars require?
I didn't have to do that. Basically, they believed in me. I was the first to climb the mountain and tell them we had to go up. I would be the first one to go up and the last to leave. So they felt if this guy can do it, so can we. I guess that motivated them.
What about you? Did you get low at times?
No, I do not. There is this constant drive to do something you believe in. There is this little madness to pull off something that is difficult. We don't have foreign technicians. We have to have the drive to do it ourselves.
What is the feeling you got at the end of each day of successful filming?
You just want to capture the next scene, to capture what you have visualised.
The girls in the film, are they just cosmetic?
No, when you make a tribute to the soldiers, it is a tribute to their families too. They are the ones who bear the loss, the ones who wait for the soldiers who may never return. Their lot is hard.
They are very important because they represent the families who suffer.
What is the USP of your film?
When you see it now, do you feel you have translated what you had set out to do?
Yes, to a great extent.
Does Sanjay Dutt have an edge over the others?
No, everyone has been treated equally. The movie deals with five different battalions. All of them are important. These were the battalions who were called the bravest of the brave and were the most highly decorated during Kargil.
All of boys are as important as Sanjay Dutt's character.