Soorma director Shaad Ali on why he helmed the sports biopic: Sandeep Singh's story riveted me

Abhishek Srivastava

Jul,14 2018 09:05:46 IST

Shaad Ali’s all-white hair should in no way be an indication of his age. Rather, it should be an indicator of the time he has spent in the industry. He was there with Shekhar Kapur as a kid when Mr. India saw its several trials, he was there when Shah Rukh Khan danced atop a train crooning 'Chhaiyya Chhaiyya' and he was also present when Gulzar wrote 'Kajra Re'. Shaad is back again with his sixth film, Soorma – a biopic on ex-Indian hockey captain Sandeep Singh.

It is a pleasant sight to see the director cozily ensconced in his chair, giving interviews in succession. This was unimaginable a few years ago as an empty chair would have greeted media back then. Shaad has always been considered media shy but now is 'socially' reformed. “After Bunty Aur Babli, I had kind of gone into a shell and was not there for promotion of my films.  There were various reasons and one was my personality. Later I was told that a director is the captain of the ship and he should never abandon it and see it through," he says. The incognito phase of Shaad also coincided with divorce with his first wife.

Diljit Dosanjh in a still from Soorma. YouTube

Diljit Dosanjh in a still from Soorma. YouTube

After having dealt with comedy, musical and action genres in the past, Shaad has now opted for a real-life drama with Soorma. Shaad admits that he was aware of Sandeep Singh as a hockey player but was clueless about the tragic events that transpired in his life. “Sandeep had given me a handwritten essay in Devanagari, running close to 20 pages, which mentioned his entire story. It was riveting and it shocked me,” said the director.

Shaad has played hockey and followed the game closely and thus, is well aware of the disparity that exists vis-a-vis cricket. He is nonetheless hopeful that positive changes for the game are in the offing. “Before turf came into play, it was very easy on the eyes. It was also the time when India won eight Olympic gold medals and Dhyanchand was at his peak. The introduction of turf by the West was more of a ploy. They knew that Indians were master dribblers and with turf, they took it away. It took us a long time and now we are the kings of the turf again.”

Soorma is also a different film in Shaad’s repertoire. For the first time, he is working with actors as opposed to stars. Shaad disagrees with the statement and informs that he has only worked with actors in his films. “To be honest, my films never had stars except Amit ji (Jhoom Barabar Jhoom) and Shah Rukh Khan once in guest appearance (Saathiya). Abhishek (Bachchan), Bobby (Deol), Priety (Zinta), Ranveer (Singh) were relatively smaller than the next rung of stars when they acted in my films.” Shaad also adds that he would love to work with stars but the essence of the film should be real. “It’s become easy these days to work with stars because they are putting in effort. Salman (Khan), Aamir (Khan) have no qualm putting on weight for a film and SRK is game to change his looks. It’s now become such an open field where the talent of stars and actors have all become one.”

A look at Shaad’s filmography and one comes across constants like Gulzar, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Mani Ratnam. He mentions that it is very difficult to visualise a film in their absence. “It’s close to impossible, to visualise a film without them. Some factor will always be there. Gulzar saab has been there in all my films and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have been there in all except two. Mani sir has been there for me every day, if not in my film then I am in his film. The exchange will never stop.”

Shaad also recalls the moment when he came in contact will his pillars. It was during the writing of Dil Se that he came in contact with Gulzar for the first time. It was also a phase when he acted as a bridge between Ratnam, AR Rahman and Gulzar as the first two hardly knew Hindi. “Gulzar saab only wanted that whatever he was writing for the film, the essence should reach both Mani sir and Rahman in a correct manner and in that translation phase, I got close to him.” When Shaad saw Roja, he became obsessed with Mani’s films. The urge to assist him was so strong that he even took a train to Chennai from Jhansi to meet him as there were no direct trains from Kanpur. “I went and met him but he told that he was not doing anything at that point of time. I came back to Kanpur and wasted some three years. Then I came to knew that he had just finished Iruvar and I felt sorry for missing that opportunity. I met him again and he informed that he was looking for me. At that time, he was busy with the pre-production of Alai Payuthey but in the absence of a climax, pushed it aside and jumped on to Dil Se.” Later on, when Mani was approached to make a Hindi remake of Alai Payuthey, he suggested the name of Shaad, citing the reason that he was not in the mood to direct the Hindi version.  

Shraddha Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapur in a still from Ok Jaanu. YouTube

Shraddha Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapur in a still from Ok Jaanu. YouTube

Shaad is candid enough to discuss the failure of his past three films. He believes that Ok Jaanu had no distinct message and people were looking for a big spectacle and a big message. “Live-in relationship in now no more a big deal in Mumbai. There was no high drama in that film and the film looked a bit superficial.” Kill Dil, according to Shaad, lacked balance and people found happenings in the second half difficult to digest while Jhoom Barabar Jhoom was more like an arrow thrown into air which could have gone anywhere. “We were well prepared about Jhoom Barabar Jhoom that it could either be a hit or might just misfire at the box office.”

Just to satiate this writer’s curiosity, one cannot help but ask what exactly he was doing as an assistant when 'Chhaiya Chhaiya' was being filmed? “My job was to prevent Shah Rukh, Mani Sir, Farah (Khan) and Santosh Sivan from falling off the train. I also ensured that the branches of trees were removed when the train was in motion,” informs Shaad with a guffaw.

(Also read: Soorma star Taapsee Pannu says 'I would like to have the same filmography as Jennifer Lawrence')

Updated Date: Jul 14, 2018 09:05 AM