National Awards 2019: Uri: The Surgical Strike helmer Aditya Dhar on winning the Best Director for his first film

Udita Jhunjhunwala

Aug 10, 2019 12:01:59 IST

Sitting in Los Angeles, where he is preparing for his next feature film, director Aditya Dhar was following the National Awards announcement through Facetime with Vicky Kaushal. The Uri: The Surgical Strike director-actor team screamed and whooped in joy as the awards were announced, for background music, for sound design, and then for best director and best actor.

 National Awards 2019: Uri: The Surgical Strike helmer Aditya Dhar on winning the Best Director for his first film

Aditya Dhar and Vicky Kaushal on the sets of Uri: The Surgical Strike. Twitter

On the phone from LA, Dhar shares his feelings about the significance of the highest entertainment award of the country for his debut feature film.

How does it feel to be a National Award winner?

It’s amazing. From the moment I thought of joining the film industry, it was my dream to win a National Award. Not in my wildest dreams did I think I would win it for my first feature film. All the years of struggle, of blood and sweat have been rewarded, not just with this award but also with the love for Uri from audiences and the armed forces. I believe there is a beautiful external power. The last 15 years of struggle were a test and someone was watching over me the whole time.

In your opinion, what was it about Uri contributed to it becoming such a success? Was it the timing of the release, which matched the national sentiment?

Actually producer Ronnie Screwvala and his team planned the release date two years in advance. We chose 11 January, 2019 because it was after the New Year, it is close to Army Day and Republic Day. Patriotic fervour is high at that time, and our film is a tribute to the Indian Army and the sacrifices they make. Indian audiences are inherently patriotic and sentimental, and we connect to a story that is realistic, sensible and emotional. 

You have spoken before about the struggle to get your first film made. During the numerous aborted attempts, what kept you going?

I had at least five aborted attempts in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2016. The projects were with established producers, like Karan Johar, Fox Star and Vishal Bhardwaj. In some cases, we had reached pre-production, and casting had been done. But for various reasons, they didn’t work out. I guess destiny wanted me to make my debut with Uri. And it was worth the wait! The support and blind faith of my parents and my brother Lokesh kept me going. When I was ready to throw it all in, my brother begged me to give it another shot. After 10 years of struggle, I had a depleted bank balance and plenty of self-doubt. My close friend Chaitanya Hegde was another person who encouraged me to hold on.

And then Uri happened.

Yes. I wrote the film in 12 days. On 12 March, I gave the script to Chaitanya (whose talent management agency also represents me). He showed it to Sonia Kanwar (producer), who gave it to Ronnie. In 12 years, nothing happened, and then all this happened in one day. Patience is not about waiting. It’s about what you do while you wait. I kept myself motivated, and was obsessed that I will make this happen. And it could happen only because of a great team. Great directors and great actors don’t make a great film, great scripts and great teams make a great film. Similarly, you need a great team behind you in real life too. 

It is a double celebration with Vicky winning the best actor National Award too. The film was a turning point in his career and catapulted him both as an actor and a sex symbol.

It’s so funny how Vicky blushes when you say that to him. He turns red on mention of his ‘sex symbol’ status. Seriously though, he totally deserves this award, and it was the best decision to work with him. It helped that Vicky shared the same passion and obsession to tell this story. He worked so hard, training for six months, to transform into Major Vihan Singh Shergill the way I had imagined him.

Other directors who have won a National Award on debut have spoken of the curse of the second film. Do you have any concern about moving on to your second project?

I have always believed in doing whatever I do truthfully and earnestly. With my first film, I proved a point to myself and to my country. The second film is about proving our industry’s capability to the world. So I am in LA, working on my next feature, Ashwatthama, based on the immortal character from the Mahabharata. It’s an ambitious action film that requires me to be in the US to do some research, meet scientists, and visual effects companies. It’s a multi-part film and I am looking forward to working with Vicky again.

Updated Date: Aug 10, 2019 13:53:36 IST