In 2016, Aditya Dhar was busy prepping for his directorial debut which was to star Pakistani actor Fawad Khan when militants stormed an Indian army base in Kashmir. With New Delhi blaming its neighbour for the attack which killed 17 soldiers, many Bollywood producers declared that they will no longer work with Pakistani actors, which led to the shelving of Dhar’s project.
But instead of wallowing, Dhar said he chose to focus on the events that followed – India’s retaliation in the form of a “surgical strike” across the border which it said hit suspected militants preparing to infiltrate into Indian-administered Kashmir.
“Uri: The Surgical Strike”, which is based on the events, releases in theatres on January 11. The director spoke to Reuters about the film and how to turn a setback into an opportunity.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for “Uri: The Surgical Strike”?
A: The surgical strikes happened on the 29th of September. Before that, I was supposed to do a film called “Raat Baaki” with Fawad Khan and Katrina Kaif, which actually got shelved because of the Uri attacks, because Pakistani artists were not allowed to work in India. Within 10 days, the surgical strikes happened. So, while everybody was figuring out what to do with the film, I was more curious to know what happened during the surgical strikes.
I was always interested in the army, I wanted to get into the army. As a Kashmiri Pandit, I have been hearing about terrorism from childhood. Directly or indirectly, we have also been victims of terrorism. So, when I heard about the strikes, I wanted to know how the army pulled this off. By the end of my six months of research, I realized this was one of the best covert military operations ever conducted by the Indian Army and I knew I had to tell this story.
Q: How much of the real story are you allowed to reveal?
A: A few details of the operational part are true. Others, we cannot reveal, so we have taken cinematic liberties with it. Most of the characters are an amalgamation of several people. We had to tell a hero’s story, and the minute you have too many characters, it will take too much time in a two-hour film. We cannot do justice to each and every character.
There was material available – some in the form of newspaper articles which came out. I had a few journalist friends in Delhi who I mined for information. I knew some retired army officers, so I asked them as well. Bit by bit, I could piece together a story. There was enough material in the public domain to build a story.
Q: Isn’t it ironic how the very attack that led to your first film being shelved was reason enough to make another one?
A: Yeah, it is ironic. That is how you survive in this industry. You cannot get bogged down by failure – you have to keep pushing. For someone else, it could have been a complete failure, but I wanted to turn this circumstance into something great.
Q: Your film seems to glorify the Indian army and the government which ordered the strike.
A: My film is a dedication to the Indian Army. It is about the sacrifices they make for the countrymen. We are sitting here because they are fighting for us on the border. As a film-maker, this is the least we can do for them.
Q: There were commentary pieces written about your film saying it gave rise to jingoism etc. How does that make you feel?
A: There is so much negativity happening in the world, on social media and in our newspapers. Our purpose is to entertain people and to tell a story which promotes something which is great – our country’s army. I don’t know why people get into so many details.
The fact is, it is not you or me pulling the trigger on the border – it is the army jawan. That army jawan has to be motivated by his commander and the only way to do that is to tell him that he is better than his enemies. That motivation is done in Ridley Scott films, in other American films, in British films. When you watch those films you don’t question it, so why question it when it happens in an Indian film.
Q: Perhaps it might have to do with the timing of the film’s release, which is so close to the general election?
A: The timing of a film is decided by the producers keeping commercial prospects in mind. The release date of “Uri” was decided long back. There are so many people who have worked on this film. A producer has to safeguard their interests. It cannot be that somebody is doing a favour on somebody – it has to be a much more informed decision. This January 11 date worked for us because 15th is also Army Day, and then 26th is Republic Day, so the country is already in that mood.
Q: How involved was the army and security forces during the making of the film?
A: The script was locked before the shoot, and we had an army consultant on board to help us out. We had gone through it to make sure that there were no mistakes. We had a locked script which was approved by the army and we stuck to it. Our actors were trained so well by the army that they knew each and every nuance. They would wear their gear and their uniform and knew what had to come where. We showed the finished product to ADGPI and they were very happy with the final product.
Editing by David Lalmalsawma; This story is web-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission.
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