Among the many biopics from Bollywood this year, the one on Mahendra Singh Dhoni is perhaps the most anticipated. Film-maker Neeraj Pandey's three-hour film "M S Dhoni: The Untold Story" on the Indian cricket captain opened in cinemas on Friday.
Actor Sushant Singh Rajput, a television star who charmed movie audiences in Abhishek Kapoor's "Kai Po Che!" and Maneesh Sharma's "Shuddh Desi Romance", spoke to Reuters about the challenges of playing Dhoni and what he learned while filming the biopic.
Q: What does it take to become M S Dhoni?
A: Understanding. Intelligence. Persistence.
Q: Are you talking about him or you? What did it take for you to become Dhoni?
A: I was talking about him. It took me all these things too. And a few more. Like not being there in the past, or the future. I learned to just be in the present - talking to you, experiencing this. Whatever dream you have, be sure that it is going to be happen, and then forget about it. Then you have to come back to the present and be there 100 percent. That is what he did, what I learned while working on this film.
Q: Which of Dhoni's characteristics did you base your portrayal on?
A: Not just one characteristic - there was a combination of a few things working together. His passion for his sport, his understanding of what is right and wrong, all that. He is very clear in his head - these three things are right, these things are wrong, and the rest of it doesn't matter.
Q: Is he rigid in that sense?
A: That's what I am saying - he knows his right and wrong, but he doesn't have a problem with the millions of other options. Also, when you are [from] a small city, and you dream big and are then successful, there is a strong tendency to hold on to everything you have earned - you don't want to let it go. There is insecurity, you are fearful and all your decisions are diluted by your fear. But if you are not thinking about the future and are just focusing on the present, then you are unfazed. You are Captain Cool. That is what it is.
Q: Are you also like him?
A: When I was doing this film, I realized I was constantly swinging between the past and the future - this is what I did and I should be glad about, or what I should be doing. Maybe not the past so much, but yeah, I was really thinking about my future. This film changed me a lot. You realize that you are not looking around you - you are somewhere else and the future is intangible, you can't control it.
Q: The visuals of you playing those cricketing shots - how real are they? The stance wouldn’t have been easy to replicate, right?
A: It is body replacements. It is footage from his matches and his body being replaced by me. For 12-13 months I would train. Before I started that, I would watch his videos again and again. Repetition was important because I would pick up those traits and mannerisms subconsciously. The intention was not to think about these things when I was actually doing the scene, but because I had done it so many times, it was wired. Even if I had to improve in a scene, it would not be my spontaneity, but his reaction. Before the film begins shooting, in your head, you need to be the character. You have to convince yourself somehow. It could take you two days if you have those kind of skills. I was living this part for eight to ten months before we started shooting. I was thinking like him.
Q: Were you disappointed when 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy' didn't work?
A: I feel for the producers because they lost money. But it wasn't a loss for me, because I learned so much. As an actor, you think you know your craft, you know the conflicts in your character, but often you don't. Like this one scene in "Byomkesh" where I am interrogating a suspect and he dies. I thought my reaction in that scene was perfect, until Dibakar (the movie's director) asked me if I had ever seen someone die in front of me before. If you are seeing something for the first time, one of your first reactions should be fascination. I had not factored that in. These learnings are priceless. Even the six months I spent with Shekhar Kapur for a film ("Paani") that is still to start were like doing a crash course at the Strasberg Institute. I have no regrets.