Adivi Sesh kickstarted the promotions of his ambitious bilingual film Major on 26/11, the anniversary of the martyrdom of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan. The trailer of the film about the NSG commando who died while combatting the terror attack in Mumbai will be released in January and the film itself will be out in February. We spoke to the actor about his role.
What are your memories of the 26/11 attack on Mumbai?
I grew up in San Francisco, USA. We had just returned from playing cricket and put on an Indian channel — TV Asia — that we often watched. Initially, we thought the visuals were about a gang war of some sort. Then we realised that it was a terrorist attack planned exclusively to get coverage from the new channel cameras. Like others in the rest of the world, I stayed right in front of the television for the next two days. I watched the various events unfold. And then they put out a picture of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan. I was a bit perturbed because several of my cousins look like Major Sandeep and it was like someone in the family had died. Later, I understood that he had been martyred. Slowly, I became his follower, admirer and fan.
You were very keen to make this biopic on Major Sandeep. What prompted you?
After moving to India, I had a flourishing career in the south. I have seen a lot of success in life and I realised that I wanted to share the kind of research I have done on Major Sandeep with the rest of the world. The world is only aware of 26/11, they only know about the last 48 hours of his life. I am talking about the 31 years before that incident. We thought we should make an interesting film that shows his life and also the way he was martyred.
We are told it was quite a demanding task to make yourself look like Major
Yes. I had to really work hard to look like him. I am six foot two inches and I was around 88 kilograms when I went to meet Uncle and Aunty (Major Sandeep’s parents). I am 78 kgs now. I had to shuttle among 74 kgs, 78 kgs, 81 Kgs or 84 kgs in the film to look like him during the various times in his life that we show on screen. I had to also change a lot of things about myself. I am a southpaw and he was right-handed. He is a decorated officer and had a wide stance while I just stand with drooping shoulders. I had to change my walking style, manner of speaking and voice modulation as well. And this is just the physical aspect of it.
What about the mental preparation?
Honestly, I have tried my best to analyse and understand everything about him, from his emotions to his thought processes. Now that the film is complete, I can perhaps say that I have understood him a bit. But I can never become like him, and that is the truth.
There were hurdles to getting permission from his parents to make the biopic.
Yes, When I called for the first time, Uncle said ‘No’. He refused the second time as well. Then we had a girl from our team call him to set up a meeting, and he agreed. It took five to six meetings to make them understand that we were committed to making a genuine film which was not just about his last moments, but about his life.
You preferred to shoot the film on multiple sets?
Yes, the Gateway of India, the façade of the Taj Hotel and the other locations were created at a studio in Hyderabad. We built all these sets, including the courtyard of the hotel with all the lamp posts. It is a very big and expensive film. We have shot the film in Hindi because it is an Indian story, and in Telugu because I have a fan base there....