Ram Madhvani’s recently-released movie Neerja has been hailed for making an emotional connect with the audience. That is because, as Ram Madhvani says, his constant endeavour was to project “emotional reality” on screen. “I got interested in how do I replicate normal human behaviour without making it boring?,” he says. Madhvani says he formulated a system for this and his cast embraced it. Instead of shooting the scripted portion, scene after scene, he chose to have really long shoots, many of them lasting as long as two hours.
Nearly three decades since Neerja Bhanot, the purser on a hijacked Pan Am flight, was killed while trying to save the lives of passengers, a biopic captures this real-life drama. “A lot of times, actors exist between the director saying ‘action’ and ‘cut’. I didn’t want that. Initially, I had thought of shooting at a stretch for 16 hours — that’s how long the hijackers held the passengers captive. But for practical reasons, I settled for on two-hour long takes,” the director says.
Madhvani made sure all the 250 passengers who boarded the flight during the filming had a passport and a ticket. The set that looked like a jumbo aircraft was built on the outskirts of Mumbai. The passengers boarded it at the real time, past midnight. Sonam Kapoor, who plays Neerja, and other crew members were present to greet them and check their passports with four cameras recording the sequence. Kapoor and Shabana Azmi had attended workshop for two weeks. This was followed by Kapoor going through another five days of air-hostess training. The set, in the shape of a plane, had operational bathrooms and intercoms. And the passengers were served real cold and hot beverages.
Neerja is the second feature film by Madhvani, a veteran ad filmmaker who owns ad agency Equinox. His debut movie, Let’s Talk, featuring Boman Irani and Maia Katrak, was made in 2002.
Though he took 14 years to make his second film, Madhvani says he is likely to make his next movie soon. “I have an idea but I am superstitious about revealing it now,” he says.