Indian hockey player Sandeep Singh needs no introduction. From winning the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in 2009 after a wait of 13 years to having the best speed in the world in drag flick (speed 145 km/h), Sandeep has many achievements to his credit. The drag-flicker’s journey – of wins, losses, life and death – will soon be seen on-screen in Soorma, a Shaad Ali directorial, starring Diljit Dosanjh and Taapsee Pannu.
In an exclusive conversation with indianexpress.com, Sandeep Singh spoke about how he was amazed to know that people were keen to make a film on his life, “Actually, in the beginning, it was unbelievable. It was just like how in Haryana and Punjab people come to you and promise to take you overseas. You start daydreaming about spending your days as a permanent resident abroad. I also started dreaming about my film and story. That time only the movie based on Milkha Singh had come out. So, I also used to think that soon there will be a film on Sandeep Singh, people will get to know about me. I felt really good.”
“When I met the producers for the first time, we had very short time to talk about my journey. I was constantly talking and narrating my story. They thought I would automatically stop in half an hour but I went on and on for two hours straight. So, they were amazed and gained confidence on making a film on my life,” Sandeep quipped while talking about his first meeting with the producers.
On 22 August 2006, Sandeep Singh was seriously injured after being hit by an accidental gunshot in Shatabadi train, while on his way to join the national team who were due to leave for the World Cup in Germany two days later. He was almost paralysed and on wheel chair for two years of his life. Sandeep not only recovered from that serious injury, but also established himself again in the team.
He says the story of Soorma will highlight his journey before and after the gunshot that people do not know about. “People who know the game of hockey, who followed hockey, they know who Sandeep Singh is. They know I have been Indian Hockey team’s captain, but they don’t know about the struggle and the life after being shot. The film brings my tragedy to the forefront,” said the ex-Indian hockey captain.
While he was extremely excited about telling his story, he was adamant about choosing someone who would justify being Sandeep on-screen, preferably someone who is a Sikh. He said since the beginning the makers were eyeing Diljit Dosanjh and he perfectly fitted the bill. “He is a real Singh, a Sardar. Usually, a Sikh is laughed upon. I did not want the film to go to a big star, be it Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar or Aamir Khan because they would not have suited the part. People would have made a joke about the film and their look. Not that they cannot play the part but they would not have been convincing as Sandeep Singh. So, I wanted that even if it is a beginner in Bollywood, he should be able to portray the role as real as possible.”
He continued, “Meanwhile, Diljit paaji debuted in Udta Punjab. We always had him in our mind but we also thought that people, apart from those living in Punjab, might not be well accustomed with the actor. He was not yet famous in Bollywood. So, we were prepping up the story. Meanwhile, Diljit had picked up his momentum in Bollywood and was becoming the rising star of the industry with songs, films coming back to back. Now, even he is a star.”
But of course, portraying a sportsman on-screen was not going to be an easy task. Earlier in many interviews, Diljit Dosanjh had expressed how it was really hard for him to get the knack of hockey. However, he could get all of it just right, thanks to Sandeep Singh who trained him personally. “Yes, I have trained Diljit during and off the film. He is a good actor and quite hardworking. There are not many actors in the film industry who have the ability to clone your body language. If I tell you to copy me, you would not be able to do that but Diljit did it really well. We spent a lot of time together and got to know each other. People have seen me on-field but no one knows about my off-field life. People rarely know that personality of me. We concentrated more on how he aces me in the field but off-field too, he would notice my habits, body language and in fact, even eating mannerisms,” Sandeep shared.
He mentions that he made sure Diljit catches his game’s USP too. “Everybody has their own way and signature style to play the game. We have worked well on the posture and tried to imbibe my style in Diljit. I am sure people who have followed my game would instantly get the vibe of Sandeep Singh from Diljit.”
Sandeep himself is quite charming in person. Tall and fit with a face glowing with pride, it would have been obvious for him to be on-screen. When we questioned why he did not take up acting, Sandeep with a shy smile answered, “I am looking forward to it.”
Coming back to Soorma. Sandeep Singh says his film is not just about the sport but it Is also about being a sportsperson and about all those dreamers who want to make it big in life.
“Hockey pe particular film nahi aayi after Chak De (There has not been any film post Chak De). We cannot compare Chak De with Soorma. That film is more like team game but Soorma is all about the struggle a person has gone through. It is about the victory after failure. It is about the dream to make it big in the world. I do not think you will leave the theater without taking away something from the film. This film will cater to every one among the audience and would have a relatability factor too.
“It has a message of never giving up. It is about how a man comes back from death and wins pride for his country. So, that journey is not easy but with will power and confidence, you can do anything,” quipped the penalty corner specialist.
Soorma explores another aspect of Sandeep’s life, the love story. On the mention of it, Sandeep shied away and with a blushing face, he replied, “Aap yeh movie mein dekhna (Watch about it in the theaters.)” And about Diljit co-star Taapsee Pannu, Sandeep said, “They make a good pair.”
Not just Soorma, Sandeep has lent his support to Akshay Kumar starrer Gold too. The film’s teaser had released recently and Sandeep has some positive words about it. He points out the similarity in Gold and Chak De, mentioning that both the films are about team play and concentrate on a goal to get a medal for the country. “I really like it but it is similar to Chak De. It talks about team work, the dream to get a medal for the country and other things. The film is all about Akshay Kumar but it is going to be fun. I have given training to Gold stars Amit Sadh, Kunal Kapoor, Vineet Kumar Singh and Sunny Kaushal but I am not allowed to share much details.”
While we talk about Gold and Soorma, it would not be wrong to say that hockey as a game has not been able to grab the limelight like cricket. But for Sandeep, the situation is something he has dealt before and now, it holds no importance. He said, “We are used to it. It is like we are kids of the same mother but one is being fed while other is not. However, I and anyone who play sports, when we go on the field, there is no other feeling than to play for our country. For us, the pride lies in wearing the tricolor on our heart. We do not think about money.”
As the conversation comes to an end, Sandeep Singh speaks about the personalities whose stories he would really want to know through the 70mm medium, “In Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan. We know how he has become the Shehanshah or God of Bollywood. We know his success story but there was a downfall in his career too. How did he get his first break? We know about it through books but I guess for the younger lot, it would be interesting to watch on-screen. In sports, I think Yogeshwar Dutt. Most people don’t even know that he has won an Olympic medal for India. I want films on such personality to be made. Also, Vijender Singh. He has got fame because of pro-boxing league but Vijender has not got his share of credit. Even me for that matter, no one knew who I am.”