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Friday, July 23, 2021

Gadar turns 20: Director Anil Sharma says he knew ‘it would become India’s Titanic’

As Gadar completes 20 years, director Anil Sharma walks down the memory lane about casting Sunny Deol, shooting the hand-pump scene, clash with Lagaan and what makes the film click with the audience even today.

Written by Mimansa Shekhar | New Delhi |
Updated: June 16, 2021 8:29:17 am
anil sharma gadar sunny deol ameesha patel 20 yearsAnil Sharma recalled casting and directing Sunny Deol and Ameesha Patel in his dream project, Gadar. (Photos: Express Archives)

Gadar: Ek Prem Katha “is a moment” in Indian cinema, believes director Anil Sharma. The blockbuster, which released on June 15, 2001, clocks 20 years today. “I still feel it was just yesterday when we were shooting Gadar in Punjab, Rajasthan, or the train sequences,” he told indianexpress.com, revisiting his big project and what makes it click with the audience even to this day.

“The reactions that came in even before the anniversary are amazing. Rarely do people get to be a part of such a milestone, and I feel so proud,” Sharma said in the exclusive chat, thanking God and everyone involved for making the film, one of the most successful ones.

Gadar was set during the Partition of India in 1947. Starring Sunny Deol in the lead role of Tara Singh, the period drama followed his life from being a truck driver in pre-independence India, to him saving a Muslim girl during the bloody Partition, their love story and him travelling to Pakistan to bring her back when her family refuses to recognise her alliance with Tara.

While then newbie Ameesha Patel played Tara’s wife Sakeena, the film had an ensemble starcast of Amrish Puri, Vivek Shauq, Lillete Dubey, his son Utkarsh Sharma and others. “Ameesha was new and we cast her after her screen test. When all the actors share the common interest for the good of a film, everything gets managed,” Sharma recalled.

gadar sunny deol ameesha patel Gadar was Ameesha Patel’s second Hindi film after her Bollywood debut in Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai (2000). (Photo: Express Archives)

One of Sunny Deol’s career best roles, the actor showcased his romantic side in the first half of the story, and the movie then became an actioner as he takes up the challenge of reuniting his child with his mother. Anil Sharma also shared how Sunny landed the role, the famous hand-pump scene and shooting the climax, atop a moving train.

Excerpts:

When the film was in its scripting stage, what was on your mind in terms of its basic plot and core motivation?

It has the story of a father and a son. I had Ramayana in my heart, that Lord Ram has gone to Sri Lanka to bring back his Sita. This is such a huge emotion, which will remain alive even after a hundred years. It has emotions and drama have kept it fresh in the minds of people. It is still contemporary. The music had such a huge contribution by lyricist Anand Bakshi ji. I miss him today. My favourite song is “Udja Kale Kawan”.

Gadar established the British India in a very authentic fashion. In fact, train played an integral part of its storytelling, be it the Partition and exodus scenes or the climax. How challenging was it back then?

The biggest challenge was to create that period, and preparing the steam engine was a very interesting part. In those times, there wasn’t much of internet, so we did our research and managed to find some short videos (of British India trains) from different places. When we finally created that train, our excitement knew no bounds. Similarly, the climax was iconic, with Tara, Sakeena, Jeete (Utkarsh Sharma) and Darmiyaan (Vivek Shauq) running atop the train at the speed of 40 km/hour and Sunny running with Utkarsh on his shoulder…shooting that scene is the most thrilling moment of my life. But, it wasn’t easy. There are so many on-set stories involved.

What are your favourite scenes that you’d pick if you had to introduce someone to the world of Gadar?

There are so many scenes, I cannot pick one. But I’ll say the scene in the end when Jeete sings “Udja Kale Kawan” with a violin for his mother, I love that scene. Also when Tara comes to Pakistan and sings the song, Jeete picks it from a point, and Sakeena comes running to them. That’s a big moment in the film. I’d also pick the hand-pump scene and then the one of “agar mohar nahi lagi toh kya Tara Singh Pakistan nahi jaayega”. Gadar is all about moments, so picking one or two is impossible. If I have to choose one moment, I’d say just watch Gadar, because in its entirety, it’s a moment in itself.

And then you had Sunny Deol playing the main role. Did you always wanted to cast Sunny as Tara Singh? 

When the script was being written, I knew such a Jat powerful man can only be played by Sunny, and nobody else back then. Maybe 20 years before Gadar came, it could be Dharmendra. I told Sunny I was working on a script and he called me to Ooty to hear the story. He got so involved during the narration, he immediately agreed.

The way he played Tara Singh, was it completely based on the script or there were improvisations to the brief you gave him?

I definitely briefed him. When I narrated the script to him, it had the complete treatment about the kind of character Tara is, the songs he sang, the films he watched, that he is a truck driver who knew how to do impressive talk, his way of speaking, I told him everything he is supposed to do. Sunny then performed it in his own style.

There must be several stories from the set. Tell me one such tale that you still remember.

We had converted the Amritsar railway station to that era with thousands of people in the crowd. The shot was of the train coming from across the border with dead bodies, and I had instructed the crowd to enact pain and cry seeing the bodies. There was a 60-65-year-old Sikh man who continued to cry on the ground even after the shot got over. I told him the shot is over and he can get up, but he won’t stop crying. He said he was six when he faced the same scene of a blood soaked train with his parents in that, as if he could imagine their dead bodies still inside that train. I felt guilty that I triggered his pain once again. It was just like the stories of today’s coronavirus that will sound tragic 25 years down the line.

gadar stillls director anil sharma sunny deol utkarsh Director Anil Sharma’s son Utkarsh played Sunny Deol’s onscreen child in Gadar. (Photo: Express Archives)

Let’s talk about the film’s most iconic hand-pump scene, that’s one of your most favourite too. Take me through its shooting and why it all happened with a ‘hand-pump’?

Don’t call it a hand-pump, it was Tara’s emotion and anger. Before that scene, Tara is accepting of whatever Amrish Puri is saying, yet he wants Tara to do more. I personally felt so furious while shooting it. Lord Hanuman pulled the entire mountain for ‘Sanjeevani Booti’, and inspiration was the same. I thought in that era, there was only a hand-pump which could replace it. So, Tara uproots it and every person sitting in the theatre at that point felt the same intensity. That’s why it became an iconic scene. If I was Thanos, I would’ve demolished an entire building.

The film went on to become a blockbuster saga. Among the numerous records it set, it ranks among the top 3 Indian films with the highest footfall even today. At what point did you start realising that Gadar is on the path of becoming a milestone?

When I was making Gadar, I understood that it’ll become India’s Titanic and it did become one. When the record of tickets was revealed, we got to know its sale was even more than Titanic. Such was its footfall. To this day, it is said that Gadar had the maximum sale of tickets and footfall seen by any movie in India. We’ve had bigger filmmakers in our industry, but this is God’s blessing that my film created such a record. You see the magic is still the same when it airs on television even today.

gadar sunny deol amrish puri scenes Sunny Deol and Amrish Puri’s confrontation scenes were among the highlights of Gadar. (Photo: Express Archives)

Gadar also had one of the biggest box office clashes in India with Lagaan, both releasing on the same day, and both finding its fan base. Did you ever feel at risk because of such a strong competition?

I was relaxed. India has such a huge population that even if six films release together, there will be takers. People just want to get entertained. Both the films worked. Lagaan was also a good film. Gadar became a milestone too. Both had a great box office collection, but Gadar definitely has an edge.

In your mind and in the Gadar universe, what is Tara Singh up to today, after 20 years?

You are asking me that what’ll happen if Gadar part 2 is made. You might soon get to know more about what Tara Singh is up to today.

Are you saying there is Gadar 2 in the pipeline?

You’ll get all your answers. The entire nation wants Tara Singh to come back, that Jeete grows up.

Any last words you’d like to share on Gadar turning 20?

I’d like to pay my tributes to three prominent people attached with Gadar and who are no more with us – Anand Bakshi, Amrish Puri and Vivek Shauq.

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