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Ram-Leela, Krrish 3 action director talks about his struggle and rise in Bollywood

Sham Kaushal, one of the most sought-after action directors in Bollywood, talks about his struggle, and painting cinema with action

Updated: January 24, 2014 5:10:58 pm
Sham Kaushal (right) with Sanjay Leela Bhansali on the sets of Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela; a still from Gunday Sham Kaushal (right) with Sanjay Leela Bhansali on the sets of Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela.

By Ranjib Mazumdar 

In his welcoming smile, it’s difficult to find the current reigning action director of Hindi cinema. Sitting in his 26th floor apartment, Sham Kaushal asserts that he doesn’t choose his director, they choose him. “I think the directors will be able to answer this question. I think they choose me because there’s a certain comfort level. As a part of the industry, I blindly believe that cinema is the director’s medium, and they know better than me. So I follow their ideas, and add my input,” he says.

He reads every script from the first page to the last to figure out its merit. Once he gives his nod, he spends days and nights figuring out how the characters would react in certain situations under threat. He has a small, dedicated team working for him, dissecting each and every move.

In his career, he has choreographed action sequences in more than 200 movies, which include Hollywood projects such as Slumdog Millionaire. His credit list in Hindi films includes Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Barfi, Gangs of Wasseypur, Ishaqzaade, Kahaani, Rockstar, Krrish, Don, Kaminey, Dhoom 3, Krrish 3 and Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela, among others. His calendar in 2014 looks bright too, with titles such as It’s Entertainment, Gunday, Phantom, Kill Dill and P.K.

But this success has a great story of struggle behind it. Born to a shopkeeper father in Mirzapur, a small village in Punjab, he dreamt of getting out of this existence to enter a life that’s lit up by education. He completed his Masters in English literature from Government College, Hoshiarpur. The dream of becoming a lecturer was very close but due to his financial constraints he wasn’t able to get the additional M.Phil degree, which was required to become a legit lecturer. But Kaushal was sure that he didn’t want to join his father’s profession so with a friend’s help and a loan of Rs 3,000, he came to Mumbai.

In 1978, he put his first step on the platform at Dadar station, and he knew this was his giant leap of faith. Residing in a chawl in Mulund with a job in Chembur, he mostly survived on three pav (bread) and one batata vada. But this wasn’t the life he dreamt of. So he quit his job. “I didn’t want a job that makes me a slave of the 9-5 routine. So I quit. But then I hit rock bottom. I didn’t have money to survive. I was staying in Santacruz then and I was struggling to put food in my tummy,” he reminisces. His newly formed friends who happened to be working in the stunt department in films asked him to join them as and when required. “I was healthy and fit and I liked it. However, convincing Veeru Devgan for a signature to get my membership was very difficult because he thought that being a post-graduate was wasting time in this profession,” he adds. The honesty of the vocation took him in and consequently he got his first break as an action director in Indrajalam, a Malayalam movie starring Mohanlal, which was followed by his debut in Hindi films with Nana Patekar’s Prahaar. His realism in action sequences won him accolades, and there was no looking back.

“I prefer movies which have some sense of level-headedness,” he says. “I don’t think I know enough and I am open to learning every day. For example, while doing Krrish, the Hong Kong action choreographer Siu-Tung Ching showed us the wire work, which we were not exposed to because we don’t have such facilities in India. That was a great learning experience,” he adds. “I don’t watch Hollywood films and if someone tells me about them, I go blank. We are blessed with brains, so why not use it to decipher how human bodies would act and react in action sequences,” he says.

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