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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Classmates, Collaborators

As Eeb Allay Ooo! readies for its Berlinale premiere, actors Shardul Bhardwaj and Naina Sareen talk about their involvement with this sociopolitical satire

Written by Alaka Sahani | Published: February 21, 2020 12:19:02 am
Eeb Allay Ooo!, Shardul Bhardwaj, movie release, Naina Sareen, entertainment news, movie on animals, indian express Shardul Bhardwaj in a still from Eeb Allay Ooo!

Ahead of the movie Eeb Allay Ooo!’s shoot, its director Prateek Vats gifted Shardul Bhardwaj — who was to play the role of a reluctant ‘monkey repeller’ in Central Delhi — a birdwatching book. The idea behind this gift was to familiarise Bhardwaj with the mind space of someone who watches birds. During the days that followed, the actor accompanied real-life monkey repeller Mahinder Nath as the latter went from one area of Delhi to another, chasing the primates and using his vocal cords to create sounds — “eeb”, “allay” and “ooo” — to drive them away.

For Bhardwaj, preparation for the role of Anjani, a contract labourer who frowns upon his job of chasing monkeys and is also scared of them, started immediately after Shubham — the movie’s screenwriter and acting coach — narrated the script to him. “I had to reach Delhi a month prior to the shoot for the movie’s pre-production. I wanted to put in all that I had learnt about character-building at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, where I studied acting, but Prateek and Shubham told me to take it one day at a time,” recalls Bhardwaj, who graduated from FTII in 2017. He received the Best Actor (male) award for the role at MAMI Mumbai Film Festival last year. He also worked on the film’s costumes and subtitles.

What also helped Bhardwaj understand the character of Anjani were his costumes — that he roamed around and slept in. “Since I grew up in Delhi, I knew the city and its streets. However, people’s gaze towards me changed when I was in Anjani’s attire, making me aware of the class distinction,” recounted the actor while speaking to the audience at the Dharmashala International Film Festival (DIFF), where it was the opening film.

Eeb Allay Ooo!, Shardul Bhardwaj, movie release, Naina Sareen, entertainment news, movie on animals, indian express Naina Sareen

Later, seated in the courtyard of Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA), Dharmashala, Bhardwaj shared details of his process. “When people see you in certain kind of clothes, they perceive you in a certain way and they place you in a certain class. Initially, it was shocking. Gradually, it began helping me build the character,” said the actor who graduated in English from Kirori Mal College, Delhi, in 2015. Naina Sareen, his acting course batchmate at FTII and co-actor in Eeb Allay Ooo!, joined the conversation to talk about their involvement in this sociopolitical satire, which is being shown at the Berlin International Film Festival in the Panorama section. The film will also be screened at Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah in March and Indian Film Festival in Los Angeles in April.

When Sareen joined the team, they had already shot for nearly 20 days. “Prateek and Shubham always had the idea that Anjani would have a love interest, if not a romantic relationship. However, they had not developed the character till then. Initially, they asked me to assist the team but I ended up acting in the film,” says Sareen. She plays the role of Anjani’s neighbour and a nurse who tries to comprehend his problems and also scoffs at his conceited attitude. Being friends, their familiarity with each other helped them improvise certain scenes — Sareen cites a scene where she is looking for a hair-clip in the dark with the torch on her phone while talking to Anjani about his travails with the monkeys; also one where they are sharing a set of headphones while travelling in a metro.

The team of Eeb Allay Ooo! mainly comprises FTII alumni, barring a few. “It helps being part of the FTII community. Shardul is a friend while the film’s producer Shwetaabh Singh, is my acting course senior. Initially, it was Shwetaabh who had asked me to assist Prateek,” says Sareen, who features in the 2019 releases Hotel Mumbai and Warrior Queen of Jhansi.

Bhardwaj, who is currently working on a movie titled Tehrvi, echoes similar sentiments about the FTII community. He says, “All of us in this team are a product of a public institution with subsidised education and a certain kind of free thinking. Instead of meddling with institutions such as FTII, Jawaharlal Nehru University or Jamia Millia Islamia, the government should create more such spaces.”

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