Actor-filmmaker Adivi Sesh describes his upcoming movie Major as a “passion project”. The film is based on the life and times of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who sacrificed his life fighting terrorists during the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
In an exclusive chat with indianexpress.com, Adivi opens up about his decade-long fascination with Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan’s life and the immense challenges of making a movie about a real-life war hero.
Edited excerpts from a conversation with Adivi Sesh:
What do you remember about 26/11?
My memory of 26/11 and my introduction to Major Sandeep are intertwined. I grew up in San Francisco and we had only a couple of channels at the time there. The afternoon of November 27 is when the channels showed a photo of Major Sandeep. When I saw his photograph, I was so shocked. He looked like my older cousin. He looked like how I would be in the next 12 or 13 years. That really stuck with me. That initial shock turned into admiration for him. It was the early days of the internet, you had GeoCities web pages. I used to save newspaper clippings and kept saving all the information about him. Three years ago, I realised that he was the hero I admire and I knew so much about him that the world doesn’t know. The world only knows how heroic he was and how he died in his final moments. But, everything I loved about him was the way he lived. 26/11 was not the chapter that defined him. Yes, it was an important chapter. But, he was a captain in 7th Bihar when he fought in Kargil. He served in Hyderabad. He went to the National Defence Academy. He was a training officer in the National Security Guard. I was interested in how beautifully he lived his life. That’s what I wanted to make a movie about.
When you hear Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan’s name, the first thing that comes to mind is his passport size photo. What’s the story behind that photo?
The funny thing is so many people have their own version of that photograph in their mind. When I met Major Sandeep’s parents, I asked them to tell the story behind that picture. I thought it was going to be some crazy story. His parents said, ‘No, it was just a passport photo. He needed a passport photo and he was in a rush. He sat and gave a big smile.’ But, the photographer said that ‘Sir, you should smile like that for a passport photo’. So (in that photo), he was actually trying to stop him from laughing. If you look closely, there is some sort of passion and madness in the eyes. And I am not being filmy when I say this, those eyes were the reason why his story stuck with me for 10 years.
After learning about the Major’s life, how similar do you think you are to his personality?
My face is (similar to his). But, as people, I am not the half the man he was. He was incredibly right-handed. The way he fired a gun and loaded the mag. He was very proficient at it. Here, I am a civilian, who is completely left-handed. At the beginning, I thought that I had the experience with guns from Goodachari and I can do this film. But, I had to re-learn everything because he was right-handed. The way he stood and his posture, the tone and tenor of his voice.
What kind of research has gone into making this movie?
When we were trying to find out about the person he was, I got most of the information from my incredibly long conversations with uncle and aunty (Major Sandeep’s parents). His cousin sister Snadhya too. I obviously met with his army superiors and met with his colleagues at 7th Bihar and NSG. We frequented his school, Frank Anthony Public School, in Bangalore. We even walked around the Taj (Hotel) to understand the geography of his final moments.
What is the kind of pressure that comes with playing a real-life character?
It is incredible. You sort of have a three-fold pressure. The audience’s expectations of watching a military film about a war hero. And his actual army colleagues who want everything to be accurate. And you have his parents. You have three sets of audiences to satisfy properly.