Updated: June 17, 2020 1:22:31 pm
Special to Express: Arun Pandey
I still remember that child-like smile on Sushant’s face when Mahi, after watching a training clip of the actor playing the helicopter shot on his phone, said in jest: “Arre tu to bilkul photocopy kar diya, Ranji Trophy khel jaoge tum”.
It has been just a few hours since I got a call informing me about his death and the other details. I am right now in a state of shock but still that earnest Sushant smile isn’t leaving my mind. Me, Mahi and Sushant had travelled a lot for the promotion of the movie MS Dhoni, The Untold Story. Before that while the movie was being conceptualised and made, me and Sushant were together for more than a year and half.
That is the reason I knew how much effort had gone into Sushant so impressively replicating Mahi’s mannerisms, both on and off the field. Actually, when the thought came to me of making the movie, and after the long time it took to convince Mahi of the idea, I first wanted to decide who would play the lead in the biopic. I had asked one of the persons working for me to give me a list of actors who could possibly play Dhoni. Among them was Sushant. I had seen him in a movie called Kai Po che in which his character was a cricket coach. It looked like he had played the game. So when I met him, I saw the desire in him to play the role. I spoke to Mahi also, he had also seen Kai Po Che so it was finalised. So even before approaching director Niraj Pandey, I had decided that Sushant would play Dhoni.
Once he was signed up, we both were together every other day. He had so many questions, he wanted to know everything about Dhoni. How he reacts in a happy situation? What he does when there is panic around? How is he when he is sad? What are his likes and dislikes?
On some days, he would just be with me. At times, he would spend the entire day with Mahi. On some days, he would watch Dhoni from a distance. Like he would sit in the stands and watch his mannerisms when he is leading the side or setting fields. He would sit in the hotel lobby and, without Mahi knowing, would be observing how he interacts with teammates, fans or complete strangers. In his room, Dhoni would be working or doing something, and Sushant would sit there silently, almost invisible. In the next meeting, he would come with clips of him imitating Mahi, while batting or away from the field. He would be very excited to show it to Dhoni.
He would have long sessions with Dhoni too. Again, the questions kept on coming. If he wasn’t satisfied with any answer or if Dhoni was evasive, he would slightly twist the same question and try his luck again. Once I remember, Dhoni rolled his eyes and said: “Arre bhai, kitne questions poochta hai tu!”
I remember Sushant’s reply. He said, “Bhaisaab, everybody is going to search you in me, I will have to do everything the same way as you do”.
I understood that inquisitiveness. He would be desperate to pick everyone’s brains. There seemed to be this niggling doubt in his mind all the time whether he would be able to do justice to Dhoni’s character. He would ask a lot of questions. He used to say “Sir, janta jaanti hai usko bahut acche se”.
And he got every nuance of the batting so perfectly. Every small detail of Dhoni’s batting he captured. Like that shrug of the left shoulder and the way he pulls the left shirt sleeve, he got that right.
— Sarang Bhalerao (@bhaleraosarang) June 14, 2020
The reason he could play the role well was because even before he was part of this movie, he idolised Dhoni. He was a kind of inspiration for him. Sushant wasn’t from the industry, he too came from a small town like Dhoni. He always thought, like Dhoni, he too can do the same. He too can make it big, and he did.
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