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|Her committment touched me. I opened my heart to her on the many things I had to contend with. My bouts of depression after my son's death. My wife's fragile health.
How one night I found Vinita in my son's room playing the sitar, as she could not sleep.
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s I got to know Shimit and Jaideep, I was impressed by the simplicity and earnestness of these two young men. Once I saw all the painstaking efforts of the film unit and the amount of work that had already been carried out, I was convinced that this film was not going to be a run-of-the-mill Bollywood flick.
I had still not made up my mind whether to take up the project. The failing health of my wife was a source of worry to me, and besides, many well wishers dissuaded me from entering the world of movies. Swaratmika would call me up at regular intervals and ask what I had decided. I would keep putting her off, telling her that I would confirm in the following week. Time passed by until one day when Swaratmika called me to her office and confronted me. She had waited for more than five months for me to say yes. She issued an ultimatum. I was either going to help her with the film, or she would have to look for someone else. She added that this project was a challenge for her, and she did not want to fail.
Her committment touched me. I opened my heart to her on the many things I had to contend with. My bouts of depression after my son's death. My wife's fragile health. How one night I found Vinita in my son's room playing the sitar, as she could not sleep. If I was to ever take up this project, I would have to make sure that my wife accompanied me wherever we would be shooting. The thought of working for one of the biggest banners of the country was exhilarating. I decided to go for it, and agreed for a meeting with Aditya Chopra.
Shooting a sports movie threw up special challenges of casting. It was decided to cast eight hockey players and eight actors. The hockey players would be taught acting, and the actors would be taught to play. I was asked to provide a blueprint for the entire training schedule for the girls for the movie. Unlike other games, hockey is played with an unnatural style of running - with one's back bent forward. We had to begin from the very basics - scoring, connecting and diving authentically - in order to be prepared for the final shoot. I chalked out a schedule for the girls for the next six months, and my list of requirements included a gym instructor, a doctor, a swimming coach and a masseuse.
For my presentation, I decided to keep the matter simple. My trusted deputy Amin Shaikh and I drove up to the sprawling Yash Raj Films Studios. We were ushered in to a beautiful corporate office. Shimit and his team were waiting for us. For four hours, the entire team bombarded me with questions, ranging from what the costume of the players was going to be, to the referees and coaches, to the size of the field, and the the rules of the game. The tough-looking, jeans-clad Richa was quietly noting down everything we said at the meeting.
Then Aditya Chopra entered the conference room, and I must say he carried a special aura. He had a softly authoritative way of putting across his point. He spoke straight from the heart, and with a lot of passion. Many times during his speech, I was moved to tears. "We have never made a film before where the script writer has taken eight to ten months to research and write the script. We have never done a film in which more than an year has passed, and we have still to begin shooting. We have invested so much of money and are still unsure whether we will be able to do good business. We know only one thing - hockey is our national game, and we feel it is our moral responsibility to do something for the cause. And yes, I liked the script."
Then he said something which stunned me, "The success of this film depends mainly on two persons - our director Shimit, who will take care of the acting part, and equally important, coach Negi. We could have easily used doubles and finished the project just like that. But we are going to make something different, something extremely realistic." Whether the film did good business or not, and whether the film became a hit or not, was secondary. He stressed repeatedly that full justice to the cause must be done from our side.
They wanted my reaction. I was really overwhelmed, and spoke slowly. I said, "For me, this project is in the service of hockey, my lifelong passion, which has given me both great happiness and a great amount of pain. Be assured that I will do justice to the responsibility and faith that you have shown in me."
I told Adi, as he is popularly known, about my wife and requested that I needed to take her wherever I travelled. I added that I would pay for her expenses if the need arose. Adi replied that as a matter of principle, they did not allow anybody's relatives to be present on the sets, but he knew what my problem was and said that Vinita could travel with me, and that all the expenses would be taken care of.
At 11:30 that night, Shimit sent me an SMS: "See you tomorrow morn. The adventure begins."
Negi with a couple of Chak de girls, Photo courtesy Yash Raj Films