Race against time
Team 7 Hours To Go – director Saurabh Varma along with lead star cast Shiv Pandit, Sandeepa Dhar, Varun Badola and Natasha Stankovic – in conversation with Team Box Office India reveals their shooting experience.
Box Office India (BOI): Saurabh, can you introduce your star cast to us?
Saurabh Varma (SV): It’s an investigative thriller. The entire film has a premise that starts and ends in just seven hours, which is why it has been titled 7 Hours To Go. About casting… Natasha Stankovic, who you saw in ‘Bigg Boss’, is a very good singer and dancer but she doesn’t use these talents in this film. Then we have Shiv Pandit, who is the main protagonist of the film.
He plays a character who comes to the city for the first time. Something controversial happens and he ends up taking seven hostages and gives the police seven hours to find out what has happened.
Shiv is known for ‘FIR’ (television show) and Shaitan, and it was Shaitan that brought him to mind to play the protagonist in my film. Then we have Sandeepa Dhar, who plays the cop in the film, and she does plenty of action and lots of stunts in the film. Her character is the opposite of who she played in her previous films, especially in her debut film Isi Life Mein.
Varun Badola was on my mind since I started writing the script because he was the only actor who could pull off the character. He plays a cop in this film too, like he did in Mickey Virus, but this time it’s very different.
BOI: What was it about the story that made all of you say ‘yes’ to the film?
Natasha Stankovic (NS): It was an exciting journey.
Shiv Pandit (SP): Working with people whose thoughts are clear and who know what they want makes everything much easier. Acting is a very creative process and everyone has suggestions but the director should have a clear vision.
When I met Saurabh, the script was titled ‘Angry Arjun’. Since we shared a certain comfort level, I took the script home and then pointed out areas that I felt needed some more work. When I returned the script, it was all messed up with remarks. The very next day, he told me, ‘Tune toh mere script ki band hi baja di.’ But he did change the things he thought he needed to change.
Filmmaking takes team work and he totally believes that. He is the kind of person who wants people to be honest with him. So it was a great experience as that kind of honesty is very rare to find. I have done only a few films but he still listens to my point of view.
Sandeepa Dhar (SD): I have always played a sweet, innocent girl in all the films I have done, whether Heropanti, Dabangg or Isi Life Mein.
I have always played the damsel in distress. So it was quite shocking to be offered a film like 7 Hours To Go, especially since we get stereotyped very easily in this industry. I was required to learn mixed martial arts (MMA) for the film; I was required to do massive action and even my body language was totally different. So it was great for me to bag this role, all thanks to Saurabh who saw that potential in me.
NS: The most exciting part was that we shot this film on a tight schedule of just 40 days. And during the shoot, we bonded really well.
SV: I am glad that Varun decided to do my film because he doesn’t accept every script that comes along. He is very discerning and he adds value to it.
Varun Badola (VB): There was no way I would have said ‘no’ to this film because I have been attached to it since the beginning. Yes, I usually don’t say ‘yes’ to a film very easily. Acting is a very tough task and I don’t choose every film that is offered to me. Ghar chalane ke liye kaam karna hi padta hai.
SV: How is your character different from the one you played in Mickey Virus?
VB: Even though I am a cop in both films, the circumstances are different, the backdrop is different, the story is different and hence the character is also very different. I speak in a Marathi dialect in this film, for which we shot in Pune.
BOI: What was it like working with Saurabh once again?
VB: Over time, we developed a bond and there are times on the sets when I didn’t have to refer to the script. I keep hearing actors saying, ‘I am a director’s actor’ and I don’t understand what this means. If you do only what your director tells you to and don’t bring anything to the table, what kind of an actor are you? Sure, a director has a vision but it’s your job to take your character to another level.
SV: What he’s actually saying is that when he is asked to prepare for a role, he doesn’t.
BOI: So you are not comfortable with auditions?
VB: No, I go for every audition that I am called for and I flunk all of them because people in India don’t know how to take an audition. You can’t just send an actor a script and say, ‘Sir, just act this out.’ Most production houses and casting agencies don’t even give you a complete brief.
Apart from being given the relevant situation, one should also be given some background for the character. When you have that, what you do on screen is completely different from what the director has in mind for that character.
That’s why I rarely pass a screen test and, luckily, I didn’t have to take one for this film. When this happens, you get a free hand and you start working on your character from that day onwards. There are some actors who are spontaneous while there are others who have to rehearse. But, mind you, spontaneity, doesn’t mean that anything would go. They have done their homework and studied
Creativity isn’t something you create spontaneously; it’s what you create after your mind stops working. You have to push yourself to a limit and, after that, you start branching out with your character. That’s what brings in that extra glimmer to the character. As an actor, if you don’t contribute that to the character, then why act at all? The fun lies in exploring.
BOI: When you started your career with television, not many television actors made the transition to the big screen. But that has changed.
For example, Sharad Kelkar is doing South films and is one of the few actors from TV who has grown so much. Now that both industries are in sync, how are things different for TV actors?
VD: Sharad is a great example and has made pretty steady progress in the last few years, which is fantastic. About myself, all I can say is that I don’t know how to approach people, or where to go for work. This one actually fell into my lap.
Earlier, television actors were familiar faces but a TV actor has already gone through the rigors of life. If you are a performer, you will survive, whether it’s television or films. But, for me, when I work in films, I don’t feel like I am working at all as you shoot a four to five minute scene a day.
At times, we have to improvise because we haven’t received the script… that is the state of affairs. Television has a lot of talent and most of it goes untapped. After a point, most of them feel that it is no use to live with insecurity as you get a lot of work in television, which doesn’t happen with films.
SP: I agree with Varun but from the trade perspective, I would like to say that the budget for this film was quite controlled, keeping in mind the business attached to the actor associated with this film, the director, the production house.
Having said that, this film required 60- 65 days of shooting, given the amount of action, stunts and parallel track it needed. But we shot this film in 40 days. In fact, my sequence – the entire shoot of this film was done in Pune – was of 30 days but we completed it in 17 days.
Varun was saying, one cans four to five minutes of a shoot; but we were canning at least 14 to 15 minutes of the shoot a day because of the amount of stunts. We had time constraints because there was no money. If we had not been able to work within that limited budget, the producer would have refused to make the film.
SV: Because ticket prices don’t change.
SP: Yes, absolutely. And the great thing about Saurabh is that he tells you that there is `100 to finish the work but let’s try to finish it within `80 so that we can spend the rest on marketing. People were shocked that we were able to create the product, we did, on such a limited budget. So it is a great win for us on that front.
SV: Filmmaking is like any other business; the only difference is that there is no loyalty in filmmaking. The cameraman is not going to stick around after 40 days as he will have some other work. In an organisation like yours, you work together for a long time even if you don’t get along.
Here, we work together for only 40 days, of which we might spend 20 days fighting. But, here, Natasha also clapped for the scene, so one not only worked on screen but also behind the scenes. Similarly, for Sandeepa, I asked her to train in MMA… and tell them what you did.
SD: I was playing a cop and there was a lot of action. I had watched people doing action in Hindi films and we tend to look very feminine during action sequences, and I had problem with that. Female actors who do action in the West don’t look like that because they get trained. That’s why I decided to be trained in Mixed Martial Arts, which turned out to be quite difficult because I had not done anything relating to action in my life.
I am a dancer, so I am quite agile but MMA was a different ball game. I trained for around four to five months before the film started and I kept training throughout. Luckily, we shot the action scene at the end of the film so I got a chance to get better and also I had a lot of support from the action director Javed-Ejaz.
It was quite a journey. In the beginning, it was physically demanding and tough. I got hurt a lot because your body takes a while to get used to action. And a lot of my action was with male fighters, who are used to it, so their hands were like steel. There was a lot of hand-to-hand combat, so my hands would get swollen.
SV: Even Natasha had some rigorous action scenes, where she had to wear a harness. I didn’t realise how difficult or how gruesome it was till I saw bruises. But she didn’t complain. It was only later that I realised that she was hurt and extremely unwell.
So when you start on a positive note, that translates into your work and it shows on the silver screen. I get credit as the director but it is team work. It is not possible to make a good film without everyone’s contribution, from spot boys to the lead actors.