BellBottom was one of the first films to be released in theatres after the second lockdown. How was the experience watching it in a movie hall?
I watched the First Day First Show at a multiplex in Villivakkam, Chennai, along with my family on Monday. There were around 150 people at the movie hall and they were all wearing masks and seated apart, maintaining social distancing. The COVID-19 safety protocol was strictly in place. After the release, I received congratulatory calls from people from different parts of the world, appreciating the film and my work in it. I think the actors were aptly cast and they gave it their best. The film is set in the ’70s and ’80s and the art director did a fantastic job of recreating the era. I am glad the audience liked the film.
The film was shot entirely during the pandemic…
Yes, the shoot began and was completed during the first lockdown. It was a unique experience shooting amid COVID-19 safety protocol. The makers had chalked out a thorough plan, right from the pickup at the airport while heading to Glasgow to our return journey. During our stay there, we had to confine ourselves to our bio-bubbles, maintain social distancing and wear masks. We had to wear a wrist watch that constantly monitored our heartbeat, oxygen level, blood pressure, stress levels and body temperature. No guests were allowed to meet us. We had an on-set doctor as well.
You had told us earlier that Akshay Kumar was a delight to work with…
Akshay is a highly disciplined actor. He would arrive on the set early in the morning. Though this is the first time that I am working with him, we had a lot in common to discuss. I had worked as a waiter at a restaurant in Chennai before I found my feet in the film industry and Akshay, too, has a similar story. And just like Akshay, I, too, was a gymnast in my younger days. When I told him that my kids were swimming champions, he was quite thrilled. Despite being a superstar, he went out of his way to make me comfortable during the shoot. He is a livewire on the set and being a prankster, he pulled some of his tricks on me as well. Lara Dutta, who played Indira Gandhi in the film, was a revelation, too.
How did you prepare for your role?
I play former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, who was then the Minister of External Affairs. The moment I was offered the role, I scoured the internet for information related to the hijacking incidents portrayed in the film and the political climate in the country at that time. Since I was given the script well in advance, I had ample time to prepare for the role. My wife helped me brush up my Hindi. I was not asked to speak in any accent, so I just had to be myself. Another interesting aspect is that we used sync sound, so I didn’t have to dub separately. The last time I had done this was for a tele-serial for K Balachander sir. The only thing that I wasn’t very kicked about was that I had to constantly wear a safari suit for my role. I am not a huge fan of safari suits and had even refused to wear one for my wedding reception!
You were earlier seen in the action-adventure film Junglee and now in BellBottom? Are you feeling at home in Bollywood?
BellBottom is an important film in my 29-year career. I stayed with the team for 60 days at a stretch, and I didn’t feel out of place even for a moment. Cinematographer Rajeev Ravi and I were probably the only south Indians on the set. I also got to spend some quality time with Adil Hussain and Dolly Ahluwalia. I shared a good rapport with the film’s director Ranjit, too. One day, when I casually asked him why he wasn’t giving me any feedback on my scenes, he said that he was getting exactly what he wanted from me. I told him that I am a director’s actor and that I was looking for suggestions, but he said that I was more experienced than him and he trusted me. I’m glad things are working out well for me in the Hindi film industry.
What are your other projects?
I am working on Kannan’s Kasethan Kadavulada. I play the character portrayed by Venniradai Moorthy in the original and Urvashi plays my wife (played by Manorama in the original). Before Urvashi and I began shooting, we had decided that we would not do an exact copy of the original as the films are set decades apart. I am also part of the Telugu film Radhe Shyam, Malayalam films Puzha Mudhal Puzha Vare and Within Seconds, and another Hindi project.