Struggles and Triumphs of Filming Saala Khadoos
When the voice on the other side of the phone has an energetic tone, you are bound to make a strong image of the person in your head. In the world of showbiz, when even R. Madhavan thought that a female director would only come up with a relationship based or women’s liberation script instead of one on boxing, she is definitely breaking stereotypes. Filmmaker Sudha Prasad Kongara who has earlier assisted Mani Ratnam for some years and directed two films – Andhra Andagadu (Telugu) and Drohi (Tamil), speaks to Pandolin about her recently released Hindi-Tamil bilingual sports drama Saala Khadoos.
What inspired you to write the film?
Ten years ago, I thought of story about an athlete. After my last film, I revisited that script. I had read a news article on how young girls in Chennai were learning boxing. I started researching on it, as boxing is not a traditional women’s sport. So when I found that a conservative place such as Tamil Nadu is sending their girls to fight, I started digging up more, and I came across numerous stories. I met many female and male boxers and coaches. Each of these meetings made me realise that it is an area that would be exciting to discover.
Saala Khadoos’ six-year-long journey where around three years were spent on pre-production and shooting must have demanded a lot. What made it take so much time?
After writing the first half, I started my research again and kept developing the script whenever I found something different. Maddy (R Madhavn) had hurt his knee and it took him one-and-a-half year to get back into shape. Also, there were several producers who came on board and then left. We then decided to drop the idea of making it as a bilingual film and only film it only in Tamil. It wasn’t until the end of 2013 when we managed to find our producers. We started with the pre-production and got technicians on board. The entire process and reading took at least a year and in August 2014, we began shooting
What are the challenges that lie in a bilingual film? What kind of approach do you follow to make a film simultaneously in two languages?
For me, the shoot wasn’t as difficult as the post-production. Since Hindi and Tamil film industries involve two different sets of audiences who follow different cultures, the rhythm of the movie varies. While shooting, there was a constant switch, one shot used to be in Hindi and the next one was in Tamil. Actors such as Ritika Singh, Mumtaz Sorcar and Baljinder Kaur didn’t know a word of Tamil and Kaali Venkat didn’t know Hindi. Madhavan was the only one who knew both the languages. We took a whole apartment where we were reading for a week. In the middle of the night people used to be cramming their lines the way students prepare for their exams. Kali and Baljinder, who are playing the role of the parents, used to teach each other the languages they were fluent in. It was wonderful.
It is difficult to shoot a film in two different languages simultaneously. But I think it would have been more difficult to finish one and immediately shoot the same in the other language. The process we followed was much easier, as we were in the mood of that particular scene. I remember we finished Yuva where I assisted Mani Ratnam and then started shooting the Tamil version. It was difficult because when you have finished shooting a whole film, it somehow gets out of your system. And then you again have to go into the same mood and thought process for the same film but in a different language.
Where all has the film been shot?
We have shot it all over India because the story moves throughout the country. It starts in Delhi, Hissar and then comes down to Chennai, Ooty, Sikkim and then goes back again to Hissar and Delhi.
You mentioned somewhere that you struggled to get this film made. What kind of struggles came your way?
The struggle was right from the beginning as you don’t have any resources or writers to pay. Through the journey of the film, I discovered writer Sunanda who is a well-known theatre personality in Chennai. She directs her own plays and is into English theatre. Working with her was an amazing experience. When I approached Maddy with the script, he agreed to do it in 48 hours. When your actors are on board the next thing you want is the producer. But then when every producer who comes on board backs out for some or the other reason, it gets difficult for you. After this getting a good release and visibility is also a big thing. I think this film’s journey has been tough but it has also been blessed. It has been an exhilarating experience.
Despite of all the challenges, what kept you going?
I don’t like giving up. I just have to finish whatever I take up. I don’t care about the end results.
It is also said that Saala Khadoos is loosely based on life of boxing icon Muhammad Ali. Is it?
Not at all. I was just looking at lives of various boxers and coaches here. Several incidents that have been happening in amateur women’s boxing have become scenes of this film. There are true stories involved in it but it is not based on any one person’s life.
Since Madhavan has always been your first choice for the coach’s role. Did you also write the coach’s role keeping Madhavan in mind?
I just wrote it. And when I was going through it I could only imagine Madhavan playing it. I find Madhavan a lot like the character in the film. I have known the short-tempered and arrogant side of him. You must have seen bits of arrogance in Rehna Hai Tere Dil Main and Tamil film Run. I think he has done a marvellous job by just living the character.
You have done an extensive research on boxers from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Will the film have a universal appeal and every boxer will relate to it?
Absolutely. Because I don’t think it is a boxing film at all. It is about each one of us who has a dream and who wants to achieve that dream – a dream as simple as owning a piece of jewellery.
Coming to the film’s script, is it the underdog formula that always work with such subjects?
Thank god for that. I think 99% of Indian population is made of underdogs. It is just 1% that are successful. I love underdog stories. I’m an underdog.
From growing the beard twice, gaining and losing weight, wearing braces inside his teeth during production and dubbing to finding producers for the film. How would you describe Madhavan’s contribution?
I think he just lived the part of the coach and worked really hard. He went to America for one and a half year to learn the sport. His contribution was phenomenon and tremendous. His contribution steams from the faith in the product. He was backing the project throughout. He never let go or lost faith, which is a hallmark of a great person. He was constantly trying to get the producers whenever somebody would back out.
How did RajKumar Hirani get involved in the film? Was he involved in the creative process?
It was completely because of Maddy. We almost lost our last producer. Since we had a Tamil producer on board we thought that we’ll just do it in Tamil. He was just waiting for us to get one Hindi producer. One midnight Maddy just went to Raju ji and wanted him to listen to the story to know if it is only him who is loving the story or there is something in it. When he narrated the script to Raju Ji, he had tears in his eyes and Raju ji hugged him. He said it is the best script he had heard in the last ten years.
There on we had Tamil script in place but we didn’t have dialogues for Hindi script. So Raju ji jumped in and helped me with the dialogues. His contribution was extremely crucial. After I wrote I went to shoot Sala Khadoos and he went to shoot PK. He also sat on the edit with my editor.
And is there any message that you would like to give to the upcoming female directors?
Stop looking yourselves as women. Stop expecting any confessions. Just go out there and work. Whoever chooses films, they choose it for passion because it is not an easy choice to make. Unlike medicine or engineering which are more of educational qualification, filmmaking is your passion. When you are going out to follow your passion, it is never going to be easy. Just grab it with both hands and don’t ever give up.