Nitesh Tiwari says, Turning Wrestling into Boxing Day!

NITESH TIWARI speaks to SHUBARNA MUKERJI SHU about packing a punch at the box office

He started off literally with Chillar Party, working with kids between the ages of 5 and 12 years. He graduated to sign none other than Amitabh Bachchan himself and now he has been touted to have made the film that concluded 2016 with a bang – Dangal! What makes this Aamir Khan starrer more special for Tiwari, is the fact that he has not only directed but also written the film.

We know it wasn’t easy, but what made Dangal challenging for you?

Twice I faced challenges while making this film. First, was when I decided that I want to write it. You might like a premise for a film but you need to work at making it a nice screenplay, that’s the challenge for the writer! The second challenge was when Aamir agreed to do it.

I would think there would have been a victory dance after Aamir signed on the dotted line!

When a superstar of his calibre decides to associate with a project you are a part of, it doesn’t remain the same. It becomes an altogether different project. The challenge that I was talking about wasn’t so much for me as a writer, because the script had already got an approval from him. But it became challenging for me as a director. I suddenly couldn’t afford to make a single mistake.

I didn’t have to pitch my vision against that of Aamir at all – he is the most understanding actor. He succumbs to your vision as it is; he is not out there trying to do things his own way. Once he has given his stamp of approval, he goes all out to get things done for the film.

But a film is bigger than the actor, right… or did having a star like Aamir Khan alter that?

Of course, the film is bigger than Aamir Khan, it is bigger than any actor put together but it is very easy to get enamoured by a legend, especially for the other actors who are in the frame with him.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to pitch my vision against that of Aamir at all – he is the most understanding actor. He succumbs to your vision as it is; he is not out there trying to do things his own way. Once he has given his stamp of approval, he goes all out to get things done for the film. Just see the level of commitment he has shown in this film! I will be at a loss for words if I have to talk about the extent to which Aamir sir has gone to prepare for this role. It is nothing short of incredible…Always available, always there for us.

Despite that, there must have been some things that went totally beyond sanity! Were there moments when you found yourself wanting to tear your hair apart and yet you came out successful?

That would be the wrestling choreography. It was the biggest moment for me, primarily because it was the biggest challenge. We didn’t have any reference points. Normally a lot of videos etc. come in as references to aid but we didn’t have any. We had to show professional wrestling, we had rounds and rounds of wrestling to choreograph and no reference point. And most importantly, we needed to look convincing. The girls had put in so much hard work; a year and a half of prep and training, they bulked up for the film, they had been learning all the moves… It had to add up to something spectacular. It had to look good and convincing.

It had to look authentic and exciting and engaging at the same time. Getting the graph right for the tournament, getting the bouts right… It was very critical for us!

So how did you nail it?

Experimenting! We did a lot of trial shooting, working and reworking on them. We have done a lot of homework to make sure our wrestling comes out top class. Not only authentic, as I said, but extremely engaging as well. I was extremely relieved when I finally saw the cut and it was okay. Mission has been accomplished…

Wrestling might be a very engaging sport in itself, but it is not necessary that all moviegoers will find the sport enthralling… Did you have to take that into consideration?

You are absolutely right: it is the most difficult part when you are writing the screenplay. You know you are writing something which might be alienating some people, but if people buy into your character, what motivates the character… if people fall in love with the character you create, they would love to be a part of their journey no matter how familiar or unfamiliar it might be.

That is the writer’s job; we invested a lot a time in the script. All the work on the back-stories, the character graphs, has worked in favour of the film. Dangal is not just wrestling, it is a lot more. You have to feel the film along.

What when you are dealing with a novice and a star in the same frame?

The trick is to win the confidence of the novice. We need to see to their comfort. Even celebrated actors panic in front of legendary actors because of the aura that comes along with the legends. So it is best to hold a lot of rehearsals and break the barriers there itself. Mostly people come with a lot of perceptions about the bigger star. Once you start rehearsing with them, doing your dialogues, you realise they are as human as you are… All the barriers are broken and all you are left with are characters of the film – no star and no novice!

When you look back at the making of Dangal, what would be the highlights for you?

…Speaking to Mahavir Singh, Geeta and Babita, the coaches. Though that was the basic structure of the film, I would always remember the kind of research that went into it. We invested so much time in understanding and familiarising ourselves with wrestling. Not just mud-wrestling but the proper international tournaments match-wrestling. The rules are completely different for each of them so we had to familiarise ourselves with both forms of it. We also needed to understand the psyche of the wrestler… If you don’t understand the psyche of the wrestler you will not be able to live that character.

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