For filmmaker Abhishek Kapoor, the recent flash floods in Himachal Pradesh brings back memories of a cloud burst and an overflowing lake high up in the Himalayas, millions of gallons of water gushing down and carving out a piece of the mountain, the temple saved by a boulder but homes washed away and hearts broken. That this disaster was virtual doesn’t make nature’s wrath less potent or the loss less poignant. For Abhishek, Kedarnath was not just another film, it was a yatra, which began from the time he started writing the script, continued through the recce and the shoot. It ended up with the awareness that if we are to survive, we have to make environmental conservation our No.1 priority and the change has to come from individuals and not be seen as the responsibility of any government.
“Too much is being consumed and traded, resulting in an alarming imbalance in the world today. We don’t own the planet. A few more flash floods like these and while our planet will remain, the human race will cease to exist,” warns the writer-producer-director, who shot high up in the mountains for over a month, seeing for himself how quickly and suddenly the weather turned there and how fragile the ecosystem was.
The film’s climax, which showcased the humongous natural disaster, was shot in multiple layers with Abhishek bringing all the filmmaking techniques he has learnt into the project. Along with CGI, he also put up a set of a temple, ordered massive tanks, put in turbines so the water would gush out.
“In the past, the Kedarnath yatra was a once-in-a-lifetime experience with people walking for weeks, even months, to reach the temple. When I was going there for recce, it was raining, there had been landslides and many roads had been wiped out. When we finally reached the temple, I was surprised to see queues of devotees waiting outside for darshan. Many were uneducated tribals, the poorest of the poor who had trekked all the way up from small villages, whose aastha (faith) I could feel in the air. I knew then that I had to make this film come what may,” recounts Abhishek.
But it was no easy task taking people and equipment up into the mountains, erecting a set and flooding it, then putting Sushant [Singh Rajput] and Sara [Ali Khan] in the water and under it, making them interact with it in the midst of the madness. “I don’t think I can do it again, and even during the shoot, it was possible only because someone up there was watching out for me,” the filmmaker says earnestly.
The Kedarnath temple is out of reach for four-five months and even during the rest of the year, there are times when the weather turns and it’s almost impossible to access. “Shooting in the terrain can be a logistical nightmare. One night, I was stuck, I had to take my entire crew, along with cranes and heavy equipment, up the mountains and had no idea how to do it. Suddenly, some helicopters belonging to the state government flew in and ferried 150 people up so we could shoot around the temple for five-six days and get the job done,” Abhishek reminisces.
Quiz him on his ‘hero’ and Abhishek who worked with Sushant in two films — Kai Po Che! and Kedarnath — remembers him as a man of science, intelligent and highly educated, who would never buy anything unless convinced. “I feel he discovered Shiv, connected with him spiritually and scientifically while making this film with me. After the shoot, I could see a transformation in him. Come to think of it, the transformation began during the prep itself,” he asserts, pointing out that Sushant’s character, Mansoor, is a pithoo (porter) and had to trek up the mountain, carrying his leading lady on his back. “During the prep, Sushant would run on the treadmill, putting it on an incline, with 40-50 kgs of weight on his back. He was so excited about the film, the energy palpable, which is why he understood the science inherent in our centuries-old Hindu philosophy which came from some great minds.”