We are neck deep in the middle of post-production, and on the way to getting copy, said Adivi Sesh, when PROVOKE caught up with him to get a sneak peek into ‘Major’, the film based on the story of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, the martyr here of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Be it his choice of scripts, some of which he writes on his own, or the conviction and work that he puts in to his character, Adivi Sesh has been consistently impressing his audience. His films ‘Evaru’, ‘Kshanam’, ‘Hit’ and ‘Goodachari’ have sealed his place as a dependable star and his successful track record has only raised the expectations of the film goers. As fans await the sequels ‘Hit2’ and ‘Goodachari2’, they will first get to see him reprising the role of Major Sandeep in this biopic, written by Adivi Sesh – which he calls a tribute to his childhood hero. “On 26/11 like every other Indian I was glued to the television screen in San Francisco. I was watching with tears in my eyes and abject horror about what was happening to my home. It really shattered me. In the middle of it all I looked at this photograph that came up on the screen, of Major Sandeep. He felt familiar, like he could have been my elder brother or cousin. They are so many family members who looked like him. It stuck with me and I kept going back to the picture, his story and eventually it became my passion to understand his life,” explains Sesh on how it all began so long ago.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:
When did you realise that you had to make Major’s story into a film, and that it made for a compelling screenplay?
I think I often wondered about his final words – ‘Don’t come up I will handle’. Those final words got me interested in finding more about his life. I wondered if these words were said on the spur of the moment or they had more meaning. I realised that it was the way he looked at life. He was always concerned about the well-being of people around him, ahead of himself. There are countless instances of how he would place others before him. In the officers’ mess he would sit with the ORs to eat. When I heard that I was reminded of Bahubali scene where Prabhas has lunch with security guards. 26/11 is the last chapter of his life. He was born in Kerala, grew up in Bangalore, was briefly in Hyderabad cantonment, was in Maneswar, Haryana as a training officer, fought in Kargil and was a shahid in Mumbai. It is an all-India story that has to be told. Then the goal was not if this was the right subject for the film, but how to do justice to such a great man. There is a line in the film – This is the story of how he lived and not how he died.

How was the research process? Were Major’s parents open to talk about their tragedy?
Our greatest source was people he directly interacted with – his colleagues, his students when he was a training officer, family members, superiors, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins and all those who often were recipients of whatever he was conveying. Firsthand accounts became fundamental base to know him as a person, especially from his parents. It took a lot of trust building and meeting for uncle to believe we were genuinely interested, and will not just make them open their hearts and leave. They weren’t looking for sympathy. They wanted somebody to understand the joy he lived his life with. Once they saw the gravitas we carried for the film, they slowly started to believe us.

How has your personal journey been playing Major?
When I was playing the character and even as a writer, I had questions on how he would react during a situation. I consulted his colleagues, most importantly his parents, and often I was quite surprised by how magnanimous he would come across. And while playing his character, I distinctly noticed and people around me also told me about how I changed and I became more generous. I would like to credit that to perhaps internalising Major Sandeep’s spirit rather than anything I would have done. It has changed me.

There was a moment on the sets when I was standing in front of the Gateway of India facing the huge facade of Taj that we built and huge street with around 1000 people on it and wondered about the madness we created in a hope to pay tribute to my childhood hero. I was extremely tired and it was 42 degrees outside. I was carrying this original, heavy gun for authenticity and wearing this black bullet proof caviar attracting all the heat and thought I was exhausted. Then I remembered we are doing all this for a man who had it so much tougher. And that though gave me the inspiration to move forward and we started shooting faster and harder.

I am not as great as he is, but I found my bit of courage from his story.

What went into training you as Major?
I can’t say it enough how extremely difficult it is for an actor, who is left-handed and has been doing action films to play this Right-handed officer of the National Security Guards. I was so presumptuous to think that I would be able to handle action a little better perhaps. Major Sandeep belonged to the most elite of the NSG units, and he was the training officer. He was popular for completing the Ghatak course in record time and had all sorts of records in NSG. For me to handle a weapon, move and stand like him was immense. Right from the way I put my foot forward, or hold my tea cup, the goal was to make it look so easy that people wonder if it’s acting. We had army boot camps, and I also learnt from his videos where he talking and moving and his body language I learnt from his colleagues.

Pandemic is extremely unfortunate. But I have to admit it gave me an opportunity for being a much better actor in Major. The film involved extreme physical changes. For a person who is 6.2 and 88 Kgs to go down to 75, then 78, 81 and then come back to 76 kg – to do that in a regular scenario and all of it in six months would have been insane. Instead, it got stretched out over two waves, and I got to do it with finesse, and in the way it needs to be done, and in a healthy way.

When did you think it had to be an all-India film?
He was an officer who travelled the length and breadth of India to serve people. I wanted everyone from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to watch his story. The movie is coming in Malayalam out of respect for his mother tongue, in Hindi for the national audience and in Telugu because I am a Telugu actor.

Your film ‘Goodachari’ reminded many of superstar Krishna’s spy films. Did you ever watch his?
Yes. I did watch his films like ‘Goodachari 116’as a kid. There is a fun fact I need to share. After my film released, I happened to watch Goodachari 116’ again, which is when I realized that there is an interaction that happens between Krishna garu and Jayalalitha garu on a flight, and may be subconsciously it was there in my head. To my surprise, I had written exactly similar conversation that happens between me and Sobhita when we meet in the film. (laughs)

Do you prefer to write thrillers/ action films?
Kshanam and Evaru are close to being thrillers, but Goodachari is a Bond and Mission Impossible kind of movie. Kshanam it is love for a friend from medical college, Goodachari is about love for father, and Major is about the love for the country. I feel that when I write it is love that is the primary driving emotion.