Neerja talks about a brave airhostess
who fought with the hijackers, but very few know that she had a failed
marriage. Has that topic also been addressed in the film?
Well that’s something you will get to know when you watch
the film. One thing that Neerja learnt was to stand for herself. Everything
that happened in her life was leading up to the hijack. Every situation she met
with in her life prepared her to be the savior; whether it was her upbringing,
her personality, her marriage, or who she was as a human being. She was so kind
and compassionate. She came from a hard core Punjabi family but because she was
so gentle and kind as a person, she
never ate non-vegetarian food.
Is the movie 100
per cent based on the true events or are there some fictional elements added in
the name of cinematic liberty?
There is not a single thing in this film which is not
true. We have done so much research and there is so much that’s gone into the
film that it will shake you. There are times when we see certain incidents and
think ki aisa toh sirf filmon mein hi
hota hai. But that’s not true. This girl was so extraordinary and there is
nothing in this film that’s not inspired from her, her life, the dreadful
Considering it was
one of the most horrifying hijacks ever happened, how difficult was it for you
to prepare for it?
Oh! I have worked really hard for this one. See one can
never prepare for what happens on the sets. You can only prepare to become the
character you are going to portray. Director Ram Madhvani had an incredible
idea. He made me watch all the films based on hijacks like Captain Phillips,
United 93 and films like that. I kept wondering how you create this realism. We
kept thinking about it and that’s when Ram came up with this incredible idea,
which I initially thought was crazy. We thought of recreating the moments and
not just shoot scenes. If Neerja was in the plane for seventeen hours, we shot
continuously for 17 hours and then encapsulate them in one-and-a-half hour.
There were five-six incidents that happened in the flight, those key moments
which were there in the script and are there in the film. But we decided to
replay the whole thing.
So how exactly did
you and everyone prepare for the film?
We created every moment of it, shot for every minute of
those 17 hours, went through everything that they must have gone through, especially
Neerja. We had a minute-by-minute detail of everything that happened on that
flight. We spoke to every witness possible. That research took around a year. I
by-hearted everything! And every person who was on that plane – the passengers,
the cabin crew and even the terrorists – by-hearted everything! The cabin crew did
not meet the passengers and the passengers didn’t meet the terrorists and the
terrorists didn’t meet the cabin crew. We did our workshops on our own,
individually, without knowing who was preparing how. How could we show the
crease on the shirt, the blood on the face, the crying, the exhaustion, the
hunger, was the big question because that mission had started at 2 pm and had
ended at 4 am the next morning. How do you show those hours without looking
false? That’s why we recreated everything. We actually had to learn the
dialogue of those 16 hours by-heart! It was a 16-hour play, everyday, for 15
days. We would start at 2 in the afternoon and end at 4 in the morning. We
would start afresh every day and by the end of the day, I would have no make-up
left on my face; I had dirt, grim, blood, my clothes were torn, my stockings
were torn. I was bruised, beaten and exhausted and we did that every day. And
because we did our workshops separately, I didn’t know who the terrorists were
and who played the passengers. This film has the largest featured cast and
there is no single extra in the film. Everybody is an actor. So we shot it like
that; we didn’t shoot it like a normal film. We shot it in documentary style.
There were no close-ups or cut or retake. There were five hidden cameras and
everything was real. I got hurt so badly on my face but I couldn’t call for a
‘cut’. My lip was cut and it was bleeding profusely but I had to continue
This film, like
you said, was physically taxing and emotionally draining as well. So what was
the toughest part about playing Neerja Bhanot?
The toughest part was to accept the fact with a bleeding
heart that on the 15th day, after the shoot was over, I could come
back alive but Neerja couldn’t. I got to get off alive of the flight because
it’s a film, but Neerja couldn’t get off alive. Ram had put photographs of all
the people who lost their lives during the dreadful incident. We would pay
homage to them every day and then begin shooting for the film. This film is a tribute
to all of them. Ram told us that this is not a film; we were actually paying
tribute to the ones who lost their lives. He wanted each and every one of us to
be reminded when we get on the flight to shoot.
Would it be right
to say that this has been the toughest role of your career so far?
I don’t know if it would be right to say that because
every role that I do, I try to put in my 100 per cent and I try to do something
different. I try not to repeat myself. But the reason I am so passionate about
this project is because Neerja Bhanot became my hero! I am not even thinking
about whether I would get accolades or laurels for this film and role because
that doesn’t really matter. I discovered my hero through this film, not only
because she saved 359 lives. What impacted me most about her was that she was
an ordinary girl; she wasn’t an athlete or a singer or an actor or she wasn’t a
queen like Rani Laxmibai who was saving the nation or she wasn’t Sarojini
Naidu. She wasn’t any of these. She was an ordinary girl with an extraordinary
spirit that made her save the lives of 359 people.
You think this
year would be the golden year of Sonam Kapoor? Professionally, is this the
golden phase for you?
I don’t know. You know, I took a year and a half before I
decided to do Raanjhanaa because I
wasn’t very happy with the way my life was going. I took one year to think what
I wanted to do with my life. I am not talking about whether I was happy and
content and successful. For me that wasn’t the idea of how my journey should
be. I figured out three things about myself; I am too honest so I can’t play
games and be part of a rat race, I am not interested in being the biggest
superstar of this country, the Queen B and all that nonsense and thirdly, I
needed to be happy and honest when I go to work on the sets every morning
otherwise I end up doing a sh*t job. I cannot confirm to what people think is
the right thing to do. It took me another six months to sign Raanjhanaa and when I did that people
questioned me as to how can I work with Dhanush and Anand L Rai. I told them
that I don’t care because this is going to make me happy and creatively
satisfied as a human being. After Raanjhanaa,
the same people said I should do more dramatic roles and I shocked them again
by signing Khoobsurat because I
wanted to do a slapstick comedy. I am not doing films to be in the golden phase
or to be the number one actress of this country. I feel the only reason we are
around is to evolve as human beings and artistes. I need to stop being in the
race because I don’t have a personality like that. I just want to carve my own
way; I don’t know what’s going to happen but I am really happy.
Like you said,
these characters have been creatively satisfying as an actor, but when you play
a real-life hero like Neerja, does that change you as a person from within?
Every character I do is for me to evolve as a person and
an artiste. I did Raanjhanaa because
I thought it will creatively make me a better actor. I did Khoobsurat because I needed to remind myself of what loving life is
all about. I knew it might not creatively make me a better actor or fetch me
awards. I did Prem Ratan Dhan Payo
because I wanted to work with Sooraj ji
(Barjatya) and Salman and also because I felt a film like that would give legs
to a film like Neerja. Every film I
do will better me as a person. Again, I did Neerja
not to fetch awards; I did the film because I felt that people might not
remember her and the heroic act which needed to be brought to the forefront.
So what you are
trying to say is that you do feel responsible towards society and want to bring
the stories of such unsung heroes to the forefront?
I feel we are living in darker times. I am not saying
people are doing all wrong things; sadly, people are not even doing the right
things. People are sitting on a fence and it’s not just the actors or actresses
or filmmakers or politicians. I feel we Indians are too scared of doing
anything and for me, that’s a wrong thing to do. When you sit on the fence, it’s
even more dangerous because then you don’t do right things, you are actually on
the side of somebody who is doing wrong.
You think there is
too much hate in the society these days especially on social networking sites
where people cross their limits too often and abuse celebrities for being
You know I had told a journalist recently that I am going
to become ridiculously diplomatic and not give my opinion on anything because
there is too much hate in the society, there is too much negativity and too
many people with crap mentality. If you are honest and good and want to do the
right thing, people just pull you down and you cannot survive. It’s the
survival of the fittest and the fittest are not very nice. I felt I need to
just stop saying things, not only about the industry or my co-stars but even on
a political, social or cultural thing too. I do get applauded for being vocal
and honest but that’s only by 20 per cent of the people, the rest 80 per cent
are so harsh and negative. If you see the hateful tweets, reactions and opinions
of people, you feel you have become the target. So I prefer to stay away from
all of that. I swear to god, as soon as I made that decision, Neerja’s script fell in my lap. After
reading the script, I felt ‘Oh My God, I can’t believe I almost lost my way and
I was thinking of becoming a different person.’ But Neerja decided to be strong
enough to do the right thing and she had to lose her life to show that to me. I
stopped thinking that way. I thought and said to myself that I will continue to
be what I am because even if 30 per cent of people love me, it’s fine because
people still love me. Neerja reminded me of a person I started out as and the
person I have always been all my life. Neerja made me stronger, exhilarated and
it made me feel like I have conquered the world.