Interview By: AAKANSHA SHAKHEWAR

We get in a chat with Stunning Marathi movie Actress Pooja Sawant who is seen making her debut in Bollywood with director Chuck Russell’s ‘Junglee’. We interview her with her co-star Asha Bhat at Sun and Sand, Juhu. Asha being a beauty pagent holder from Karnataka, makes her entry into movies. They both looked stunning with the way they presented themselves. They are a proof of beauty being just a cherry and confidence is the confetti that one should always carry while presenting themselves to someone.

Tell us about your experience on sets of ‘Junglee’ with the elephant and a bit about your training.

Pooja Sawant- What she likes and what time she bathes, what is her happy time and everything. The elephant and I established a connection from the very first day. These animals, understand your touch, your energy and your vibe. If they feel like there is no harm from you they will for sure love you for life and I can say this because of my own experience. I cried when I saw her for the first time. There is a body language of elephant if she flaps her ears or moves her trunk it means the elephant is happy. She and I started having such a good connection with each other that I used to literally sit on her and take a walk in jungle. We all knew there is a time in the day where they are happy and full so that was the only time we used to shoot and not for the entire day. Chuck Russell was so particular about shooting because they are animals and they don’t know about cameras or shooting. The jungle where the elephants resided we put up cameras everywhere so that we don’t have to actually take them to a different place and shoot. We stayed in the jungle itself.

Asha Bhat- My whole training was theoretical and whatever was practical was on the sets of ‘Junglee’. Theoretical is all about how a journalist actually is and how she does her R and D, how she reaches for the rescue of animals, how her brain works when she is caught up in such a situation and many more tiny elements to add up. So my training has all been theoretical and then pushed into sets.

Asha as a journalist are you representing national geographic or freelancer in the movie?

Asha- I can’t disclose that now I would just give away a vital part of the story, you have to watch the movie to know what I m doing in the movie.  

In the trailer we saw you having good time with reptiles and iguanas…. was it a scary experience?

Asha – Not in particular but they were on the set but I remember touching them once.

Pooja Sawant- Iguanas are not scary neither are reptiles. I have done many rescues of snakes. No creature is scary on earth; Humans are the scariest creatures.   

It is quite unique about shooting with animals; whereas if you see the movies like ‘Jungle Book’, they have VFX animals with which shooting is easier so as part of the creative process why did you shoot with real animals?

Asha- After four decades we have come up with something like this is coming on screen again. I would like to say ‘Why Not’? Why can’t we shoot with real animals and not use VFX. From decades we have seen movies that contain animals are made with VFX. We wanted to do it because director has a vision and production knows what they are doing so do the actors. The actors are ready and are comfortable to shoot so why shouldn’t we do it with real animals? So this was the challenging part that we all together as a team thought of doing it and successfully did it. You as individuals and many eyes will see what is the difference between VFX and real.

Did you have a body member on the sets who was making sure that the animals are not harmed?

Pooja – There were people around me because when my training started I did not know I would get such a lovely response from an elephant because you can never predict about elephant. You can predict about cat or a dog but never about elephants. Chuck sir was really happy looking at me and the elephant and knowing that the elephant has accepted me. She used to follow me everywhere and we used to take walks together. I would love to share about Baby elephants. They are the naughtiest creatures, they will not leave you if they see an apple in your hand or any fruit that they love to eat. They will chase you till they don’t get that apple for themselves and you can’t get this in the VFX. The innocence of their eyes is something you can’t get in VFX.

For how long did you stay in the jungle? In that process did you learn any stunts from Vidyut?

Pooja – We stayed in jungle for period of two months and I did learn from Vidyut. Initially I did action sand was learning, doing basic workouts where we used to do weight training. In jungle there was an open gym made for Vidyut where he used to work out after his shoot. One day he asked me to join him and I told him I have never done weight training nor do I personally enjoy this because I feel I’m not strong. To which he said if you don’t want to do weight training I will teach you something else. He taught Asha and me, free hand exercise and I did that for entire year. I see the tremendous difference in my physic.

Asha- Fitness is something that I have always connected with because I was a NCC Cadet myself. I was the guard of honour for President Pratibha Patil in RDC 2009. My routine was wake up at 4 am for running and for punishment we had to pick up the rifle and run. There were different duties like mess duty and gate duty. Fitness, boxing and martial arts is something that I have always incorporated since the age of 17 and that is something that worked for me on set of ‘Junglee’. That was the common factor between me and Vidyut. He used to guide me and ask me to try new forms. So he used to teach me how to tweak some forms and how I can do it in a better and different way. He taught me techniques of new exercises and that is all Vidyut taught me on sets.   

Asha you are a national level shooter. Why did you think of pursuing acting as a career?
It was a collective decision. I came to Mumbai for my pageant with zero expectation and I ended up winning the pageant and after this there was no looking back.  I was always taught by my parents, ‘When you do something make sure you give your 100% and no one else is going to do it better than you.’ They motivated me to go and try for movies. When I used to go for auditions I never thought of it like a struggle, I thought of it like a learning process.  The auditions really prepared me to be a part of ‘Junglee’.

Chuck is the first director ever that you have worked with and in future you will have to work with Indian directors so it is new experience all together… tell us something about the director?

We start with a clean slate. We have one director and they have their director. We as actors take the shape of water and you take the shape of the container. There is directors vision all you have to do is listen to it and execute it and that is where it ends which is why you don’t go to the next film with the luggage of your previous movie. What I have learned from it will for sure work but maybe the new director will have a whole new and different vision so as an actor I have to be very flexible. Look at everything as a student and not like a star because the day you think you have reached a height and that is the day from where your down fall starts.

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