Interview By: Amul Vikas Mohan

To portray a real-life character on-screen has its own set of challenges. And here we have Shashank Udapurkar, who has not only played Anna Hazare, but also written and directed the film. ‘Anna’ has finally released this week, with a journey of four years behind it. In a brief chat, Shashank Udapurkar, shares how he’s lived this film and character….

“Annaji taught me that the journey is equally important”

What made you think you want to make a film on Anna Hazare?
The entire nation was impressed and inspired by Anna in 2011. I was one of them. My personal experience was that, during my engineering days, I also had tried to stand against the system. 3-4 years of my life were disturbed during that time. Being an electronic engineer, when I tried to take a stand against the system, I was thrown out. So when I came to know about Annaji, and how he’s come from a small town, and he doesn’t have a very high education and yet he made such an impact on people, I was curious to know about his journey that made him do what he did. As a creative, I felt that I I’m able to portray his struggle and his journey then it will be very interesting. Majority of the people have seen him just at Ram-leela, people do not know about his past and journey, so I felt that people would be intrigued to know about his journey. That is what made me do this film.

You’ve written the script, directed it, and also played Anna’s role – this film must have been a long process!
I started writing the script and spent a year and a half on it. The places where he was born and bought up – Ralegaon, Aurangabad, Delhi – I went there, researched and finished the script in a about 1.5 years. Then I went to meet Annaji to tell him I want to make a film on his life. Annaji wasn’t keen on making the film, few directors had already approached him, and he had said no. I requested him to meet me for five minutes, and even then he refused. But when he came to know my thought process behind the film, he thought about it. I told him, he has always inspired people, and I want to do the same through the film. I can only make films, so that’s just what I can do. So even he thought of this as a platform to inspire youngsters and then gave me his approval. Then later, it was a struggle to shoot the film. We wanted to keep it realistic; Annaji is so simple, so we wanted the film’s viuals and performance to reflect that. So we shot at real locations which trace his journey. We’ve shot in minus 22 degree Celsius also, because the soldiers actually fight for us in those conditions. Then the farmers work so hard in the heat, so to portray that realistically, we shot in 48-49 degrees. Normally actors wouldn’t tolerate standing there at all, but jut out of the affection toward the film, the entire crew of 1500-2000 people shot in such circumstances. So, it was a long process indeed.

Was that the most challenging part? How did you become Anna Hazare? It must have been difficult to get that sort of accuracy when people have already seen him and know his mannerisms.
My first thought was that, this is such a good role, so if I’m able to do it, it’ll be very good for me. But he has such a larger-than-life and diverse personality that I was in a dilemma if I’ll be able to do it. Then I thought, let me just dive into it, we’ll see what happens. When I told my friends I want to make a film on Annaji, everyone told me, this is a risky area you are venturing into, at such an early stage in your career, you cannot do such a film. There was a huge age difference, to play someone so old. People know his mannerisms, how he speaks, his body language, so I knew that people would not be able to accept even minute errors. Secondly, even his simplicity is unmatchable. All these things gave me goosebumps. But after writing the script, I realised, and it’s even Anna’s motto, that if you are sure about your goal then you can overcome a lot of troubles and glitches. That gave me strength. Two things were pivotal – firstly, the physical transformation. We had to cover his age from 20 to 75. The aging was gradual and it had to look natural. Vikram Gaekwad ji, our make-up man told us that you will have to get the physical transformation for real, it won’t happen through make-up. So, to portray his younger days I lost 6-7 kilos of weight, and gradually we put on 12 kilos of weight. To match the simplicity, I thought, I will have to live the character and not just perform. Only then his honesty and simplicity would be portrayed. So, I just gave in my best. But then when Annaji saw the trailer itself, he thought it’s him only in the film. That is a big compliment for me.

What do you take back from this film?
This film has changed my life. I have spent four years of my life on this film and that’s a long time. But it has made the rest of my life very peaceful. As a young generation, we are hungry for success. But I learnt that, you will be happy to achieve your goal only if your journey is beautiful. I was of the opinion that the end result or success is what matters, and that should be achieved at any cost, but Annaji taught me that the journey is equally important.

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