Mumbai: Comparisons with the popular hockey film "Chak De! India" are odious, but inevitable for "Soorma", a biopic on the life of hockey legend Sandeep Singh. Director Shaad Ali, who assures that the films are very different, says the sports star's life itself has been so eventful that he had to wade through the drama to get to his core.
"There really is no common ground between 'Chak De...' and 'Soorma' except hockey. But 'Chak De...' focused on the coach. So in that sense, Reema Kagti's forthcoming 'Gold' (about India's first team to win a gold medal at the Olympics) is more likely to be compared with 'Chak De...'," Shaad said.
He had no intentions of doing a film on Singh.
"When Chitrangda Singh, who produces 'Soorma', came to me, we were thinking of something entirely different on the lines of a small town drama like my film 'Bunty Aur Babli'. When Chitrangda suggested we do this ('Soorma'), I wasn't sure. But then when I dug into his life, I was amazed at how dramatic it was.
"Sandeep's life is so eventful that it feels like fiction. I had to wade through the drama to get to the core of the man."
To get the story of Singh, Shaad spent considerable quality time with him and his family.
"I spent close to four months with Sandeep and his family in his hometown Shahabad in Haryana, as well as in Delhi and Mumbai. For me, it wasn't enough to just go through paperwork and files and archival material on him. I had to observe and absorb his life first-hand. This is the only way to make a film on a life as inspirational as Sandeep Singh's."
"Soorma" has been made with the active co-operation and support of Singh and his family.
"He opened up his life for me, gave me access to his family and friends. 'Soorma' couldn't have been made without Sandeep Singh's participation. It's important to take the subject of a biopic into confidence."
Singh is happy with what Shaad has achieved in the film.
"He gave me the freedom to tell his story my way. He had that trust in me."
Actor Diljit Dosanjh was the first and only choice to play Singh.
"We needed a Sikh actor. And who better than Diljit? He has given so much of himself to 'Soorma', I can't imagine anyone else playing Sandeep Singh. Of course, it's not imperative for a Sikh to play a Sikh. Farhan Akhtar did such a fine job of playing Milkha Singh in Rakeysh Mehra's 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag'."
Shaad's last few films have not worked at the box office. Neither has he been very prolific in his career.
"I don't know why 'Jhoom Barabar Jhoom' in 2008 didn't work. We shifted the original story from India to a foreign country. I had enough of the small town ambience in 'Saathiya' and 'Bunty Aur Babli'. I wanted to break free of my small town image.
"With 'Kill Dil', I knew something had gone wrong. The balance was missing. There was a huge gap between my second film 'Jhoom Barabar Jhoom' and my third film 'Kill Dil'. That was not laziness. It was just an absence of a script I wanted to shoot. Also, I spent a good 3-4 years assisting my mentor Mani Ratnam on his film 'Raavan'."
The abiding reverence for Mani Ratnam won't go away. Shaad's last film "Ok Jaanu" was a remake of Ratnan's Tamil film.
"In fact, I again took a break from my own filmmaking to assist Mani sir on his current new Tamil film. My equation with him cannot change."