It is not everyday that an action hero like Suniel Shetty shares his opinion on social issues like Naxalism. But these views assume significance not only because he has acted as a Naxal in a film and won international awards for it, but also because his are views that do not support direct action against the armed rebels.
Having interviewed Naxals for his role in Anant Mahadevan’s ‘Red Alert-The War Within’, Suniel offers anything but an arm-chair analyst’s opinion. Following are the excerpts from an interview with Shashank Chouhan of Spicezee.com, as the film readies for release.
Do you differ from the PM on the Naxal issue? He has declared them the biggest threat to India.
Not just the PM, even in the American Senate the issue cropped up, and they were of the opinion that the biggest security threat to India lay not outside, but within the country. But it isn`t as simple as it seems. Even as the threat looms large, it is important to decipher the roots of the problem and create solutions at grass root levels to eradicate the cause of the birth of this movement. Both the PM and the Home Minister are aware that it is a developmental issue and that a system failure has led to the conflagration. Thus, even as the threat is real, the issue is much larger.
Is taking up arms and killing innocents, like Naxals do, justified in any way?
The means certainly don`t justify the end. I condemn violence in any form and the taking of lives you do not even know about, is absurd, to say the least. But having said that, we need to address the Naxals, not in the language of violence, but across the table to implement a peaceful settlement. Until then this eye for an eye syndrome will only end up with more killings of our own people on both sides.
There is no doubt that there are some serious issues which have led to the rise of Naxalism. You must have researched for this role. What were your findings about the situation on the ground?
The extensive research done by our writer Aruna Raje and director Ananth Mahadevan was shared with me as I prepared for the part and it threw up some startling revelations and queries. Playing Narasimha, the farmer trapped between law and outlaw, became a multi layered task, as I discovered from interviews with Naxals and cops that both sides had a point to drive home. Now the million dollar question was...if both sides are right, then what went wrong. It was clear…this was a war where both sides were right...and wrong!
Isn’t this a solution - capture the areas taken up by Naxals and then bring development there? Or do you think there can be other methods?
Development of land, rehabilitation of those deprived of rights and their land, the mineral ore issue...these are but some of the corrective measures that need to be taken. But that is easier said than done because the government first needs to clean its slate and win the trust of the Naxals, to persuade them to lay down arms and be convinced that the government earnestly believes in handing them their rights.
Why did you agree to do this film- the issue, the story or what?
Everything about this film was unlike anything that I had done before...whether it was the issue on hand, the character or the projection. The script was based on a true newspaper report making it an extremely potent subject for a film. The Naxal issue is the burning topic of the day, and if you see ‘Red Alert-The War Within’, it appears as though the headlines are chasing the film, be it the cop station shootouts or landmine blasts.
We approached the film like an international project and it was a challenge to speak that language and woo an audience that wasn’t taking kindly to clichés and typecasting.
You play macho roles while this one required a certain humility. How tough was it and what problems did you face in preparing?
As for the character of Narasimha, it was the antithesis of every image I had built up so far in the film business. Here was this broken man, frightened, subdued, pleading for money and not knowing how to pick up a gun, let alone fire it. It was every thing that defied my macho image. I had a rundown body language, broken to the core to play this man who underwent a life changing experience! In fact, the dictum of the whole exercise was "not to act" at all but create a flesh and blood character that could reach out to the people.
How was it acting with veteran actors like Naseer and Vinod Khanna. We heard Sanjay Dutt advised you not to take up the film because of them…
I think the Sanjay Dutt quote has been grossly misconstrued. In fact, he was just taking a dig that considering that I would be surrounded by NSD actors, who had made a mark in realistic cinema, I should drop the idea. But, like my director said, I just had to put that behind me, just be myself and I could hold my own. Of course, each time I had scenes with Naseer, Vinod Khanna or Ashish Vidyarthi, their reactions spurred me on to giving my best. What a difference it makes to your performance, when you have such names opposite you!
The film was screened at the Stuttgart Film Festival and you also won the SAIFF award for Best Actor for it. Tell us about that.
I am glad the film took the international film festival route .The Director`s Vision Award at Stuttgart, my very first Best Actor award at the South Asian International film festival in New York and the standing ovation at the International film festival, besides the glowing five star reviews provided the much needed critical platform to the film. It is ready for release at a time when, uncannily, the Naxal issue is at its peak.
What are the other projects lined up for you now? Will we get to see the veteran action hero Suniel Shetty again?
After this kind of recognition, I am aware of the immense responsibilities that have come in its wake. One needs to be more selective in one`s roles, though I am thoroughly enjoying Anees Bazmee`s ‘Thank You’, currently being shot. Sanjay Dutt`s upcoming production ‘Ananth’ also is another "Red Alert` style film, lined up where I am slated to play another unusual character. He is currently writing it. So there are new challenges, new excitement and of course the anticipation of the outcome of ‘Red Alert’ on its release.