That his film about an Indian war hero will be released at a time when freedoms are curtailed by Covid-19 should serve as the perfect anecdote, says Bollywood star Sidharth Malhotra.
“I think people have come to appreciate just how precious freedom is,” he tells The National. “It’s because of people like Captain Vikram Batra, who fought and sacrificed their lives for their country, that we have our freedoms. I really hope people will take that away after watching the film.”
Malhotra, 36, plays Capt Batra in Shershaah, on Amazon Prime Video from Thursday – just in time for India’s Independence Day on August 15.
The action film borrows its title from Capt Batra’s codename in the Indian Army, which means "king of lions", and follows his journey from aspiring athlete to an officer who led a battalion during the 1999 Kargil War in Jammu and Kashmir.
Capt Batra, who was killed on the battlefield while trying to rescue an injured soldier, was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India's highest military honour, that year.
Malhotra, whose grandfather served in the Indian Army, says he jumped at the opportunity to play Capt Batra.
“This film is special to me. It is such an inspirational story. I feel people around the world, and not only India, can gain so much from his life story.
“So many of us stop ourselves short due to fear. You will see how Capt Vikram Batra overcomes his fears and showed the ultimate courage in the most difficult and and severe conditions. And yet he keeps saying ‘Yeh dil mange more’.”
"Yeh dil mange more", which is Hindi for "the heart wants more", was a popular Pepsi advertising slogan in the 90s. Capt Batra was known to have popularised it as a battle cry.
Malhotra, who has not played a real-life character before, says the biggest challenge was following “certain boundaries” in portraying Capt Batra.
“When you’re playing a fictional character, sometimes you’re allowed to interpret it in a certain way. Here, you had to stay as true to the real-life character as possible,” he explains.
The model-turned-actor, known for films such as Student of the Year (2012), Ek Villain (2014) and Kapoor & Sons (2016), also plays Capt Batra’s twin brother Vishal Batra in the film.
He says that while preparing for his role he interviewed many soldiers who served with Capt Batra.
“I met and talked for hours with Vishal Batra about Capt Vikram’s life and their memories together,” he recalls.
“Vikra Batra had two major phases in his life: one is this affable, loveable Punjabi boy, who had such a large heart and who exuded so much positivity. And the other is this very focused leader who would do anything to accomplish his tasks, and a soldier who would give his life for his country.”
Initially scheduled to be released last year, Shershaah has faced a number of delays as cinemas in India remain closed owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last month, Amazon Prime Video announced it had struck a deal with its producer, Dharma Productions, to release the film on the streaming platform.
“Shershaah is the true story of a war hero whose indomitable spirit and bravery brought victory to our nation. His sacrifices are invaluable and his life is an inspiration for generations to come," says the film's director, Karan Johar.
Malthotra, who is currently filming spy thriller Mission Majnu and comedy Thank God, says he hopes viewers take encouragement from his movie.
“I hope it will inspire other people to overcome their fears and find their true calling.”
'Shershaah' is on Amazon Prime Video on Thursday, August 12