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Director Amit Ravindernath Sharma speaks about his upcoming film Maidaan

'We have shot the football scenes in such a way that halls will be turned into stadiums'  —

Priyanka Roy  Published 01.04.24, 11:14 AM
Maidaan, starring Ajay Devgn, is in cinemas on April 10

Maidaan, starring Ajay Devgn, is in cinemas on April 10

Maidaan — a film that chronicles the life and career of Syed Abdul Rahim, the unsung architect of modern Indian football — is set to release on April 10 in cinemas, coinciding with Id.

Directed by Amit Ravindernath Sharma — the man who gave us the delightful Badhaai Ho a few years ago — Maidaan, a large part of which has been shot in Calcutta with local talent, has Ajay Devgn playing Rahim and aims to give the man, who functioned as coach and manager of the Indian national football team for a decade in the ’50s and ’60s, credit for ushering in what is known as ‘the golden age of football in India.’ t2 spoke to Sharma about his film.

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What made you want to make a film on Syed Abdul Rahim?

Nobody knows about this man. Very few people know that India was very good at football at one time and that it had a lot to do with Syed Abdul Rahim. It was the golden era of Indian football. Today, a tiny country like Peru is known as a footballing nation but we aren’t, though when India was just five years old, after Partition, Syed Abdul Rahim made our country one of the foremost footballing nations in the world. That is what excited me to make this film.

Cricket has overshadowed every sport in this country but even soccer has its fans. Why do you think such few people know about Rahim who essentially was the architect of Indian football?

You are from Calcutta, so you are tuned into football. But if you ask my father, who has spent his whole life in Delhi, his football knowledge is limited because he was always into cricket. Some of my relatives know about great players like Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee, (Tulsidas) Balram, (Peter) Thangaraj and Jarnail Singh, but they don’t know about Syed Abdul Rahim who was the man responsible for handpicking and getting these players into the Indian team.

When we started talking about making this film, we came across Rahim’s Wikipedia page but it had a picture of Jarnail Singh instead of his! That was both unsettling and upsetting for us.

There are only some states in India like Bengal, Kerala and Goa where football is big. But even in these places, there is no stadium or even a street named after Rahim. You will see this question being asked in Maidaan.

Through the medium of this film, we are trying to acquaint people with who he was and what he did for football in India. He was a family man, but he kept football and the country above everything else. Football was his passion and making India a football-strong nation was his ambition. He dreamt of the game being played in every corner of the country.

While doing your research, was there any aspect of this man that greatly impacted you as a person and as a filmmaker?

I met PK Banerjee sir, Chuni sir, Balram sir, (Fortunato) Franco, Hakim sahab, who is Rahim sahab’s son, and when I told them that I wanted to know about Rahim sahab, they all had tears in their eyes. The kind of love and respect they had for him is unbelievable. I told them that there must be something about Rahim sahab that they did not like but they couldn’t point out anything.

Being the coach, Rahim sir used to decide which player would play and which player would sit out during a particular match and none of these players had a problem with that. Their respect for him was so much.

Under his guidance, these players — whether it was PK sir or Chuni sir — became legends. In Maidaan, I have dwelt on the deep emotions that these players felt for Rahim sir. He nurtured players who made the country proud.

What was your experience of shooting Maidaan in a soccer-crazy city like Calcutta?

It was amazing! In Calcutta, we went to meet Balram sir and asked someone on the street: ‘Where is Balram sir’s house? He corrected us saying: ‘Tulsidas Balram, Olympian!’ This is the kind of love and respect Bengal has for football and footballers. I have shot the film in Calcutta and Chandernagore and I experienced firsthand the frenzy surrounding the legendary rivalry between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. This kind of passion is unheard of.

PK sir came to our set and it was like a festival. Having a legend like this on the set of our film was very emotional. This is a film that we have made for Rahim sahab and for all these players.

To what extent has the fabric and the spirit of the city permeated into your film?

I have shot a lot of times in Calcutta... I made a lot of ad films there. The kind of support we got from the West Bengal government and the people when they knew that we were making a film on football was huge. The city’s love for football will show in Maidaan... that it worships and respects these heroes, unsung or not, will show in the film.

Is it true that you had apprehensions about casting Ajay Devgn in the role of Syed Abdul Rahim? Why is that?

I was not really apprehensive about signing him. We all know what a fantastic actor he is. It is just that I had the fiery image of Singham (the cop played by Devgn in the Rohit Shetty films) in mind. But how he transformed himself on the very first day of the shoot was just amazing. He seamlessly became Syed Abdul Rahim. In fact, I went up to him and said I had some doubts about him playing this part, but he had resolved that within minutes.

He is a director’s actor. He will give you everything, you just need to ask for it and very often you don’t even have to. He has no tantrums, he would be on time on set every day and if he would sit on set, as a director, I wouldn’t be allowed to feel the pressure that such a big star is on set. He would be like: ‘No no, take your time.’ He is an amazing actor and a brilliant human being.

What went into shooting the football scenes authentically?

A lot of prep! (Smiles) We shot with 10 different cameras and many kinds of equipment. Months and months of work have gone into shooting the matches. We have shot the football scenes in such a way that halls will be turned into stadiums.

I was clear that I didn’t want to shoot the matches by showing close-ups of the feet and faces of the players and then move to a wide shot. I wanted to show football the way it is seen when we watch a match. Every game has a different emotion and we have tried to capture that.

Those who are playing PK sir and Chuni sir are good actors but also amazing footballers. Getting the casting right was one of the most difficult bits of the film and I am very happy with the ones we eventually went with.

The challenge of making this film lay in the fact that we had to make sure it did justice to the period between 1952-62. We have made the film with the hope that the viewer will get transported to that era.

I haven’t changed much in the film, we have taken very few creative liberties. We have even put in some dialogues based on what Rahim sahab used to tell his players.

I know this is the producer’s decision but having waited for Maidaan to release for so long, why would you eventually clash with a biggie like Akshay Kumar and Tiger Shroff’s Bade Miyan Chhote Miyan?

As you said, it is not my call, it is the producer’s (Boney Kapoor) call. But it’s a holiday on account of Id and traditionally people like to come out and watch films on Id. Even though two big films are releasing, I am hopeful that the audience will opt to watch both.


Which is your favourite film based on football? Tell t2@abp.in

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