Liam Neeson has a cool line in the movie Men in Black: International. “Always remember, the universe has a way of leading you to where you’re supposed to be, at the moment you’re supposed to be there.” Same can be said for Dev playing Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikary, who is known as the father of Indian football, in the film Golondaaj, directed by Dhrubo Banerjee. Dev bears a striking physical resemblance to Sarbadhikary... and the shoot of the film got over on Dev’s birthday! A t2 chat with the superstar....
It almost seems like you were destined to play Sarbadhikary!
From Day One we knew that we cannot go wrong with Golondaaj. It was so big. Which is why I took out the time to become the character... I had to look huge and I achieved it. We wanted everything to look real.
I wanted to give everything that I have learnt in the last 15 years to Golondaaj. I love to work on my birthdays. Work is always the priority. The success of Golondaaj will make my next birthday even better.
What do you have to say about the resemblance? It seems fascinating!
Yes. There is a resemblance. From the look, height, body weight, smile to hairstyle, everything. It gave me goosebumps. And from Day One I knew it’ll be a no-compromise film. I knew I had a mountain to climb to make this into a reality... from getting into the intense, rigorous training of playing football to doing bouts of wrestling. I’m playing a person who is known as the father of Indian football... so I had to make sure that everything was perfect, everything was believable. Which is why I put in so much effort into wrestling and playing football.
Our challenge also was to make sure the person belonged to that period which would be reflected in his way of walking, talking, everything. The film should capture the period through him. Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikary used to walk with his head held high... since he was into wrestling that also impacted his gait. It took a long time to get everything right. Dhrubo and I would go over all the details.
We had 10-15 sessions just to figure out the shape of his moustache... its shape and size, and how it was like then. We were working with around 50 references....
How did you train in kushti and football?
For my training in kushti, I did it for three months. And I told my coach that my character must not have any moves that were seen in films like Dangal and Sultan. It has to be new, unique and period specific. I told him that I’m ready to learn. Our football training was equally intense. We trained and played barefeet. Everyone has worked so hard to get all the moves right.
While prepping would you follow all the football matches on television?
I did watch a few... but then soon realised it’ll be pointless to learn from modern football. We have to imbibe the style and technique of football played 150 years ago. And the football that was played then was often determined by the mass, body weight of a person. It was more like playing rugby, by using your body. Many of our modern rules and regulations were not prevalent then. The dribbling you see now wasn’t there then. We could not use popular football shots like the bicycle kick, which came in much later. We had many discussions on the cinematic license that can or cannot be taken for Golondaaj. Even the red cards came in much later. Football was all about power then. It was not about skill. Which is why Nagendra Prasad was a stalwart.
And that’s where the wrestling background helps him to play football...
Yes. The writing, weaving in the nuances, is really superb.
The shoot got stretched because of the pandemic. How did you maintain your weight for such a long time?
Initially we had thought of going with the six-pack look. But then suddenly realised that that’s also a modern body transformation. The six-pack wasn’t there then. He was a wrestler. So then Dara Singh became our frame of reference. I had to maintain the body weight and I was on a carbs and protein diet.
When we decided to resume our shoot, I started training again. I got back into the same shape and size. You won’t be able to figure out what we shot pre-pandemic and what is post- pandemic. The way we have shot and made the film, it is a national project. People are getting to know more about this man through a film. It is an asset for the country.
How would you motivate yourself when you got injured?
Injuries will heal, but the film will remain forever. Of course, it would get painful at times. In terms of tough shoots, Chander Pahar was one extreme, and Golondaaj is another extreme.
Did you get anxious when shooting for such a huge project during a pandemic?
At times, yes. But one must remember, if we don’t take the risks, who will? Somewhere we had to move on. Livelihoods of many depend on this whole process of film-making.
Golondaaj is releasing nationally also....
I want to give something new to the audience of Bengal. The language of cinema has changed. At the click of a button, you can get hundreds of channels. You are flooded with options. Nothing is regional now. Everything is global... since all of it can be accessed across the world. If I am doing a film now, it can also be compared to a film being made in America. Now people are talking about the national scope and ambition of this film. Bengalis in America are very excited about Golondaaj, when you feel proud about a project you feel like sharing. My goal for the last five-six years have been to make Bengali cinema global. We want a Chander Pahar and a Golondaaj every year. That’s how things will change. People want to see intelligent, realistic, relatable cinema now. Or larger-than-life spectacle. Our aim should be very high. We have to maintain this quality of work. Then only the industry will grow.