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Mentors who groomed B-Town actors to portray sportspersons in biopics

With veteran cricketer Kiran More teaching Sushant Singh Rajput how to adapt Dhoni’s style, we look at some such mentors who groomed actors for biopics...

Bollywood has been going big on biopics with filmmakers increasingly seeking inspiration from the lives of real-life heroes and presenting them on the big screen. And for the protagonist's performance in such films to be convincing, intensive grooming is a sine qua non. Actors go through rigorous training, investing months — even years — to prep up for the role that they are supposed to portray on celluloid. In all this, the guidance of an expert makes it easier for them to internalise the character completely before facing the camera.

Sushant Singh Rajput and (inset) Kiran More
Sushant Singh Rajput and (right) Kiran More

Sushant Singh Rajput is being mentored by former Indian cricketer Kiran More to do justice to the titular role in 'MS Dhoni: The Untold Story'. The biopic, which will trace the journey of India's most successful cricket captain, involves big bucks and is one of the most talked about projects in recent times. It is definitely challenging as sportsperson roles come with additional requirements — working out a particular kind of body as well as getting the demeanour and disposition right.

Two-way street
Former hockey player Mir Ranjan Negi, who inspired Shah Rukh Khan's character in 'Chak De! India' (2007), says, "Actors are good imitators. The girls in that film were not professional players, but achieved perfection of sorts by watching videos of hockey players. Shah Rukh, at an individual level, had done a lot of research on my life events and prepared himself by watching my videos and browsing through paper clippings on me. So, that made my job easier as I had to guide him only on the technical aspects."

Shah Rukh Khan made the job of former hockey player Mir Ranjan Negi easier by doing his own research for Chak De! India (2007)
Shah Rukh Khan made the job of former hockey player Mir Ranjan Negi easier by doing his own research for 'Chak De! India' (2007)

In the aftermath of India's 1982 Asian Games debacle, when the team lost to Pakistan by six goals with Negi at the net, his life turned upside down. The Indian Hockey Federation branded him a traitor and abandoned him. With such a sensitive and emotional story to tell, it was important for the makers to have Negi around for inputs while shooting. "I was actively involved in the entire process of filmmaking. I shared my thoughts on all things that mattered, right from the casting to set design and script," he adds.

Akshay Kumar (right) training with former cricketer Balwinder Singh Sandhu at PA Mhatre Sports Academy for Patiala House (2011)
Akshay Kumar (right) training with former cricketer Balwinder Singh Sandhu at PA Mhatre Sports Academy for Patiala House (2011)

Training Akshay Kumar for 'Patiala House' (2011) was "easy" for cricketer-turned-coach Balwinder Singh Sandhu, for the actor has a sound understanding of the game. "He's very much into cricket and a thorough professional. With this heady combination, you have won half the battle. In any case, I don't think it's that difficult for an actor to play any character as they are hard working and have good visualisation skills. I have also trained Harman Baweja for his film and he too proved to be a fast learner. And we are, of course, involved with the screenplay and shoot. For example, I would travel with Akshay and provide him inputs whenever needed. It was a good experience and I would love to be associated with similar Bollywood projects in future," adds Sandhu.

Farhan Akhtar (right) perfect Milkha Singh’s (left) look for the Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra film through rigorous physical training over 13 months under the guidance of fitness trainer Samir Jaura
Farhan Akhtar (right) perfect Milkha Singh's look for the Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra film through rigorous physical training over 13 months under the guidance of fitness trainer Samir Jaura

Gruelling grooming
In case of 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag' based on the life of legendary athlete Milkha Singh, Farhan Akhtar had to undergo gruelling physical training guided by Samir Jaura. The 66-kg actor had to put on nine more kilos to sport rippled muscles and then drop 15 kilos for the portion in which he joins the army. While he had developed a chiselled look over 13 months, just the oscillation of weight took three-and-a-half months. Jaura, who was initially involved in grooming Priyanka Chopra for the Mary Kom biopic, says, "When I picked both the biopics, I did my own research and then started training the actors. As far as Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is concerned, both Farhan and I have lived Milkha Singh's life — the only difference is that he did it in front of the camera and I, from behind it."

Mary Kom (left) with Priyanka Chopra on the set of Mary Kom, which won the National Award as the Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment
Mary Kom (left) with Priyanka Chopra on the set of Mary Kom, which won the National Award as the Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment

Boxing star Mary Kom was also taken on board by the makers of her biopic to share her thoughts and suggestions to make it more credible. "Priyanka used to sit with me and observe how I walked and spoke to get into the skin of the character. And I think she did a brilliant job," adds the Olympic medal winner. Priyanka's portrayal of Mary Kom earned the film a National Award.

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