Aamir Khan never insists that you follow his opinion: 'Dangal' director Nitesh Tiwari
Adman-turned-filmmaker Nitesh Tiwari talks about on his film 'Dangal', Aamir Khan and the buzz about the super star's 'excessive interference' in the biopic
Aamir Khan and director Nitesh Tiwari indulge in some kite-fying on the sets
Biopics are a difficult genre in Bollywood and when you have an actor like Aamir Khan in your film the stakes are even higher. Nitesh Tiwari's Dangal is based on the life of Haryanvi wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat and his daughters, Geeta and Babita. An adman-turned-filmmaker, Tiwari had previously directed Chillar Party (2011) and Bhootnath Returns (2014). He reveals what appealed to him about making a biopic, working with Aamir and the challenges he faced.
After living the film for more than three years, are you feeling any withdrawal symptoms?
Not really. That's because we finished the film long back. We had enough time to make the necessary changes to edit or add things and I am satisfied with the final product. I always feel when you have more options; you are able to pick the best out of it and that's what we have done. I remember when we finished writing the final draft; I told my team that if we can achieve 80 per cent of what we have written, I think we will have a great film in our hand.
Have you achieved it?
I don't want to sound ambitious or arrogant, but I feel we have. I am more excited than nervous, because the audience has loved whatever they have seen so far. Also, I was not desperate to make Dangal. This is a film which I might not be able to recreate in my entire life. I don't know if I'd be able to write anything better than this film.
(From left) Nitesh Tiwari, Babita and Geeta Phogat, Aamir Khan and Mahavir Phogat
Disney approached you with the idea of Dangal. Had you heard about Mahavir Phogat earlier?
I hadn't heard of Mahavir Phogat or his daughters, Geeta and Babita. Two friends from Disney narrated the idea to me briefly. They asked me if I'd be interested in writing the story of a man who, in a place like Haryana, trained his daughters to become world-class wrestlers against all odds.
The basic premise was mouth-watering and was good enough for me to get excited. I felt this story deserved to be told. I immediately said yes and decided to delve deeper into it.
Did you bring up Aamir's name? How did he come on board?
After finishing the final draft, Disney gave me a hypothetical situation to choose an actor I would want in Dangal. The first name that came to my mind was Aamir Khan's. There were a lot of factors involved because of the kind of commitment required for the role. I narrated the script for three hours in the same room that we are sitting today. He loved the script. What really intrigued him was that although the script was emotional; there was a layer of humour. But he wasn't sure when he would be able to do the film. So he gave us the option of going ahead with any other actor. I decided and told him that I was ready to wait for him for however long it took.
You said Aamir was intrigued by the comic touches. Was it a conscious decision to incorporate that in the film?
Dangal's story is serious and biopics tend to get heavy. We didn't want the audience to be layered with a lot of rona-dhona. So, we decided that although the message will be serious, the treatment will be light-hearted and that was the biggest challenge.
At the same time, was it difficult to maintain a balance between keeping things authentic and adding fiction?
Yes, it was. Whenever you are telling a biopic it is always important for the writer not to be too real or take too much cinematic liberties. The principal characters in Dangal — Mahavir Singh Phogat and his daughters, Geeta and Babita, have remained absolutely intact, but we've created characters around them to give a flavour to the story and make the film more commercial.
Coming to the casting of Geeta and Babita, it was earlier decided that you will cast real wrestlers, but the idea was later dropped and you went ahead with actors.
We had discussed two options. Either we cast wrestlers and teach them acting or we cast actors and teach them wrestling. We auditioned a lot of young female wrestlers, but somehow we were never convinced. Dangal is not just a film about wrestling, it's an emotional journey of a father and his two daughters and we wanted that emotion to come through. Finally, we realised it would be easier to teach actors how to wrestle. But let me tell you that too wasn't an easy process. We auditioned more than 10,000 girls. Apart from being good actors, there were a lot of parameters. The girls had to look like Aamir's daughters. The younger ones had to look like the older ones. After several rounds of auditioning and shortlisting, we checked their medical history and also consulted dieticians to see if they could bulk up and wrestle. We also met gym trainers to see if the girls were athletic and would easily do weights. After months of tedious process, the final 10 shortlisted girls were made to train under our wrestling coach Kripa Shankarji to see if they could achieve what we wanted in about eight to 10 months. The toughest part was that the girls had to cut their hair, so many weren't sure about that (laughs). It was a very rigorous regime.
There is always a lot of buzz about Aamir Khan's excessive interference in the films he does. How much is it true?
He is one of the most easy-going actors to work with. In fact, Aamir takes a lot of pressure off the director. Apart from acting he has been an assistant director, producer and a director so he knows his work well. He understands the creative process and is knows where to draw the line. He is a superstar and his name is associated with the film so it is obvious that whenever he feels he should give an opinion, he will, but will never insist you to follow it. He gives a lot of respect to his writers and directors. I must say his suggestions always help the film.
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