Actor Vicky Kaushal said on Tuesday he initially thought he was not good looking enough for the role of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw in filmmaker Meghna Gulzar's Sam Bahadur.
At the film's trailer launch event held at the Manekshaw Centre here, Kaushal said Gulzar told him about her desire to make the biopic on Manekshaw during the shooting of their 2018 film Raazi.
"I remember when Meghna and I were working on Raazi, then during a shooting schedule in Patiala she told me what she wanted to do next. And she said she wants to make a film on Sam Manekshaw," Kaushal said.
"My mother and father are both from Punjab, and through them, I had heard a lot about him. But I didn't know how he looked. So during that conversation, I secretly Googled him and saw his photo. I said, 'He is very handsome and I will not get this role.' But I have to thank Meghna for giving me the role of this handsome person," he added.
The trailer was launched in presence of Army Chief General Manoj Pande. Kaushal's co-actors Sanya Malhotra, Fatima Sana Shaikh, director Gulzar and producer Ronnie Screwvala also attended the event.
Sam Bahadur will span Manekshaw's career of over 40 years, including significant milestones, from fighting in World War II to being the Chief of Army Staff during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, that led to the creation of Bangladesh, according to the makers.
Playing the titular part was not easy for Kaushal, he said. "It is the toughest role of my life, not because of the way he talked and walked but because of the man he was. This was an attempt to live that life. It is obviously a team effort," he added.
The actor said his attempt with the character was to bring out his compassionate nature on the big screen.
"In one of his interviews, he was asked about the biggest achievement of his career of 40 years. And he said, 'In my career, from second lieutenant to field marshall, I have never punished a soldier.' And that compassion, especially when you have all the power and strength, and feeling for every jawan is what made him a hero to me.
"That swag, style and charisma was there but at the end that heart was also there. He had a compassionate heart and that is what I was trying to aim for," he added.
As part of the preparation, Kaushal said he had to work on the physical aspects of the character but capturing the spirit was the aim. "Sometimes when you're playing, you don't realise the things that you are doing. Of course, I remember how he walked and talked, how much he would bend and sit. Before we started shooting, Meghna and I spent at least five hours every day for three months reading, watching his interviews and discussing Sam.
"To catch his spirit, mindset and strength of the man, it came with a lot of reading and meeting his family members, who were really helpful. After all this, we put together and thought this is our Sam Manekshaw," he added.
On reuniting with Gulzar, Kaushal said they developed a level of trust during Raazi and nothing has changed since then. "Meghna is home for me... I have such a bond with her that it feels like a film... I trust her instincts and judgment.... She makes a film on paper and then goes on the floor."
Sam Bahadur also stars Sanya Malhotra as Manekshaw’s wife Silloo and Fatima Sana Shaikh as former prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Malhotra, who started 2023 with Netflix movie Kathal, followed by Shah Rukh Khan-led Jawan, said the year has turned out to be special.
"I definitely feel that 2023 is my year. I'm very lucky to have been part of two very wonderful films, Jawan and now Sam Bahadur, and even Kathal," she said.
Shaikh said like many people, she was also unaware about Manekshaw and his life story.
"I was one of the people who didn't know about Sam Manekshaw. Even people around me, including my parents, never talked about him... But through the film, you are being educated and you get to know about such personalities. There are so many people like me," she added.
Sam Bahadur marks a reunion between Malhotra and Shaikh, who made their big screen debut with the 2015 blockbuster Dangal, starring Aamir Khan. "We have seen each other grow and I have seen Sanya doing great work and it makes me really happy. She is a great performer. When we started, we didn't know where we would go from here. But both of us are rooting for each other. Luckily, we were together in 'Ludo' and now this film. I hope we get to work together more," Shaikh said.
According to Malhotra, they both have grown as actors. She recalled the intense shooting of Dangal, in which they played real-life wrestlers Geeta Phogat and Babita Phogat.
"I think I have seen both of us grow and become comfortable in front of the camera. When we got 'Dangal', I remember that we never told anyone if we ever got hurt as we feared that we might be replaced.
"Fatima had her ribs broken and she didn't tell anyone. So we used to do it with aches and pains. We have put in a lot of hard work to be where we are right now. I'm proud to see her come this far," she said.
Produced by RSVP Movies, Sam Bahadur has been penned by Bhavani Iyer, Shantanu Shrivastava and Gulzar. The movie is scheduled to be released in theatres on December 1.