Actor Dara Sandhu plays an antagonist in the movie And Tomorrow We Will Be Dead that is based on a real-life incident in Afghanistan

The story real-life Swiss couple captured by the Taliban 
Dara Sandhu
Dara Sandhu

Actor Dara Sandhu who was seen in the Dia Mirza-starrer Kaafir, and was an assistant director on films such as Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Secret Superstar, is cast as the lead antagonist in the European movie And Tomorrow We Will Be Dead. The film by award-winning Swiss filmmaker Michael Steiner opened at the 17th Zurich Film Festival in October, and was a big success. The story highlights the political and human crisis in Afghanistan and is a poignant tale. In an interview with Indulge, Dara talks about bagging this film and the role he plays in it. Excerpts:

How did you bag this role in And Tomorrow We Will Be Dead? 
The casting directors Nandini Shrikent and Karan Mally called me in to test for the part. The brief was that my character Omarra is the lead antagonist but they wanted the actor to bring his own interpretation as well. Auditions are harder than the actual shoot because you have such a short time to showcase your ability as an actor. Having worked as an assistant director, I have been involved in casting for films before and I realised that even for the audition it's important to dress exactly as the character would rather than leaving it to the viewers' imagination. So I wore one of my most Afghani-looking kurtas and trekking boots, I think these little things helped in giving me an edge over others. They auditioned almost a hundred actors for my part and finally, the director flew down from Zurich to audition a few of us in person as the character was so pivotal for the story. I nailed the audition again (the director told me later), and before I knew it I was training to play the lead antagonist of this prestigious project.

It's an important film, considering the developments in Afghanistan. When was the movie shot? Where did you shoot?
The movie has gained unprecedented response because of the developments in Afghanistan. In Switzerland, they are viewing it as not only the ordeal of two Swiss hostages who spent eight months with the Taliban but also as an insight into the world of Afghani people. We shot the film early in 2020 and my parts were all shot in Rajasthan, where we were showing it to be Afghanistan. There are a lot of similarities in the landscape. They had already shot a bit in Switzerland but then the shoot was stalled because of Covid-19 leading to lockdowns in India. The remaining bits were shot in Spain and they had to match that to the parts in Rajasthan. So, all in all, it was a huge logistical challenge but the makers pulled it off brilliantly.

What kind of research and prep went into your role?
My prep for the role was a big learning experience for me as an actor. Of course, there was the usual process of learning the local language and dialect and body language of my character but we went much deeper than that. I trained with acting coach Giles Foreman, who trains well-established actors such as Tom Hardy amongst others in Hollywood, and one of the primary things we worked on was ensuring that my character had such a compelling backstory that at no point did I feel like my actions were evil or incorrect. By the time I was on set I truly believed the world that I came from justified my actions. It was the only way my character could survive his poverty. Put in that position many people may do the same as my character Omarra did and this helped me bring authenticity into my performance.

Was it exciting to shoot? Or were you nervous? What was the experience like?
I was nervous at first as the director Michael Steiner is one the most celebrated European filmmakers and is the only director to have opened the Zurich Film Festival twice, but Michael is as chilled out as he is intelligent and he put me at ease instantly.  Then it was a really enjoyable experience and mostly. I would wake up earlier than required and would listen to a song that my acting coach Giles Foreman had identified for my character. We trained for this song to invoke a few key emotions in me that were the primary emotions of my character. It's a really helpful technique as in the chaos on a set sometimes you can lose focus but as soon as I would listen to my character's song it would be easy to emote. 

How was the experience to be an actor in front of the camera vis-a-vis being an AD on a Karan Johar film and Aamir Khan film? Did you enjoy both experiences?
Both are tough jobs with long hours. As an actor you are left in a relatively comfortable environment in your vanity van to prepare for your scene. All the focus is to walk out there and try to achieve the director's vision in the shortest possible time. Assistant directors however are so deeply involved in every aspect of the movie that they face all the trials and tribulations of filmmaking on an hourly basis, day after day. Being an AD on big films like Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Secret superstar allowed me to watch and learn from some of the most talented actors in our country. It gives you a lot of confidence and the first day I was in front of a camera I felt quite prepared because of my experience.

How different is it to work with a foreign crew compared to Indian filmmakers?
Generally, on Indian sets, a sense of hierarchy is followed more rigidly. Sometimes this leads to a lack of sharing of ideas because people lower down in the hierarchy don't feel like they have the right to object or make suggestions. On a foreign set when a shoot is for 12 hours, it really means it's for 12 hours. In India, if the day's work is not finished within 12 hours for whatever reason, you are still expected to continue working. 

What's your next move? Are you looking for opportunities Internationally or in Bollywood?
I am auditioning in India and abroad. I am not rushing into projects that I don’t think allow much scope for performance. I am also a writer and working on my next novel Mahashakti

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