Behind the scenes: Indulge visits Kargil to discover what went into the making of Shershaah

Tamil filmmaker Vishnuvardhan known for his movies like Billa and Aarambam has directed this Karan Johar production

Ayesha Tabassum Published :  05th August 2021 04:43 PM   |   Published :   |  05th August 2021 04:43 PM
A still from Shershaah

A still from Shershaah

Shershaah starring Sidharth Malhotra and Kiara Advani is a biopic on Captain Vikram Batra who was martyred during the 1999 Kargil War. 

It appears as if the Himalayas are in an intimate rendezvous with the clear blue sky. Their conversation is interjected by soft and billowy clouds that look like they have been created by an artist who had all the time in the world to perfect their curves and swirls. Such views of the sky, mountains and streams flowing between valleys are common sights in the Ladakh and Kashmir region, home to the highest mountain range in the world that was in danger during the unforgettable Kargil War of 1999.

Though the battle is etched in the pages of history for generations to read and remember, the high-altitude warfare in the mountainous terrain will be brought alive on-screen in Shershaah, a biopic on captain Vikram Batra. Batra led one of the most challenging and daunting operations in mountain warfare in the history of India, and was killed during the battle. He was apparently referred to as Shershaah (Lion King) by the enemies. He was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra.

The movie is all set to release on August 12, on Amazon Prime Video. Shot extensively in Drass and Kargil, Shershaah is touted to be one of India’s biggest war films in modern cinema. Starring Sidharth Malhotra as the captain, and Kiara Advani as Dimple Cheema (the captain’s fiancée), Shershaah is directed by Vishnuvardhan, the filmmaker behind hit Tamil films such as Billa and Arrambam.

View of the Tiger Hill from the base where Kargil Diwas celebrations were held
A view of Tiger Hill (top right peak) from the base where Kargil Diwas celebrations took place in July 2021

Indulge was invited for an exclusive chat with the cast and director of the movie, and the trailer launch that took place in Kargil on the occasion of Kargil Diwas, at the foot of Tiger Hill. Here’s the report:

Off the trail
The rugged yet breathtakingly stunning landscape of the region is captured in Shershaah by cinematographer Kamaljeet Negi. From the iconic Tiger Hill, the arterial NH1 highway to the Batra Top (Point 4875 which was named after Captain Vikram Batra) — the locations were the significant spots where the actual warfare and shelling ensued. Shershaah has been shot in the vicinity of these historic landmarks to bring authenticity to its scenes. There’s a dialogue exchange in the movie: “What a place, sir! Looks like picture-postcards everywhere,” says Sidharth’s character, captain Batra, to which his senior responds, “This place is way more dangerous than its beauty.” These lines sum up the Kargil region.

Sidharth, Kiara and director Vishnuvardhan in Kargil during the promotions
Sidharth, Kiara and director Vishnuvardhan in Kargil during the promotions

Director Vishnuvardhan talks about why he was keen to shoot in actual locations. “My reference to shoot came from the people who were involved in the war. So, I really didn’t design the scenes to make it look stylish. We wanted to showcase what really happened — this was my inspiration. The army was completely involved in it; we wanted to get that right. We had to document this. We didn’t choreograph every detail, we just defined the path. There were moments when actors stumbled on things, fell and got up — whatever happened naturally along the course of action has been captured,” he explains.

Character analysis
The trailer of Shershaah offers a glimpse into the high-octane action scenes reminiscent of the Kargil War that was televised during its entire tenure. It also showcases Sidharth as Shershaah — the code name given to captain Batra, and the actor looks impressive. His mannerisms, expressions, body language on-screen are convincing.

Sidharth Malhotra as Captain Vikram Batra

Sidharth says acting in real locations helped him stay true to the character. “We shot in Kargil for 45 days. It was Vishnu’s idea to start backwards, and we started by shooting the climax first. We directly jumped into filming the most intense portions of the movie. It involved a lot of action, and we were going up and down, filming between an altitude of 12,000 and 14,000 feet (the actual battle was fought at 16,000 feet). There were physical restrictions, we were breathless, and mental fatigue was setting in. But I found the entire process to be quite authentic. There were no setups; it was only the camera following me. There were times when I was on top of one of the peaks, sitting by a rock, firing the gun and saying my lines. I was genuinely connecting with the person (other actor) next to me. It was just him and me. The silence and terrain helped us reflect. I think full marks must be given to Negi sir (the cinematographer) and Vishnu who devised this method of non-intrusive shooting,” explains Sidharth.

On the way to Drass
On the way to Drass

Screen time
While there have been many war films made in India previously, Shershaah comes with the promise of being as real as possible. With minimal post-production SFX and sequences shot amidst the gigantic Himalayan ranges, the makers and the cast say it is as raw as it can get. Tiger Hill and Batra Point, both part of the Zaskar or Zanskar Range of the Himalayas, are located in the Drass region of Kargil. Drass, known as the second coldest inhabited place in the world, was the epicentre of the war. “The dust you will see in the movie is real, nobody was throwing it at us,” says Sidharth, while the director adds, “Most of the explosions are authentic; we haven’t used any extra effects to enhance the impact.”

View of the Himalayan ranges around Kargil
View of the Himalayan ranges around Kargil

Raw emotions
However, both the director and the actor unanimously say filming at strategic locations wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the army. Sidharth recalls an incident that made him quite emotional. “I remember on the second day of the shoot, we finished a sequence and were resting on a rock, while the crew was readying for the next scene. When it was ready, I got up from where I was sitting, and to keep the visual continuity, I was dusting off extra soil from my clothes. There was a soldier on duty who was watching us, and told me, ‘Sir, kya fark padta hai, apni hi toh mitti hai. Kahin par bhi lage, chahe chehre par hi kyun na ho (how does it matter, it is our soil, even if it is on our face),’ I was so touched by what he said. It may sound unreal to us, but these lines came from a person who is actually living his life as a soldier. This inspired me to play my role with more honesty. He thought I was dusting off the soil to keep my clothes clean, he didn’t realise I was doing it for the shot. At this moment, I realised that these are not just dialogues for the army, they really believe in what they say, they walk the talk,” reminisces Sidharth. It is emotions like these that are captured in the movie with the aim of giving the audience a glimpse of what the Indian army faces during war as well as peace. 

Shershaah premieres on August 12 on Amazon Prime Video

View of the Kargil hills
A view of the Kargil hills

The scenic valleys of Kargil and Drass are often visited by avid bikers, and since Sidharth loves biking too, he took a bike ride back from the location to his hotel during the shoot. But all did not end well. The actor recollects, “I remember we had finished early that day so I decided to ride a bike back to the base. I asked all the actors specifically if they knew how to ride a bike. One of our co-actors, Shiv Pandit, who is playing the role of Jamval, claimed he did. So we started riding and he was in front of me. At a cruising speed of 60 km he suddenly lost control of the bike and skid. To protect him I turned and toppled for about 20 metres on actual tarmac, but luckily, I had my helmet on so I was protected. But we were bruised badly.”

Sidharth and Kiara
Sidharth and Kiara

Captain Vikram Batra’s fiancée Dimple Cheema never got married after the former was martyred during the war. She still lives as his widow. Actress Kiara Advani, who plays Dimple, says this has been one of the most moving roles of her career, so far. “I read the script and was completely moved by it. I really wanted to be a part of this and wanted more people to know the story of this legend. I met Dimple, and have tried to be as honest as possible in my portrayal of her. Every scene between Vikram and Dimple is exactly what happened in real life. It may appear ‘too filmy’ to us, but it came with a lot of meaning, and the intention was pure — that was their love story. There’s so much pressure on women to get married, but when I discovered how Dimple took a stand to love until eternity and make the choices she made, it inspired me,” says Kiara.

Watch the video interview here: Indulge meets team Shershaah in Kargil; Sidharth Malhotra talks about all the BTS action