Madhur Bhandarkar's 'India Lockdown': The Struggle is Real

Prateik Babbar essays the roles of a migrant labourer in his upcoming film, which captures the horrors of the lockdown
A still from India Lockdown
A still from India Lockdown

Prateik Babbar was never the new star kid on the block. He debuted in a supporting character in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (2008) as Genelia D’Souza’s annoying younger brother, and then played a launderer and rat-killer in Dhobi Ghat, a seemingly unassuming and unflattering role for a newcomer.

The same year he portrayed an aspiring footballer-turned-drug smuggler in Dum Maaro Dum. Babbar, in his first four films, did not play the hero. Cast alongside much bigger names, he was not the one shining under the spotlight, but he was never quite away from it either, perhaps for the kind of roles he chose to play.

Barring a handful, almost all his characters have been complex. Think Aarakshan, Issaq and Mulk. Even in the South Bombay-based glamorous web series Four More Shots Please (season 3 released last month), his role as a bar owner, struggling to choose between loyalty and love, is nuanced and stands
out in the multi-starrer production.

His upcoming film, India Lockdown, which will hit the theatres on December 2, is yet another addition to his bold and brave filmography.

In the Madhur Bhandarkar directorial, which captures the angst of the migrant exodus in the aftermath of the pandemic-induced lockdown, Babbar essays the role of one such labourer, who grapples with the horrors of the biggest humanitarian catastrophe of our times.

“The fact that Madhur (Bhandarkar) chose me was a huge responsibility and an honour. As an actor, I am persistently looking for roles that are out of my comfort zone. I play Madhav, a migrant worker, who struggles to make ends meet in his day-to-day life, and how the lockdown made things worse for people like him,” says the 35-year-old.

A Mumbai-bred boy, Babbar was initially apprehensive about the role, but he took it up on Bhandarkar’s insistence.

“I had never seen such hardships in life,” he says. The director convinced him by saying the film would be a perfect tribute to his mother and renowned actor Smita Patil. In fact, a lot of Babbar’s research to prepare for India's Lockdown involved watching Patil’s films such as Akrosh, Chakra and Ankur that dealt with important social issues.

“Madhur made me watch all the news feed about these workers during the lockdown. How they walked from Mumbai to Bihar was heart-wrenching. This helped me understand their struggles and in turn, pick up the right emotions for my character,” he says, adding, “I also met a few migrant workers and heard their stories. I keenly observed every detail—how they sit and talk, and what makes them laugh. I also had a dialect coach to get in the skin of the character as he speaks Bihari Hindi.”

While there was no physical training required to get the look of the character right, Babbar admits it was a taxing journey emotionally.

“Madhur said he didn’t want to see the Bandra boy in me, so I lived the migrant life for a few months, and it was the most humbling experience I have had,” says the actor, who will be hosting a special screening of the film for the migrant labourers he worked with.

Babbar’s career took a hit about a decade ago when he struggled with substance abuse, but the actor has evidently bounced back.

“The fact that directors are approaching me for interesting roles is in itself encouraging and helps me face the highs and lows of my life. I am in my second innings now and am getting a chance to do what I love,” he says.

He is now looking forward to a packed calendar, beginning with a thriller-comedy, starring Pratik Gandhi and Tapsee Pannu, followed by a rom-com with his Four More Shots Please co-star Sayani Gupta, in which he plays “an uptight Parsi boy”.    

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