Adivi Sesh: 11/26 is not the chapter that defines Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan
Actor-filmmaker Adivi Sesh describes his next film Major as a “passion project”. The film is based on the life and times of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who sacrificed his life fighting terrorists in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
In an exclusive chat with indianexpress.com, Adivi talks about her decade-long fascination with the life of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and the immense challenges of making a film about a real-life war hero.
Edited excerpts from a conversation with Adivi Sesh:
What do you remember from 11/26?
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My recollection of 11/26 and my introduction to Major Sandeep are closely linked. I grew up in San Francisco and we only had a few channels back then. On the afternoon of November 27, the channels broadcast a photo of Major Sandeep. When I saw his photo, I was so shocked. He looked like my older cousin. It looked like I would be in the next 12 or 13 years. It really impressed me. This initial shock turned into admiration for him. It was the early days of the internet, you had GeoCities web pages. I used to save newspaper clippings and kept all the information about him. Three years ago I realized he was the hero I look up to and I knew so much about him that the world doesn’t. The world knows how heroic he was and how he died in his final moments. But all I liked about him was the way he lived. 11/26 was not the chapter that defined it. Yes, it was an important chapter. But, he was a captain in the 7th Bihar when he fought at Kargil. He served in Hyderabad. He went to the National Defense Academy. He was a training officer in the National Security Guard. I was interested in the beauty with which he lived his life. That’s what I wanted to make a film about.
When you hear Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan’s name, the first thing that comes to mind is his passport size photo. What is the story behind this photo?
The funny thing is that so many people have their own version of this photo in their head. When I met Major Sandeep’s parents, I asked them to tell the story behind this photo. I thought it was going to be a crazy story. Her parents said, “No, it was just a photo ID. He needed a photo ID and he was in a hurry. He sat down and gave a big smile. But, the photographer said, “Sir, you should smile like that for a passport photo.” So (in this photo) he was actually trying to stop her from laughing. If you look closely, there is a kind of passion and madness in the eyes. And I’m not being filmic when I say that, those eyes are the reason his story stuck with me for 10 years.
After discovering the Major’s life, do you think you resemble his personality?
My face is (similar to his). But, as people, I’m not half the man he was. He was incredibly right-handed. The way he fired a gun and loaded the magazine. He was very good at it. Here, I am a civilian, completely left-handed. At first, I thought I had experience with Goodachari’s weapons and could make this film. But, I had to relearn everything because he was right-handed. The way he stood and his posture, the tone and tenor of his voice.
What kind of research led to the making of this film?
When we tried to find out who he was, I got most of the information from my incredibly long conversations with Uncle and Aunt (Major Sandeep’s parents). His cousin sister Snadhya too. I obviously met his superiors in the army and met his colleagues from the 7th Bihar and the NSG. We attended his school, Frank Anthony Public School, in Bangalore. We even walked around the Taj (hotel) to understand the geography of his final moments.
What kind of pressure comes with playing an actual character?
It’s incredible. You kind of have a triple push. Audience expectations of a military film about a war hero. And his real colleagues in the army who want everything to be exact. And you have his parents. You have three groups of audiences to cater to properly.