Debutant director Sankalp Reddy gets talking about India’s first submarine-based war film The Ghazi Attack, ahead of the film’s release on Friday this week. Based on a lesser known story about the sinking of PNS Ghazi, a Pakistan-deployed submarine during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the film stars Rana Daggubati, Taapsee Pannu, Kay Menon, Atul Kulkarni and the late Om Puri, in pivotal roles.
Q: Ghazi was originally planned as a one hour film for YouTube release. Today, it’s a much talked about movie, that’s getting a pan-India release. How’s the journey been so far?
Sankalp Reddy: It’s been a three year long struggle. What I’m feeling right now is an emotion and I can’t explain it in words. When I started the project with my own money and a cast mostly featuring theatre artists, I knew this film won’t have a theatrical release, and my only other option was YouTube. This journey has been good and bad; it’s filled with mixed emotions.
Q: Why do you say it’s been bad?
Sankalp Reddy: We didn’t have the money to even get the project started. The pre-production process went smoothly because it didn’t require any investment. But when we started doing the set work, which was much before Rana Daggubati came on board, we’d work for two days and wait for the money to come from somewhere. Even close friends couldn’t help, but I don’t blame them. Irrespective of the struggle, which I believe every first-time filmmaker goes through, the experience was never regretful.
Q: What drew your attention particularly towards the mysterious sinking of PNS Ghazi submarine during the 1971 Indo-Pak war?
Sankalp Reddy: When I saw the Indian submarine in Vishakhapatnam, I wanted to make a film on the Navy. While I agree that there are several unheard stories of the Indian Navy, most of these are very straight-forward, and sans an element of mystery.
When you take the story of Ghazi, there are many versions to it. The Indian Navy claims that INS Rajput submarine destroyed Ghazi. But the Pakistanis believe it was destroyed by one of their own water mines. Some others claim INS Akshay was responsible for destroying Ghazi. This mystery element was very intriguing, paving way to a thrilling fictional story.
Q: How much research did it take to lock your version of the story, and what was your process behind it?
Sankalp Reddy: When I started working on the project with my money, the main agenda was to shoot the entire film in just one location, using sets. It took a few visits to the submarine in Vishakhapatnam, to even begin our set work. The research process involved a lot of reading, including everything that was available online. I also met a few retired Navy personnel and they helped me in getting the content right technically. The research work, which lasted for nearly 8 months, went into creating the submarines and in understanding how the Navy functions.
Q: When Rana Daggubati expressed interest to be part of the project, were you taken aback or intimated?
Sankalp Reddy: Even before Rana came on board, I never approached any actor, because I didn’t have contacts. It was through Rana, who learnt about the subject I was working on, that the producers showed interest in the project. Unexpectedly, a lot of things happened and that changed the fate of my film. Despite his stardom, I never felt intimated to work with Rana, because he completely believed in my story and never treated me like a newcomer. He liked how well prepared I was even before he joined the project. By the time he joined us, I was ready with my storyboard, pictures of the sets we had built and had an idea of the computer graphics we will be using.
Q: How much time was spent on building the two submarines?
Sankalp Reddy: We began work on the first set in 2013 and it went on till June-July of 2014. Rana joined us in January 2016, and we had to create another set for him, because the original one was very compact. Initially, we had planned to shoot with small cameras – GoPro and 5D - due to the shoestring budget. Rana’s addition automatically made the film big, both in terms of budget and scale. Since we had the license to go big, it took us another 8 months to begin from scratch and we commenced principal photography from early 2016. We completed shooting in 60 days in Hindi and Telugu.
Q: In one of his interviews, Rana said that the actors suffered from claustrophobia following long hours of shooting underwater in a submarine setting. How challenging was it to shoot in such conditions?
Sankalp Reddy: I never found it challenging because even before we started shooting, I had nearly spent a year inside the submarine set.
I literally lived in it. I did most of my work – scripting and rehearsing with the initial set of actors – inside the submarine. The actors struggled initially to get used to the environment. We’d start shooting early morning and on several occasions we lost track of time. There were days we even missed the sunlight because we shot 16-18 hours at a stretch, and the actors had to take vitamin D tablets.
In spite of these challenges, nobody complained because all of them were so committed.
Q: Apart from Rana and Taapsee Pannu, the film features a bevy of talented actors. From Kay Kay Menon to Atul Kulkarni and even the late Om Puri. As a debutant, did you find it challenging to handle so many senior artistes?
Sankalp Reddy: I never treated them as stars. I met Atul at his residence in Mumbai and narrated the story. He was very friendly with me. Even before the producers joined the project, I approached Kay Kay Menon, and he suggested that I wait for producers before I commence work on the project. A year later, I approached him again, but this time I had a go ahead from my producers, and he agreed to join the project immediately. Rana, on the other hand, is very friendly and he placed his full faith in me and the script. Taapsee, too, completely believed in my vision and joined us.