The making of an epic period film like, Gadar - Ek Prem Katha, presented the producers and the film unit with its own set of peculiar problems. Recounted here are some of the exhilarating moments of the making of the film, as recounted by Nittin Keni and the film unit.
Making a period film means recreating a slice of history. While erecting 'period' sets in a studio may be fairly easy, on location shoots can really cause nightmare for the unit. One of the major problems that the makers of Gadar encountered was to recreate actual locations to resemble the India of the 1940s.
One of the important scenes in Gadar is the scene where a train from Pakistan enters Amrtisar station carrying bodies of massacred passengers. The producer decided to shoot the scene on location at Amritsar station. To do this the entire station had to undergo a huge makeover.
"Amritsar Station used to be painted red in the 1940s," explains producer Nittin Keni. "Today it is painted yellow. So we had to paint the entire station red and after the schedule we had to paint it back to yellow." Not only that, the art director dismantled all modern electrical fitting and fitted bulbs and fans that were used in the 40s. Where modern permanent structures came in the way, they were covered with paper and painted over.
Also advertisements and posters in the station were pulled down and replaced with ones from the 1940s. "We went through newspapers of that era to see which were the brands that were advertised in those days. From that we prepared posters and used it as ads," says Keni. And finally all that was done had to be undone and put back to its present condition.
The amazing thing is that all this was done in a 'live' station. The scenes were not shot in a siding. The scenes were shot on the platform that is used everyday by thousands of passengers. "We usually shot at night, but when we shot in the day we had to request the passengers to wait outside," says Keni. "We would shoot until it was time for the next train to arrive, at that time our steam engine and train would move to a side line. Then after the scheduled train left the station, our steam engine would come back and we would commence shooting. In all this the railway schedule was not disrupted. But it was a logistical nightmare."
The steam engine used for the shooting had been hired from the Railway Museum at Delhi. The rent was Rs 1 lakh per day! The engine had to hauled from Delhi to Amritsar by a diesel locomotive. After arriving at Amritsar the steam engine had to be activated. "We purchased the coal ourselves," says Keni, "and every night we had to ensure that the boiler did not cool down." The steam engine was in running condition but was not strong enough for long runs. However during the shooting of the climax the front part of the engine was damaged and one can see this in the film.
Another logistical nightmare was the shooting of the exodus scenes. According to historians there was a four-bogie India-bound train that was leaving Pakistan, and there were 40,000 refugees waiting to board it. To enact this scene the unit had to organise at least 20,000 people. The sequence was to be shot at Ferozpur (which resembled Pipla in Pakistan). Hiring junior artistes was out of the question. So the producer approached the mukhiyas (headmen) of the neighbouring villages and requested them to ask the villagers to 'act' in the film. The crowd was divided into two groups and in one scene they had to throw rocks at each other. The art director created dummy stones and placed them at the disposal of each group. On cue the groups had to throw the 'stones' at each other. Unfortunately the crowd got over enthusiastic. When the dummy stones were exhausted in a few seconds the eager 'extras' picked up real rocks and started throwing it at each other, even as the frantic fight director Tinu Verma screamed 'Cut' in vain. Some in the crowd were slightly injured, but they seemed to enjoy themselves!
Says Keni: "Since these were untrained 'actors' it was difficult to get them to start a scene, and once they started it was difficult to get them to stop. They just got carried way. If they were professionals you could say they got in to the skin of the character." But this also created problems. In one major scene Amisha Patel had to get trampled when there is a stampede at the station. In fact, in the story, she gets saved because of the stampede. The stampede had to be enacted by amateurs. In their enthusiasm the stampeders actually trampled upon the petite actress who almost fainted and had to be carried away and given prompt medical attention on the spot.
While shooting a similar riot scene, action director Tinu Verma who is known for his colourful language, really let one loose on the megaphone -- forgetting for a moment that he was dealing with unpaid volunteers and not paid stuntmen. The villagers were stunned. No one dared abuse them. From faking a riot in front of the camera they got ready to create a real riot with Tinu as the target. The only thing the tough fight master could do to save his life was to flee the scene. Which he wisely did.
While making a period film the most important aspect is the costume. "Besides the styles of that era, the fabrics are also important," Keni explains. "For example, synthetics were not very common in those days. Certainly not in the rural areas. So we had to procure fabrics that resembled those worn in that era. To get an idea of the fashions and hair styles of that era, we saw many movies of the early 1950s. That gave us an idea of the 'look' of that era." Also, in those days machine knitted sweaters were unheard of, so the art director actually got sweaters hand-knitted to give it that authentic look.
Towards the climax of the film the Pakistani helicopter, that chases the train in which Sunny Deol and his family are escaping, has to crash. To show the crash they had to shoot the slowly hovering copter against a massive blue curtain. Unfortunately the curtain got stuck in the rotors and the helicopter could have really crashed, but at the last moment the curtain got free and helicopter just managed to save itself.
Almost causes an international incident
The sequence being shot was the hero's (Sunny Deol) escape to India from Pakistan in a train. The location was a tract of desert at Bikaner very close to the border. The scene had Sunny in the train being hounded by Pakistani helicopters. The helicopter had been painted in the colours of the Pakistan Air Force. And to add authenticity the pilot (Pargar Singh) wore a Pakistan Air Force uniform.
Since the shooting was close to the border, the film crew had to take permission from the local Indian Air Force base every time the helicopter took to air. On the third day of shooting, there was some technical snag due to which the film crew was not able to contact the IAF base. The frustrated film crew and pilot waited for hours since the chopper couldn't get permission to take off. After trying the phone repeatedly, in the end the helicopter pilot volunteered to drive down to the base and get the requisite permission in person.
He took the unit jeep and drove to the base and to his bewilderment was arrested by the sentries at the main gate.
The poor pilot had forgotten he was still in his Pakistan Air Force costume. The sentries were aghast to see a PAF personnel drive down to their base and almost trained their guns on him. As we said sometimes action scenes can get a wee bit dangerous.