Interviewed by: Diksha Jha
With less than a day to Parmanu’s release, the lead actors John Abraham and Diana Penty talk about the film’s release, its background, and share a few laughs, giving us a glance at their great camaraderie. Excerpts from the chat…
The film went through its share of obstructions and hurdles and is set to finally release now, how are you feeling?
JA: Right now we’re feeling relieved, although at this time one feels nervous about the reactions to the film but we haven’t even reached that stage. We are just relieved that the film is finally releasing and we are thankful to the High Court and the Hon. Judges for exactly putting out what we have been trying to say for so long.
Diana, how did you come on board?
DP: I got a call from John’s office saying that Abhishek Sharma, the director, wanted to meet me. I met him and he took me through what he had in mind for the project, in a nutshell. I remember being intrigued about how a woman could fit into this space but at the same time I was very excited to know that he had even thought of it. To be able to play such a strong female character in a predominantly male setup was a very special aspect to me. Somebody asked me if I was treated equally in terms of screen time and I hadn’t even thought of it, but, as a matter of fact, I was. It also is a matter of great pride to be able to tell a story that I feel everybody should know but, doesn’t know. Most people only know the surface level information and I came to know about most of the details when I got on board, too.
JA: To add to that, about Diana’s role, in an industry where it is still unfortunately prevalent that a woman has two-three songs and scenes, when you talk about equal footing there are 6 characters in the film but no hero. The hero is the story itself, the hero is the screenplay, and the hero is the dialogues. Also, when we were looking for an actress to cast for the role, Abhishek instantly took Diana’s name and when I asked him the reason, he said that she has no baggage. She comes once in a way, does the work, is tall, and has the stature of someone who could pull of an army uniform. She is not your typical Bollywood heroine. The beauty with her is also that she is effortlessly beautiful and she does not try hard to be that way.
How did you prepare for the role?
DP: Abhishek’s workshops and commendable information on the subject helped me a lot. I asked him for character references and John pointed out that I asked a lot of questions (laughs). He gave me the reference of Jessica Chastain from Zero Dark Thirty; a woman on a mission.
John, as a producer, what made you choose a subject like nuclear bomb test explosions? Do you think that it would appeal to the masses?
JA: Abhishek, the director narrated a 10 page idea to me in my office and at the end of it, I looked at him and asked how in the past 20 years no one has made a film on the biggest even in Indian history, after our independence. The first thing that came to my mind after the narration was that it’s a very difficult film. And second, how will I pull it off? And when I had those two questions, I smiled because; it is so difficult that I want to do it. If no one else could do it, I will try and do it. The whole credit obviously goes to Abhishek and the whole team, and also Diana for thankfully doing it.
What key points do you keep in your mind while making films based on real life incidents?
JA: Parmanu is a true story and the one of the key points to keep in mind is research. We cannot mess with the plot and hence Parmanu’s plot is 85%-90% true. The second thing was how we could make it more interesting and that was done by fictionalizing certain characters. Since the movie is so informational, the third key point was to simplify the information and that has been done brilliantly by Abhishek. The whole point of it was that not only me, not only you, but a man having a tea shop must also be able to acquire and understand the information showcased in the film. We did not want to make an overly intelligent film; rather we wanted to create an engaging thriller wherein even if you’re not interested in the Pokhran tests, you will still enjoy it. You will leave the theatre with a smile thinking that I didn’t really know that and how you’re proud to be an Indian because of what happened in Pokhran on the 11th of May in 1998. When showed to a test audience, a retired Air Force officer and his wife who’s a school principal came to us and gave us the feedback that Parmanu was the best film made on India and how it should be included in the syllabus of all Indian School and Colleges.
Were you aware of what was happening during the Pokhran tests during the time or did you get a wider insight after you started with the film?
JA: I remember listening to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s speech at the time and thinking of him as a hero because of his sheer orating skills. But I definitely did not know the repercussions that came along with it during those days. Although now I know that India is the superpower that it is only because of what happened back then in Pokhran. Honestly, the movie must be watched by every youngster today because it’s an educational process in an entertaining way.
Diana, you don’t rush yourself into picking movies. What gives you the courage to hold yourself back at a time where everyone else is doing many movies at a time?
DP: I’m Parsi.
JA: (Laughs) Both of us are half Parsi and that’s why.
DP: But it’s not that I have set out to be picky. It might come across as that because at the end of the day I want to sleep peacefully after doing films that give me satisfaction. It’s very easy to do everything that comes your way.
Having acted in movies of different genres, which kind of genre do you enjoy the most?
DP: I have done a thriller now, and have done a drama prior to this. I’ve also done comedy and that is personally a light space. I enjoy all the genres because all of them have their own plus points. My only drawback with comedies is that I cannot keep a straight face.
JA: My personal favourite is Comedy and I love films like Welcome Back. I love to make people laugh.
There have been reports of similarities in the script of your upcoming film RAW and Alia Bhatt’s film Raazi. The makers of RAW are reworking the script, is it true?
JA: We have stuck with the script which was narrated to me 4-5 months back. I have not yet seen Raazi but I have heard that it is a lovely film but we haven’t deviated from our script.