Hours before the release of his big-ticket film, director Nitish Tiwari tries to remain calm. Like his hero Aamir Khan, Nitish isn’t getting much sleep. But unlike Aamir who calls up his friends like Jackie Shroff, Karan Johar, Ranbir Kapoor and Ayaan Mukerjee (who is related to Aamir through his wife Kiran Rao) at unearthly hours to share his anxiety-induced insomnia, Nitish is pretty much keeping to himself.
“I’d be pretending if I said I am not anxious. Dangal has become much bigger than we expected, thanks to Aamir Khan. He has spoilt me for the future. I wonder if I’ll ever see the same level of dedication and commitment in any other actor that I work with.”
Exhausted but buoyant Nitish explains, “We had to take the two girls through three phases of training and at any stage one or both the girls could have become ineligible to play wrestlers. We had two stand-bys ready in case either of the girls needed to be dropped.”
Dieticians, nutritionists and medical experts had to be brought in to make sure Fatima and Sanya were qualified to get into the wrestling ring.
Says Nitish, “Even before they started preparing we had to go through their entire medical history to ensure their bodies could withstand the drastic change in their metabolism. If at any stage we discovered either of the two girls to have undergone any kind of surgery or any medical procedure we’d have had to eliminate them from the cast.”
The wrestling trainer then came on board. “We had decided to give four months for the two girls to be trained. The trainer laughed at us. He said it’d take that much time for them to just get their physical bearings in the akhaada. So the training took much longer.”
All the time Aamir Khan waited.
Nitish Tiwari’s admiration for the actor is unconditional. “His physical transformation for the role is by now widely video-documented. Having seen the physical change he undertook to play Phogat, I still have to say I wouldn’t have got the same level of enthusiasm and passion from a 22-year old actor. When we were planning the film we had no actor in mind. If you write a script with any actor in mind certain gimmicks and tricks creep into the storytelling. After the script was done, my producers asked me whom I’d like to play Phogat. This is when Aamir came into my mind. Luckily when we met him he loved the script and immediately agreed to do Dangal. However he gave us dates only after a year and also the option to go to any other actor if we didn’t wish to wait.”
Luckily Nitish preferred to wait for Aamir Khan. “It was the best thing to happen to Dangal. Aamir has added invaluably to Dangal. I’d go as far as to say the film couldn’t have been made without him. His dedication, focus, passion and commitment inspired me to pull up my socks, to do better than my best.”
The grateful director readily admits the interest level in the film has risen because of Aamir. “It would not have been the same film without Aamir. His presence gave Dangal an entirely different spin from what it would’ve been without him. Were we worried about Sultan stealing our wrestling thunder? Not at all! We were constantly comparing notes and keeping tabs on the other film to ensure there was no overlapping. Sultan is a love story with wrestling as its backdrop. Dangal is a father-daughter story set in the wrestling world. Even if there were similarities people would go to both films for Salman and Aamir. These two are not ordinary star-actors. They mould audiences’ tastes, decide what audiences should see.”
Nitish confesses he is nervous just hours before release. “The audiences’ expectations from Dangal because of Aamir Khan are impractical, unreal. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous and anxious. We’ve made a film from our hearts. And that can never go wrong. But I’m not too sure what audiences expect.”
Did he ever get into the akhaada himself? Nitish laughs, “Are you kidding? I would have been knocked unconscious in one blow. I’ve realized wrestling is the toughest sport.”
The director admits he has been ‘thoroughly spoilt’ working with Aamir. “It would be very difficult for any actor I work in to match Aamir’s passion and enthusiasm. He surrendered himself entirely to Dangal, gave a hundred percent of himself to the film. And he was so relaxed with his two screen daughters. They look like family in the film because they were a family while shooting. We were all surprised by the lack of vanity in this astounding star. His two screen-daughters could say anything to him. He not only took jokes about himself, he even cracked jokes about himself. Dangal is what it is because of Aamir Khan.”
Incidentally Nitish Tiwari is married to filmmaker Ashwini Iyer Tiwari who made the eloquent and simple Nil Battey Sannata on female literacy earlier this year.
“I am so proud of her. She is not only a fine filmmaker but also my pillar of strength. And my biggest critic. I am waiting for her verdict on Dangal. If she likes it I’ve succeeded.”