It’s no usual phenomenon to see a veteran actor like Ratna Pathak Shah, ride a bike at a place like Khardung La Pass. And Dhak Dhak producer Pranjal Khandhdiya reveals that it took quite an effort to rope in the actor for the film. And when she did say yes, she was surprised to achieve what wasn’t even on her bucket list – become a biker at 65. She is among the four women, with Dia Mirza, Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanjana Sanghi being the other three, who lead this road trip film about their journey to the highest motorable road in the world. Also read: Dhak Dhak movie review: Four biker women take on a road trip that excites and empowers but doesn’t bore
Pranjal also talked at length about all the challenges they faced while shooting Dhak Dhak at real locations, dealing with unpredictable weather, health issues of crew at high altitude and much more. He also opened up about why his co-producer at Outsider Films, Taapsee Pannu, didn’t promote the film. Excerpts from the interview:
Is there anxiety around the film’s release in theatres?
As producers, there is this pressure of performance. We are very happy that at least we are getting to the theaters and know that our content is good. And the love that people are showing to our trailer, we will find our own audience, just like every film finds its audience. So yes, the struggle is on. We are striving hard to get that extra push that all big star cast films get. We know what we’ve made and and and we are very proud of it with the actors with whom we have made. I think content of all kinds is being watched by people right now. People have become a very smart audience, they know what they want to watch and they pretty much have access to all mediums. So whether we release in theaters or on OTT, I think we can reach out to the right audience.
How difficult is it to make a film like Dhak Dhak?
That’s the power of filmmaking that we tell stories which would inspire. If you take up a subject like this where normally when a woman rides a scooty on the road, nobody cares about it. But the minute you see a woman riding a Bullet, a heavy bike, there’s obviously bound to be that second look that you give to the girl. I’ve never understood that you are looking at the girl, you’re looking at the bike or you are just looking at both of them and you’re feeling a little complex ‘how cool’ that she is riding the bike.
How did you choose your lead cast? How did you convince Ratna?
Our biggest challenge was in casting, how do we cast a 65-year-old. We were very sure that we don’t want a young actress. We wanted an actor who is actually 65 and can play that part. Hats off to Ratna ji! When I made the first phone call to her, she said, ‘Pagal ho gaya hai, meri haddiya tudwayega is umar mein (you have gone mad, you will make my bones break at such an age).’ I persisted and she read it in less than 24 hours and called back, saying, ‘I love the script. Biking ka kya hoga tu dekhle (figure out the biking part) but I’m doing the subject.’
Ratna ji says that at the age of 65, this was not even part of her bucket list but she managed to do it. She’s very happy about it.
Dia was the first one to come on board. She was very excited because she has a personal connection with bikes. Her bike memories go back to her father’s time. Fatima has a very personal equation with bikes. She is a biker in real life too. Sanjana is the Delhi girl who’s ridden on scooties. She actually rides the heaviest bike, Enfield Himalayan. We wanted to be very sure before we went out shooting, so for two months we gave all four actors intensive bike training.
Every day they used to train bike riding. We got them licenses as well. They had so many falls, issues, hurdles in taking out bikes in the traffic and people staring at them. But they were so determined that they gave us full support. They trained for two months and the result is very obvious that you see all of them actually riding the bikes in the mountains so confidently.
What challenges did you come across while filming in difficult terrain?
We shot across 86 real locations. All the riding shots in the film are all filmed at real locations. There were body doubles for some bits like longer rides as we didn’t want to drain them out. The entire crew covered almost 1200 kilometers across six states riding their bikes. We were like a moving party every day; we used to find a new location, shoot there and move forward.
We shot this film in the months of May and June which are the classic biking months where bikers go out on biking expeditions. There were difficult days if there was an injury or something did not go well and also the weather. Due to climate change, we faced a sandstorm in Delhi, thunderstorms in Manali and a hailstorm when we were shooting at Wari La Pass. There was one day when 63 crew members were bedridden, literally one third of the crew, because of high altitude, pressure, thickness, blood pressure fluctuations, body fatigue as we were shooting in the harsh sun all day, every day.
The biggest challenge for us was to find locations which were not that touristy because we couldn’t have shot there. So we found all remote but actual locations which you will come across if you do a Manali to Ladakh biking trip.
How did you manage to shoot at Khardung La?
The climax shot at Kharduna La was the last shoot day of our film. When we were there that morning, Ratna ji was running high blood pressure and Fatima had extremely low blood pressure. Fatima just didn’t have the energy to stand up and her brother pleaded with us if we could cancel the shoot. But both the ladies got out of bed and they were so determined that while we were supposed to shoot only for 20 minutes, we actually shot for over 2 hours.
From the 250-300 people crew, we shortlisted 35-40 people who were physically fit for Khardung La shoot. We were very strict about the safety of the entire group. We didn’t want smokers to go up and have a problem, so we asked everyone in the crew to stop smoking a week before so that they are in a good shape. The best thing is that we convinced everyone that they will do this journey on the road so that they get acclimatized.
Why has Taapsee not promoted the film?
As an individual, she feels that films like these need that extra push, because all star-led films have the star power that drives the marketing. The extra push not just in terms of expenditure but also the content that you put out, the opportunities that you create for actors to communicate with the audience and create those conversations around the topic. When you watch the film, you will realise there should have been so many conversations around this…why women are ridiculed when they ride a bike, is India safe for solo women travelers, do we have enough hygiene facilities available for them. We had two separate vanity vans for the entire female crew that was traveling with us, who were almost 45 percent of the crew.
Sadly what happens is a small film gets a small release. I think that disappointment has made Taapsee stay quiet, thinking a time will come when things will change. Outsider Films is all about collaborating with talent and people who genuinely matter. It’s not just one person driven. If only Taapsee had to promote it, then she is anyways an actor, why the need to turn a producer! The idea was to put Ratna, Fatima, Dia and Sanjana on the forefront.
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