In Conversation With the Producers of ‘Neerja’

Neerja, the story of a young flight attendant who heroically saved the lives of 359 people on board a Pam Am flight in 1986, was brought to life wonderfully by Sonam Kapoor in the recently released Bollywood movie. We spoke to Atul Kasbekar and Shanti Sivaram, co-owners of Bling Entertainment Solutions and producers of the film Neerja about their experience. Here are some excerpts from an interview:

1. Why made you choose Neerja as your subject to make a film on?

We wanted to enter into production with a thought of doing something challenging, Neerja’s story was moving and was something to be told to the world. She was an ordinary girl next door who did an extraordinary thing. So we thought why not choose something which is relatable to the audiences and which will remain in history forever.

2. How was your experience with Neerja’s family?

For these 30 years, they were also in talks with others for the filming of Neerja and somehow the energies between us matched. We had a connection and they trusted us with Neerja’s story and had faith in us that we would make an honest and a true film. We are proud to say that the family is very thrilled now and we didn’t face any obstacles or any road blocks at all.

The family didn’t take anything from us. They only wanted certain guarantees which were mostly in term of assurances like portraying the film in a very honest manner. They have put so much trust and faith in us that we didn’t want to disappoint them and so the final script was shared with them.

3. How was the shoot?

The actual shoot was scheduled for only 32 days and we were able to finish the shoot four days ahead the schedule and under budget, which is fantastic. The word ‘under budget’ in our industry is not heard very often and we are happy to say that we did it. A lot of efforts were taken by the production team for more than six months to make that happen and hence the credit goes to the whole crew for this.

4. Sonam Kapoor is known for her glamorous and diva-like personality, what made you cast her as Neerja?

The first thing is that she looks like Neerja. We showed her the script and she said yes. The director liked her. Sonam’s acting is very subtle and people take time to get used to something like this. They are used to more of a louder and very theatrical acting. She did a fantastic job and no body could’ve been better.

5. Considering the situation now in terms of terrorism, what made you bring Neerja in today’s time?

Honestly, we did it just because we wanted to film Neerja. We didn’t think of anything about the situation of terrorism. She is the youngest woman to have been awarded the Ashoka Chakra and its tragic to know that no one knows about her existence. We just wanted to showcase Neerja in its true form.

6. What next after Neerja?  

We are looking at different subjects but none of them are biopics. One of them is a comedy and the other one is more of a musical kind. What we want to do is, approach every movie the same way we did for Neerja. We want the script to be ready on paper which should be exceptional.

The film is now declared tax-free in four states of the nation. But it wasn’t the reviews or publicity that worked for the film, it was the dedication that each and every person working on this project had for Neerja. With all the good will that this film started with, it struck the right chords amongst people. The film deluded every convention which was written down in the mainstream Bollywood hand book. Neerja indices an enchanting two-hour drama out of a real-life tale of an extraordinary courage.