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Kay Kay Menon: Pakistan even claimed that they won the 1965 war

The Ghazi Attack actor strongly refutes theories that the Pakistani submarine PNS Ghazi was not brought down by an Indian submarine during the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

Mayur Lookhar

Very few actors live the characters that they play. Largely cast as an antagonist, Kay Kay Menon finds himself playing a protagonist in debutante director Sankalp Reddy’s The Ghazi Attack — described as India’s first naval war film involving a submarine. The film is set to be released on 17 February.

The Ghazi Attack is inspired by true events that led to the mysterious sinking of Pakistan’s first submarine PNS Ghazi on 4 December 1971. Four decades later, the sinking of PNS Ghazi remains debatable with claims that the Indian Navy triggered its drowning, while the Pakistani side claiming that its submarine came in contact with one of its own mines. 

The usually reticent Menon spoke briefly to the media, defending his film, backing the initial claim of the Indian Navy, ridiculing Pakistan's theory. The actor commented on the criticism against his earlier film Haider (2014) and why he doesn’t like film premieres.

Excerpts from the conversation:

Having played the antagonist in films likes Deewar (2004) and Baby (2015, can we say that The Ghazi Attack is your redemption for those reel crimes?
Yes, that’s true in the reel life. It (Captain Ranvijay Singh) is a character that you will be slightly confused about. Rannvijay Singh is an obstinate guy, he doesn’t like the system. He doesn’t like the chain of command, bureaucrats telling him when to shoot or not shoot at the war front. He is quite a difficult guy to deal with. All that combined together makes him a force to reckon with. 

What I meant was how over the years you've largely been cast in negative or grey characters. So, were you pleasantly surprise when this came your way?
This industry doesn’t surprise me. It’s too bland to surprise anybody. It’s too predictable. To me, it doesn’t matter what kind of a role it is. What matters is the person that I am playing. So, whether it is the Bengali guy in Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd (2007) or the thief in Sankat City (2009), I relish the fact that I am playing ‘a person’ and not the role. A role is finite.

So, what attracted you to this particular character?
One is the fact that it is the first submarine film that we are doing in India. Number 2 — when I met the director Sankalp Reddy and the producers, I realised that these guys are well-intentioned guys who are not doing a gimmick. Thankfully, you won't see a submarine opening up and a song taking place with a girl in a chiffon saree. The Ghazi Attack is a very believable script. 

And if I'm correct, you're playing a Sardar for the first time?
Yes, that's true. I respect people in turbans. It is difficult to wear turbans and shoot whole day for people who are not used to it. 

Playing a Sardar can be tricky given how sensitive the community is when it comes to portrayal on screen... 
We are conscious of it. That's why I never smoked with the turban on. 

Coming back to your comment on the Hindi film industry being too bland... Have you always felt that way?
I have been in this industry for 22 years, and each year I feel the same. Nothing really changes. It might metamorphose into something else, a change might threaten to come, but it never arrives. There was a time when films like Arth (1982), Ardh Satya (1983) became big hits. One thought these films would change Indian cinema, but nothing happens as long as the audience doesn't change, as long we don't cure our psychological disorder of being jingoistic, of being ruled by dynasties... We love the khandaan (referring to nepotism) and the babies of their khandaan, nothing is going to change. 

The Ghazi story is a debatable one with no clear word as to what really happened to the Pakistani submarine. Indians flip-flopped over the issue, while the Pakistani side presumed that their submarine came in contact with the mines that were laid by them to stop INS Vikrant. In that context, one hopes that the film doesn’t show something which may be far from the truth. Your thoughts.
Well, Pakistan also claimed that they won the 1965 war. So, you really can't expect much from them. We have classified the episode. We are not commenting on it only because the ceasefire had happened with the PNS Ghazi being shot down one day later. That is the only reason why we have kept quiet or else we would be dragged to court for breach of Vienna Convention (Law on international treaties between states). Back then (1971), the communication system was so weak that by the time the (ceasefire) information reached us, we (INS Rajput) had already done it (drown Ghazi). Besides, we were lost in the water. Ours was a small submarine, while Ghazi was a modern huge vessel from USA. So, it cannot get drowned just like that. 

Given the mystery over Ghazi’s sinking, isn’t The Ghazi Attack going to sail on rough waters? 
No, that's ok. It doesn't matter anymore. History is not going to change. Ghazi was sunk and if you want to revive it again, please show it to us. 

So, whatever the film is going to show, will it be non-fiction?
No, there is lots of fiction. These film characters didn’t exist. In reality, there were people manning the ship, but there’s a drama within that. Look, we have testimonies of many people, who were on INS Vikrant. We could not really award the actual people, because that was not possible. One will have to open a can of worms. Like I said, Pakistan claimed that they won the 1965 war, but I don’t think that is debatable.

Looking at your films like Haider (2014), Deewar (2004), there’s almost a painful intensity in those characters. The climax scene in Haider where your character is meeting with a horrific death sends shockwaves. How do you look at such performances on the screen?
Honestly, I don't watch myself so much. If I’m spending 40 days of my life shooting for a film, then those 40 days of my life are taken away from me. So, I need to live those 40 days to the fullest. I am very passionate while shooting, but after that it’s nothing but the past for me. So, what I see on the screen is just past. I don’t glorify myself saying ‘oh what a great shot’. I just don’t do that. It’s for the audience to share their experience. I just try to make those days of shoot a memorable experience. It has to be a life which I enjoyed living. Once the shoot is over, then I’m dispassionate about it completely. Nor do I attach any hopes or cling on to it. That past has its own destiny, eventually, it becomes the present for the audience. It’s only when I see the audience, is when I get the reflection of what has happened there.

So, how often have you been to cinema halls to gauge the audience reaction?
I usually don’t go (to cinema halls). There is something called as a premiere show, which I think is the most boring aspect. I have seen the film at dubbing. I might see it for the directorial aspect, post-production details. For The Ghazi Attack, I might go and see the visual effects. However, I won’t be seeing my scenes intently. I find it too narcissistic.

Coming to Haider, while the film was critically acclaimed by film critics, there were voices, especially former army men who felt that the film projected the Indian Army in bad light. Your thoughts.
Our army is not weak that it can get demoralised by a film. If that was to be true, then all that Pakistan needs to do tomorrow is make a film to finish our army. Indian Army is too strong an institution to be affected by a film. One or two people may have expressed their views, which would lead to some making a mountain out of a molehill.

But in the age of social media, such criticism can get plenty of support.
Yes, that's true. Though I’m not on social media, I understand that aspect. However, that scrutiny is among people who have nothing to do with the film. Jingoism again. We don't look at facts as facts. I don’t think this social media (outrage) matters to the Army. They have their systems in place. 

It’s the first time I’ve had the privilege of meeting you. However, you have an image of being reticent and not interacting much with the media. 
Problem is… (pauses) that I can’t really do anything about this. Look, I only talk to the media when is required. I do PR for a film, but not for myself. Why should I speak? My work should speak for myself. If Ghazi Attack requires PR, then I will definitely do it for the producers and everybody else. It’s my job.