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Rana Daggubati on The Ghazi Attack: No one knows what really happened

An accidental visit to the site of Sankalp Reddy’s prototype submarine led to the birth of the The Ghazi Attack, Daggubati reveals in an interview to Cinestaan.

Mayur Lookhar

Telugu star Rana Daggubati’s stock has risen in Hindi cinema somewhat with the bilingual epic saga Baahubali (2015). The actor will soon be seen in The Ghazi Attack, another bilingual project, one that has its roots submerged deep into history. Daggubati plays one of the lead roles of lieutenant commander Arjun Varma, who is among those assigned to prevent attack from the Pakistani submarine PNS Ghazi. The Ghazi Attack is based on the mysterious sinking of the PNZ Ghazi during the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

While the film in itself is an epic tale, bagging this film was nothing short of a legend for Daggubati.

"This is a film that came to me not with a script. It was a friend of mine who was driving on a road in Hyderabad. He told me that there is someone who is building a submarine. I asked him where? He said on the top of a building and asked me to go and see it. So, that’s how we met this young filmmaker Sankalp Reddy, who was making a short film out of this subject,” says Daggubati. 

The Baahubali actor went through Reddy’s short film draft and was taken aback by the subject at hand. Daggubati says, "Sankalp had written a book called Blue Fish. The base incident is adapted from the book. We called him to the office and told him that here’s an opportunity to make this into a much larger film. It was important for us to realise if we could make this film. No one had made an underwater war film before in India. We didn’t know how much it would cost or whether we could make it right."

Given the uncertainty over the history of the sinking of the Ghazi, with Indians flip flopping over the issue, and Pakistan claiming that its ship wasn’t brought down by any Indian vessel, there’s a fear that The Ghazi Attack might show something which may be far from the truth. 

Commenting on this issue, Daggubati says, “Firstly, it is not a historical documentary that I made. We’ve made a feature film. It is inspired from a tale. The truth that we know is that the Ghazi did sink. This incident happened on the midnight of 3 December, 1971. The following day is called as the Navy day based on this episode. The India-Pakstan war was formalised on 8 December, it was on 9 or 10 December that the news of INS Rajput sinking Ghazi had come out. But there was an event that happened much before that. You really don’t know what the facts are. Obviously, this is a classified document. We didn’t get into the nitty-gritty of it as none of us will ever get to know what really happened then.”

Stressing further on his point, he says, “We have the fourth largest navy in the world but there’s never been a film on our navy. So, this film is a glorification of our navy. Yes, we have taken certain creative liberties. Quentin Tarantino film (Inglorious Bastards) had Hitler dying in a blast in a movie theatre. Where else would you take inspiration from than such subjects?”

With such a film never made in India, the makers had no one to look up to to for reference on this matter. So, they went looking for wisdom from the West. 

“We had seen international films (involving submarines) like U-571 (2000) and Crimson Tide (1995). The former is based on German U-Boat (undersea boat), while Crimson Tide is based on a nuclear sub. The S21 (INS Karanj) and the PNS Ghazi were submarines of 1970s. Ours was from USSR while The Ghazi was an American vessel. We took about 5-6 months in writing the script before making the full draft. In the meantime, we started testing a lot of CGI (computer generated graphics) in Hyderabad, which is the CJI capital,” says Daggubati.

The real complexity with a film involving underwater sequences is how to shoot the mini (toy model) things under water. Elaborating on the technical challenge at hand, Daggubati says, “The big challenge was the climax that we designed... can we execute it to real perfection? We tried seeking the services of the stunt team of The Phantom (America TV series). They quoted $4.6 million dollars. They even asked US $100,000 to even sit and chat about the process that needed to be done. There was no discussion and we realised that we need to do this ourselves."

Unfortunately, for Daggubati, seeking the services of Baahubali team was not an option too as the actor bemoans, “For Baahubali, the VFX cost for the first film was Rs26 crore, and it shot up to Rs45 crore for the second film.” 

The Ghazi Attack is bilingual film having being shot in Hindi and Telugu. Both Kay Kay Menon and Atul Kulkarni also feature in the two versions. Did the local boy Daggubati teach his co-actors some Telegu? 

"No, I just tried learning Hindi from the two. Atul has actually done quite a few Telugu films. So, he speaks Telugu fluently. The reason for going bilingual is that there are very few stories that will lend themselves to this. This is a story about a war between India and Pakistan. So, it is a national film. It is a story that happened on the bay of Vishakapatnam, which makes it a regional film. That is why the film commenced as a bi-lingual film," Daggubati signed off.