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Interview Hindi

The curtain that separates you from being criticized has dropped, says Luv Sinha

In an exclusive interview, Luv Sinha shares anecdotes about his Paltan journey and speaks about a tough phase in his life, war films, social media and 'star kids'.

Luv Sinha

Mayur Lookhar

Veteran filmmaker JP Dutta has returned to the screen after 12 years with Paltan (2018). His previous film was Umrao Jaan (2006). It is not surprising that he has returned with a war film, considering that he has the blockbuster Border (1997) to his name.

Paltan is a film based on the India-China stand-off at Nathu La in 1967. While China had the upper hand in the 1962 conflict, India achieved a morale-boosting victory in the 1967 stand-off.

Unlike in Border or his LOC: Kargil (2003), Dutta has no big stars in Paltan. Except for the veteran Jackie Shroff, the director has cast unheralded actors Harshvardhan Rane, Gurmeet Choudhary and Luv Sinha, the son of actor-turned-MP Shatrughan Sinha.

Some reports suggested that this is Luv Sinha's maiden film. However, the 35-year-old had made his debut in the same year, 2010, as sister Sonakshi, in Raj Kanwar’s Sadiyaan: Boundaries Divide… Love Unites. Sonakshi Sinha made a blockbuster debut in the Salman Khan-starrer Dabangg. The siblings thus had contrasting starts to their careers.

Eight years on, Luv Sinha has pinned his hopes on Paltan. In an exclusive interview with Cinestaan.com, he shared anecdotes about his Paltan journey and also spoke about a tough phase in his life, war films, social media and 'star kids'. Excerpts:

It's a clichéd question, but after watching the trailer and reading the basic information about the film, I didn't find much information about you, so I am keen to know what character does Luv Sinha play and what does he bring to Paltan.

Luv Sinha as Attar Singh 

I play Second Lieutenant Attar Singh. He has just been drafted into the army three months before [the Nathu La stand-off]. He is literally thrown into the deep end at the start of his turn. He is a soldier who is cautious and at the same time aggressive. He wants things to happen in a manner where everyone is safe, and the enemy shouldn’t get the better of them. He has his own journey through the film.

Is Attar Singh based on a real or a fictional character?

It is not a fictionalized character. I have had the absolute honour of meeting him. It is one of the most memorable moments of my life. I did not enquire too much about the incident because when I played the character I had to base it on what is in the script and what is being told to me on the set. It’s not based only on what happened then.

It was an honour to meet him. I consider it a big responsibility. I hope when he sees the film, he feels happy about how I have portrayed him on screen.

In Mumbai, the word paltan is used to describe a group of friends. So Paltan being used in 1967 during the Nathu La India-China standoff comes as a pleasant surprise. What was your reaction when you heard the story and the title?

I think the title is something all of us can relate to. Today a lot of films have English names. While that is fine, in order to reach to everyone, we have to speak in our own language. The credit goes to JP Dutta sir. He comes up with titles that everyone can identify with.

Let’s not think of Paltan as modern slang. Paltan also means a unit or a team. Not just a group of friends. That way, Mr Dutta has picked the correct title for the film.

How much did you know of the 1967 standoff before you signed this film?

To be honest, we all learnt about it when we were part of the film. It was almost like classified information. It has not been revealed or spoken about freely in the press. You will only find it if you go looking for it.

I don’t know why this episode has largely remained hidden. Governments function in their own way. I’m just happy that JP Dutta always finds such interesting subjects. Not just an audience, but this is something that we as Indians need to know about it. Let’s not think about it only as a movie, let’s think about it as a part of history that has been so far kept away from us.

The film is described as a victory of the Indian army that was never told. Most Indians are wondering why it wasn’t told. Is it because this episode features a powerful enemy or are our filmmakers simply obsessed with the numerous victories over Pakistan?

My view is that the 1962 war had happened five years before. This [1967 Nathu La stand-off] gave a bloody nose to the Chinese, so maybe not to aggravate the situation and create another issue, where a full-scale war breaks out, the administration may have decided that we have won this battle, but let’s not make this into a major issue. This is international politics. As ordinary citizens, we are not aware of so many things. This is one such story that has now come alive.

JP Dutta reaped success with Border (1997), but his subsequent war film LOC: Kargil (2003) didn’t do well. War films, in general, don't do well today. You are a young man yourself, where do you think our filmmakers are going wrong with war films?

 A scene from JP Dutta's Border (1997)

It all depends on the makers, their connect. You have to be very passionate or related to what you are doing. They are some filmmakers who make a certain type of film. Some tackle various subjects, some focus on romance, some focus on comedy, and some like JP sir, who I wouldn’t say focuses on just war films, but he focuses on cinema which is very large. His visual sense, filmmaking style, for lack of a better word, is made on a large canvas.

War films can still work; there are still stories that have not been told. It all depends upon the conviction and the way the filmmakers approach it. I still believe in the genre. I don’t think this is a genre that cannot work in India.

Generally, the war films from the past that have done well are those overloaded with punchy dialogues, over-the-top action, melodrama, some romance. Has such storytelling become cliched?

I think we should stop comparing our films to international cinema, American cinema to be precise. We as Indians have a major hangover of English films. When we talk of cinema in India, we only talk of Hollywood, no one talks about French, Korean cinema. Let’s not try to feel that we have to make films like they do. Our cinema has its own language, its own graph.

Honestly, I can tell you from my interaction with our [Indian] soldiers that they are more into our cinema. They connect to our songs, to our films. We need to understand that our cinema is different. I’m not saying that nothing should change, but let’s not try to emulate the West. We need to maintain our own cinema, our cinema language, and at the same time improve in certain aspects that we have to.

What I was trying to say is that maybe the sensibilities are not the same as they were 10-15 years ago...

Then I would like to ask how a film like Baahubali: The Conclusion (2017) is the biggest earner in Indian cinema history. How do you explain that? This was an out-and-out commercial entertainer, with brilliant visuals, romance, action. It had everything that makes an Indian film. The sensibilities may have changed in pockets. We have different types of films now. They are films just targeted at urban audiences, and we have films that still appeal to a larger audience.

We must make good, intelligent films, but at the same time don’t forget your core audience. Never forget that person living outside the city, who is not just focused on watching movies on the internet.

I read somewhere that the training part was not easy for you. You were asked to use some guns, but they were too heavy. Can you talk about that?

The MMG [medium machine-gun] is a gun that you have to be very careful while using. Any gun has recoil. Whenever you fire, you have to be careful. The MMG is a heavy gun that is planted on the ground. Generally you don't carry it. If you carry it and then fire, you will dislocate your shoulder. Even when it is planted on the ground, you have to be very careful. You put your shoulder on it directly, and the recoil will dislocate your shoulder.

We had training from officers in the army. Our training was every single day while shooting. In order to live our part, we had to take advice from the army officers who were with us throughout the shoot. Along with JP sir, the jawans were our teachers. When JP sir was not there, we looked up to the jawans. What is the body language, how do you salute? Most people are not aware that there are different types of salutes.

Some reports say this is your debut film, but if I’m correct your first film was Sadiyaan: Boundaries Divide... Love Unites (2010). It took eight years for your second film. Was this long break out of choice or was the industry not so forgiving when your first film didn't do well?

Those reports are not from my side. There are many factors at play. No matter what, I have always respected the industry. I understand the business. In my case, it was also a matter of circumstances. A few films that were supposed to happen did not start or didn’t end up happening. There was one film with Umesh Shukla. We were thinking of starting a company. Unfortunately, all this took a lot of time. We mutually decided at that particular point of time that we would prefer to work together but at a later stage. There was another film with a reputed production house but that, too, didn’t happen.

So, I guess it would be wrong to call Paltan your comeback.

A comeback film would be when you tried multiple times and then — (pauses). I would rather call it a fresh start. A comeback would be when you work constantly and take a break and then come back. This feels like a fresh start. I don’t feel it is incorrect when people say it is your debut, for in a way it almost is.

Eight years is a long time. Was there ever a time when you thought this is not working for me and I need to do something else in life. 

My first love has always been cinema. You have to believe in yourself.  You shouldn’t lose focus. You see so many people come in this industry, so many don’t succeed, and it causes you to go off your path. In my case, thanks to the support of my family I did not do that. How do you prove yourself without an opportunity in any business? For me, it was all about getting that one opportunity. I’m grateful to JP sir for giving me this opportunity.

Through these eight years, what was the best advice you got from your father Shatrughan Sinha?

Poonam Sinha, Luv Sinha, Shatrughan Sinha (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

I follow the same advice that he has followed his whole life. You have to have faith in yourself. My personal view is I don't give up on life, I will never give up in my life. I’m not saying that in an arrogant way, but when you give up, only then does that dream end, everything is over. As long as you know you are capable, you just hold on in the hope that something good will happen.

Today with social media booming, star kids come under the spotlight at an early age. Even before they make their film debut, they start to have a fan following. And the media, too, plays its part. Do you think if you had this kind of support in 2010, things would have turned out differently?

Maybe. But if your film doesn’t work, then do you really think social media can save anyone? I know one-film-old actors who have seven lakh followers on social media. I wonder how they have that following. What is the basis of that following? I don’t think social media should be the barometer for success. There are people with 100,000 and 200,00 followers, but they haven’t done any work.

Another drawback of social media is that it exposes you to people but, at the same time, it ‘exposes’ you to people. You get what I’m saying? So, exposure is not always a good thing. It is basically giving away everything. There ought to be a certain balance when it comes to social media. Don’t share every single thing on social media.

Is this constant media, social media attention on star kids an unwanted pressure?

We may be born into a film family, but that does not mean everyone is going to be supportive. With social media, people can attack you directly from behind your screens. That protection is somewhat reduced. The curtain that separates you from being criticized, insulted has somewhat been dropped.

Your sister is a popular actress. She started off with a bang, but then quite a few of her films as leading lady did not do well. While she has always sounded positive at media interactions, as a brother do you think these ups and downs have affected her?

This happens with every actor’s career. She is not the only one who has gone through this phase where certain projects may have not gone in her favour. As long as you are doing your work correctly, as long as the filmmakers value your professionalism, they value your talent, you will get projects.

As far as stardom is concerned, what I like about her is that she hasn’t changed as a person. There are people who become arrogant. As a family, we value whatever love you get from anyone. You can’t take that for granted. With every actor, when you go through a low phase, be strong, that is what all of us as a family follow. You have to ride the storm.

Sonakshi's Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi, your father's cameo in Yamla Pagla Deewana Phir Se a week later and now you in Paltan... what’s the atmosphere like in the Sinha household now?

The atmosphere is how it has always been. We are all supportive of each other. We are all looking forward to each other’s releases. I think more than anyone else, the family is more excited to see me in Paltan. Like you said, it is after a long time. It is a role which is very important for me as an actor.

Coming back to Paltan, you were working with the likes of Jackie Shroff, Arjun Rampal, there was Esha Gupta too. What was your experience of working with these established actors? Any interesting anecdote to share?

A scene from Paltan 

Jackie uncle has literally seen me grow up. What I like about him is that he is very positive. Arjun Rampal is a lot of fun. He made us all comfortable. He played lot of pranks. He came up with a joke about me which I won’t be able to share. But it is a lot of fun being around him.

What’s next for you after Paltan?

There are things I’m talking about. Once they are finalized, the producers will announce it. I definitely want to take up more work, and I don’t want to take any gaps. In fact, I want to make up for [the earlier long gap]. There are some actors who have come before me, there are some actors who have come after me. It is not about age when you come in, but what matters is how long you stay. Some actors enter in their late thirties and have become extremely successful in films. You never know what will happen. It is a very unpredictable industry.

Finally, I have often heard that history repeats itself. The intimidation and bullying that happened in 1967 continues to happen even now at the border. As a citizen, do you fear India and China will struggle to solve their major border disputes?

Now many nations have nuclear bombs. So, a deterrent is in place. I believe India is a strong nation, but China is also a very strong nation. We have to keep that in mind. At the same time, we have to respect an opponent, but not fear an opponent. The current administration, I think, has a slightly stronger approach of dealing with other nations. India has never started a war, it has always finished it, except in 1962. That was the only time we suffered, but that was perhaps more to do with the decisions of the then administration.