Neena Gupta, Sarika and director Sooraj Barjatya reveal why ‘climbing’ in the film is so much more than just a hike
Sarika and Neena Gupta in stills from ‘Uunchai’
Although buddy movies in Bollywood are not uncommon, they tend to chronicle the adventures of youth (3 Idiots, Dil Chahta Hai, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara). It is heartwarming to see filmmaker Sooraj Barjatya take a road less traveled to Uunchai, which revolves around three elderly friends (Amitabh Bachchan, Boman Irani and Anupam Kher) who decide to embark on a trek to the base camp of the Everest in honor of a deceased companion (Danny Denzongpa).
Veteran stars Neena Gupta and Sarika complete Uunchaithe rather impressive list of comedians; Parineeti Chopra plays a fearless tour guide, Shraddha Gupta.
For director Sooraj Barjatya, renowned for his larger-than-life family films and romances like Hum Aapke Hain Koun and Maine Pyar Kiyaputting together this dream cast to tell a simple yet inspiring story on the big screen has been hugely fulfilling.
In a Zoom conversation with City hourshe said he was “stunned by the honesty of the story” which reflected not only the physical but also the emotional journeys of six people.
“It’s about each of the characters (all in their 60s) climbing their own ‘uunchai (the size)’. When I heard this story, I realized that was the way to live life. My background was that this was the first time I got a story that was really character driven. All of my films, you see, have all been very direct stories; I took moments from my life and tried to put them all aside. This time I have characters that are so layered – they start at one part of a climb and reach another – and there’s so much climbing to do for the male and female characters. That’s what inspired me to tackle this subject and I’m so lucky to have this kind of casting and this new subject.
Sooraj shouted out to her “heroines” Neena Gupta (Badhaai Do, goodbye) and Sarika (Bheja Fry, Modern Mumbai Love). Sarika said that her character, Mala Trivedi, joins the journey of friends and therefore her own personal journey unfolds. Speaking about the emotions that drive the film, she hopes viewers take away “a lot of love and basic respect that the characters share for each other. Personally, I think it’s all about friendship, at any age, and each character is on a journey that culminates when they reach their own heights to overcome things.
She appreciated how the “simple” film conveys its message “beautifully” without being preachy, and hopes fans caught it in theaters to appreciate the beauty of Nepal being presented on a grand scale.
Interestingly, while at first glance the film seems dominated by male characters, women have meaty roles to play.
Neena Gupta, seen recently in Masaba Masaba 2said her role as Shabina Siddiqui (wife of Boman Irani’s character Javed) is “a typical housewife whose life revolves around her husband”.
“I have a daughter who is married in Delhi. And so my whole life is my husband – what should go into his food, did he eat his food or not, he said. taken his meds or not?everything fine good and happy but the important thing is how Sooraj ji climaxed my character in Uunchai – it’s very beautiful and progressive and in just one sentence, it says a lot about women today.
Sooraj Barjatya, director of “Uunchai”
How can a heartfelt and rather timeless story like Uunchai resonate in a modern scenario where life and technological progress are both frenetic in their pace?
Sooraj commented, “I think when it comes to technology and cinema, everything is going to help. But everyone wants to know what the story is, and everyone is very simple, that’s what we’re trying to represent; he’s the same man, he has the same dreams, he has the same fears. The pandemic has opened everyone’s boxes. While we can all get sick at the same time, we can all feel the same emotions. I think we’re all very ‘normal’ and this is the most ‘normal’ movie I’ve done. And I really believe that women have tougher climbs than us. Uunchai is for an age group who may not be very good with phones, but deal with simple things in an easy way, which I think will stand out and look refreshing.
He praised its group of accomplished actors, saying, “For any director, this is a dream cast, with years of experience and discipline.”
Boman Irani, Anupam Kher and Amitabh Bachchan in stills from ‘Uunchai’
And what was it like for this “dream cast” to work with each other?
Neena shared, “It was fantastic because when such experienced actors come together, the exchanges are very good. And we learn a lot. I had to do a shoot and Anupam who I worked with a lot was standing (around) and before the shoot he came up to me and said something in my ear – he made me a suggestion – what I was missing! And I did. He also wasn’t afraid that I would feel bad, and I also didn’t have an ego that ‘he said so, why should I do it’. This is the example I give so you know what kind of relationship we all had. And it was very good for Uunchai because the film achieved what it wanted to say through us.
Danny Denzongpa with Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher and Boman Irani
Sarika spoke of an “absolutely wonderful” experience working with the rest of the Uunchai sunk because of all the “energy”.
“I’m someone who truly believes in energy, in life, and especially in your workspace. It makes a lot of difference, you know? Because we don’t see the energy, we don’t take it seriously. But it’s very important – how we create and work, and here it was so good. And there was a calm…all the actors were comfortable doing what they were doing, because it’s also Sooraj ji’s energy that’s so wonderful.
“I’ve always said this – you don’t have to put on a big show, you don’t have to make a lot of noise, get stressed and pull your hair out to say I’m doing a movie. You can make a movie without it – you can just make a good movie. And Sooraj ji is absolutely wonderful on set as a director. So that made it very comfortable for the actors to be in that kind of space where it’s always was – just do your job and go home.”
Uunchai is now playing in cinemas across the UAE.