There’s always that one dreaded scene in every script – the one that keeps you up at night thinking about whether you’ll be able to feel it on the day, to get it out between action and cut when it counts.
It’s what you can’t wait to shoot and also what you can happily keep putting off. In my experience, it’s usually a breakdown scene. Incidentally, my fiance was called Ajay in both Rang De Basanti and Mumbai Meri Jaan.
My most difficult breakdown scene was Mumbai Meri Jaan, where I had to emote to a rather poor prosthetic leg cut off at the knee, in a pool of make-up blood. That was all that was left of my fiance. In Rang De Basanti (RDB), news of my fiance Ajay’s death on green screen TV, in the college cafeteria, in front of the crew, extras and the entire main cast of RDB, especially Aamir Khan was my toughest scene.
This was one of my first films. I was very new to acting and terrified by the idea of having to break down on demand, and that too in front of so many people. Having to be the centre of attention and the possibility of getting it wrong and having to redo the scene and waste people’s time is a lot of pressure.
I knew weeks in advance the day that the scene was scheduled for. I had rehearsed in my mind a thousand times what I would do, where I would look, how many steps I would take before I fell, how I would fall and how hard I would cry. I asked my mother (Sharmila Tagore) how she would play it.
My director Rakeysh Mehra told me to do it just as I had in the audition. And then it was time to actually do the scene and everything you plan so meticulously goes out the window immediately of course! I thought about someone I loved deeply and imagined how I would feel if I were to lose him or her. I tried empathy over method and blocked out the others.
It was a wide-angle shot, so I focused more on body language and actually felt a physical pain in my stomach when I fell to my knees. That’s how I ended up clutching my stomach and saying, “No..please..no..I can’t I can’t!”
I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know what the others were going to do because we didn’t really rehearse the shot, so when someone came towards me I think I pushed him away. I cried as if I had really lost my fiance, until Rakeysh said cut and I heard some clapping. Take one was given the green signal, but then on review a few extras were chatting and laughing amongst themselves in the frame, so we had to do a safety.
Cinema is such a marriage between technique and performance and it’s only when you get both right that it works. I learnt that while doing this scene.” TOI