If you know Soumendra Padhi by now, you deserve a pat on your back for the fact that you took out time to watch a very important film which came out this year- Budhia Singh Born To Run. If you have seen the film and did not care to know who Soumendra Padhi was, it is about time you know him.
Soumendra was only six months into his job when he decided to quit it and leave for Mumbai. He went there with the thought that anyone who wishes to do something in films goes there. Ten years after he put his first step in the city, Soumendra came out with his first Bollywood release as a director. It is slowly becoming an inspiring film.
Let’s meet the man behind Budhia Singh – Born To Run.
A- There is nobody in my family who has any relation with cinema or any art form. I wanted to be a filmmaker during my engineering days only but I did not have the courage to speak to my parents. I used to watch films in college. But nothing was planned that I will take it seriously. We don’t grow up like that in a middle-class family. You have to do a job. I got my engineering degree and then got placed in a software firm in Hyderabad. For a brief period of six months, I worked there and then I quit the job. To be honest, I did not quit it. I just ran away without notifying them. I always heard that everybody comes to Mumbai to pursue their dreams. So, I also landed up in Mumbai.
Q- Which year was that?
A- That was 2006-07, I guess. I learned some basic stuff in animation and filmmaking there. I had not informed my parents about it. It was only after six or seven months after quitting the job, I informed them that I was in Mumbai. I did not have the courage to tell them about it. Also, I did not want to put any pressure on myself.
Q- What after coming to Mumbai?
A- I slowly started in Advertising. During this period, I was making a lot of short films. All the money I used to earn was going in making short films. That was the only way I could learn to make films.
Q- Were you freelancing or working full-time for a company to earn that money?
A- I was doing it for Code Red Films, which became the producer in my first film. Gajraj Rao and Subrat Ray are the guys who were there. I was very well groomed over there. I made short films, documentaries, music videos and what not. The dream was to make a film. During that time, I started looking for different scripts and then this subject got my attention.
Q- That was my next question. How did this idea of making a film on Budhia emerge in your mind?
A- I have studied in an Army School. I studied in Sainik School in Bhuvaneshwar. Sports was always something that I was close to. I always wanted to make a sports film. Always. When I came to Bombay after leaving my job, I used to watch a lot of inspirational films. I used to download a lot of them and watch. I wanted to do something on sports because it is the most inspirational thing. I am from Odisha, so this subject caught my attention. It was a sporting subject but a unique one. Marathon as a sport had never been explored. India cinema had never dealt with a subject like ‘child prodigy’. I thought for the audience, watching this film will be very exciting.
Q- I think the casting of the film is a winner. But it must have been a very tough task to find the right face to play Budhia. Also, to rope in Manoj Bajpayee to play Budhia’s coach Biranchi Das.
A- That was a big challenge. If the audience did not connect with Budhia, the film would have fallen flat on its face. This was a key for us. It took us a long time to find Mayur. It took around 6 months, I guess. Overall, I believe we auditioned more than 1200 kids for the role. Kids from different parts of the country had come to give auditions. It was very important to pick the right boy.
Q- What was the criterion in deciding who fits the bill?
A- The criterion was that he should not have faced the camera and he should be a very good runner as well. There is a lot of running in the film. We got everything in Mayur. He comes from a very humble background in Pune. He has got a beautiful pair of eyes. His eyes are full of sadness. He had lost his father a year back to the start of the shoot. He was also grappling with a lot of other things in life at such a tender age.
Q- Why was it that you wanted someone who had never faced a camera?
A- I wanted that discomfort when you face the camera for the first time. The discomfort is so nice for the camera. For a five-year-old kid, nothing is real. His expressions have to be very natural. When he smiles in the film, it is his own smile. He has not acted. I did not want artificial expressions from him. We just became good friends with him and then he slowly responded to the script.
Q- What about Manoj Bajpayee?
A- Manoj was my first choice and I was glad when I got him on board so easily. He wanted to read the script and I had sent him one through mail. He responded immediately after that. He said yes over the phone only. He wanted to play such a character for a long time. We were lucky in a way because we got him in one go and there were no dates clashing or anything of that degree.
Q- Budhia’s story had revolved around a lot of controversies. Keeping that in mind, how difficult was it to pen the script because many people were going to make opinions and judge your opinion in the film?
A- There’s always an inner conflict involved while writing such a story. There are many inner conflicts you face in the process of making a film. There was so much written on this case that you are bound to have different strong opinions about it. I had written a rough draft. When I went to meet those people in the slums, I realized whatever was written was not the truth. Whatever was written was to suit the convenience of the writer. In truth, nothing of that sort had happened. Biranchi Das was no more and it became tough to know the real story. I had to spend a lot of time to win over people’s trust to know the real story.
Q- Can you elaborate this point?
A- When I started writing the draft, Biranchi Das was a superhero in my eyes. He was not just a human to me. It was only when I started exploring more of him that I saw his human side. The real ‘him’ turned out to be a different person. I am very thankful to his wife as she allowed me to show that part of her husband’s side as well. It really does not happen. When you see a biopic, you generally don’t see the grey shades of the lead character. You see the good side always because that is what the director wants you to see.
Q- How did you go about doing research for the film?
A- I went and met the people related to both Budhia and Biranchi. I spent more than six months in Odisha doing research. It took this long because every time I would go to Odisha, I would hear a new angle to a story. There were many contradictions. The film is only an interpretation of facts. It is a point of view but it is as close to reality as we got.
Q- Hearing you, it feels like on every step you had a bigger mountain to climb…
A- The biggest challenge was that we did not have any backup for Mayur. If he fell ill or due to some reason stopped acting, the film would have stopped then and there only. That was one very vulnerable part throughout the shoot. But Mayur did his best. He behaved in the film how Budhia would have behaved.
Interview By: Shubham Pandey
Image Courtesy- Soumendra’s Facebook