The making of Neerja
Producer Atul Kasbekar on why his first venture as a producer was about keeping the vulnerability of the story, the cast and crew alive
What you won’t see in Neerja the film that releases on Friday, 19 February based on the life of Pan Am purser Neerja Bhanot (played by Sonam Kapoor) is how her mother found solace through “auto-writing” to communicate with her daughter’s spirit after she was killed. Automatic writing or psychography is described as a psychic ability some people allegedly develop when guided by supernatural forces.
The film’s cinematic depth and nuances notwithstanding, as audiences, we may not even guess that producer Atul Kasbekar, director Ram Madhvani and the team took long months to research every story and account that had appeared on the Pan Am flight 73, hijacked in Karachi by terrorists in 1986. They say they unearthed every little detail about Neerja Bhanot who was shot after saving 359 lives on board, right down to getting information on her personality and likings as a school kid. They also extensively interviewed the survivors of that tragic incident.
Kasbekar, a well-known glamour photographer, also known for his association with the Kingfisher Swimsuit calendar and as the face of Carl F. Bucherer watches, says turning film producer was a natural progression of his work. Many in the glamour industry would know that the passionately restless Kasbekar owns and runs Bling! a celebrity management company based in Mumbai. In a former conversation, Kasbekar had told me that he selects and rejects who Bling! represents with his eyes wide open, his criteria being to work only with those who have ability and talent to withstand the rough and tumble of the glamour world and emerge (and look like) a star.
“Neerja’s story came to me written on seven pages. The Bhanot family which had refused to give permission for 30 years to all those keen to turn their brave daughter’s story into a film had finally agreed. After that, it was up to us to develop the story on paper,” he says.