While Sooraj Barjatya’s films are known for stellar ensemble cast, with Uunchai he seems to have attained a new gold standard with a dream cast.
Uunchai is a rare example of gritty, wholesome storytelling as far as Hindi cinema is concerned. It follows the story of friends who take a trek to the Everest Base Camp in order to fulfill a friend’s last wish. While Sooraj Barjatya’s films are known for their stellar ensemble cast, with Uunchai he seemed to have attained a new gold standard with a dream cast led by the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher, Danny Denzongpa, Neena Gupta, Boman Irani, and Sarika. “Actually, the real base of this casting is the subject because it is a real subject and it is a subject about an age group which is senior and which is climbing an elevation of 17,000 feet against all odds and that also with lots of humor, happiness, and faith,” rejoices Barjatya.
Barjatya adds, “I have never had such layered characters in my films. All my films are basically moment-oriented. This is the first time that I am dealing with so many layers which I just kept on discovering. So once I had such characters on paper then I had the guts to have them in real life too.” He further adds, “I must say that I have been really fortunate that I got my dream casting for Unnchai which very few directors could have got it. It started with Anupam Sir, then I had Bachchan Sir, Boman Sir, then Neena Ji, Sarika Ji, Parineeti, and then finally Danny Ji who has chosen to have a nice retired life in Sikkim and so to get him from there right in the middle of the pandemic was my biggest victory, I think.”
For Anupam Kher, who started his acting career with the 1984 Rajshri production Saaransh, Unnchai is nothing less than a homecoming. He doesn’t hesitate to put his performance in Uunchai amongst the best seven performances of his illustrious career. “And out of those seven, two of them are from Rajshri, Saaransh as well as Uunchai. Also, there are certain characters which sort of complement the person also. That changes you, your philosophy as a person too. Uunchai is one such film. The parallel tracks of the actor in me and the person in me both had same goals. That I want to try out my capabilities and want to see how far I can go, for that’s where you realize your true strength,” explains Kher. He further adds, “Uunchai is an extraordinary story of ordinary people except for Amit Ji’s character who is a celebrated author. For them to agree to climb and then actually go through that I think needed conviction and not necessarily the craft.”
Despite the demanding nature of the shoot Boman Irani was always up to challenge. “Honestly, the only challenge was to get used to the weather. That’s it. The rest just flowed. It will tell you how it flows. It comes from the director. It also comes from who you are sitting next to in the shot. The actors can’t act in isolation. They are always feeding off each other, looking into each other’s eyes and listening to what the other guy is saying. If you are not listening to the other guy then you will never know how your line is going to come out. Also, when the subject is helping you, the director is there as the beacon of hope and positivity, the actors are all of the highest pedigree then all you have to do is to look into their eyes, listen, and react,” explains Irani.
For Natasha Malpani Oswal, who likes to describe herself as a new-age producer, telling high quality stories and working with talented creators is the most important thing. And that’s what got her associated with a project like Uunchai which has everything that would interest someone like her. “I consider myself really lucky that this is the first project that I am doing in terms of a Bollywood feature film and I get to work with this sort of veteran director and this sort of veteran cast. I know I don’t even need to say this but they love what they do. They have the passion and the conviction and are looking to embrace challenges. And that’s really a dream for a producer. You need to find a story that you think will connect all generations and you want a team of people that is invested in that story,” rejoices Oswal.
Sarika is one of those actors who is very choosy when it comes to picking up roles. “Rajshri is like a family to me. So there was an emotional angle to that. Also, I really liked the script very much. It’s a pure script that’s full of honesty,” reveals Sarika whose first film with Rajshri Productions was Geet Gaata Chal (1975). For Neena Gupta, starring in a Rajshri film is a very special feeling. “There was no question of thinking at all. The very fact that I am being called by Rajshri Productions to play a part in a film directed by Sooraj Barjatya is enough for me. And it’s really an icing on the cake that the script as well as the role are so good,” rejoices Gupta.