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Behind the scenes of ‘Welcome Back’

There’s sand flying everywhere; open your mouth and you risk tasting it in all its glorious grittiness. But director Anees Bazmee, who was filming the climactic scenes of Dubai-set comedy Welcome Back somewhere deep in the UAE desert, is undeterred.

“Who’s that paagal [mad guy] who has kept the door of that Hummer door open?” hollers Bazmee in Hindi. Three choppers are ready to take off, but the pilots are holding on until the issue of the open door is resolved. Seconds tick by, Bazmee screams again into his microphone but his sound doesn’t carry fast enough. As if on cue, his assistant scampers to the scene of action where a fleet of Hummers and Land Cruisers are lined up and bangs it closed.

The actors — John Abraham, Anil Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Nana Patekar and Ankita — are oblivious to all the chaos around them. Their feat is to look defeated and raise their hands in mock surrender as the film’s villain (played by Naseeruddin Shah) and his beefy armed security guards close in on them. There are three helicopters and gigantic vehicles circling them, underlining their defeat. Their collective concentration is on keeping their eyes open while the action sequence is being filmed. Giant water tankers are parked nearby to wet the sand, to control the dust flying from the helicopter landing.

“It’s not an easy action scene but honestly we are enjoying the process a lot. Mark my words: when people see it, they will love this sequence,” said Abraham in between shots. It was their fifth day in the desert but they showed no signs of fatigue. tabloid! spent a day with the actors on the sets of Firoz A. Nadiadwala’s Welcome Back and brings to you their Arabian action adventures:

Five minutes with John Abraham, the hero of ‘Welcome Back’

(While he was happy to speak about the film, the actor clammed up when the subject of marriage to his girlfriend Priya Runchal in January was brought up: ‘I have been asked to stick to the film’)

Q. How is it shooting in such difficult conditions?

A. It’s fun but I had an action scene yesterday and I thought I tore something in my back while performing that stunt. But I wasn’t sure. But the doctors came in last evening and said I had a muscle tear and forbade me from doing any action scenes for two weeks. But I told him it’s not possible and that I had scenes like jumping from camel to camel to be finished. So right now, I am on Diclofenac (anti-inflammatory drug) to ease the pain and walking around with a hot-water bag on my back.

Q. But isn’t your body your temple?

A. Some of us who do action films get hurt, but we never complain. And, I am enjoying this process a lot. It’s not everyday that you get to learn from actors like Anil Kapoor, Naseerudddin Shah, Paresh Rawal, Nana Patekar and Dimple Kapadia. Just by looking at them, I know I can learn a lot. Plus, they are so nice and courteous. They treat me with love and respect.

Q. Does shooting under physically strenuous conditions help if you are getting paid handsomely for it?

A. We do a lot more crazier things and so we get paid a lot more. But in all seriousness, we actors are fortunate to be in this field because there are only a handful of us. Every day, I feel fortunate that the audience have been so gracious towards me and that’s why I have lasted so long. Any financial gratification I get out of it is just gravy. And, some of us are realistic and we know how to cut the cloth according to its length.

Q. Is it true that actors know instinctively if a film is not shaping up well?

A. Yes, we know it. But there are two kinds of “not going well”. Sometimes, the conditions are tough and it’s not going too well in terms of getting the required shots. But we have faith in our director during those difficult times. But the other one is that moment when you know that the film has sunk beyond redemption. In the case of Welcome Back, it is the former. We know that some of the action shots are difficult to capture but we are confident that the film is safe. Welcome Back is an unapologetic comedy that is out to make people laugh out loud.

Five minutes with Anil Kapoor

Anil Kapoor’s trainer Mark, a yogi from Britain, has thrown in the towel. While he can pull off the most intricate yoga poses (Kapoor showed us a picture of his trainer standing on his head with the Dubai Fountains as the backdrop), Mark is not crazy about being a part of the action sequences. But his pupil Kapoor is zen.

“He’s done with it. But the art to survive such scenes is to be patient and device new ways to spend time between shots. And these days, communication has become so easy. So you can get a lot of work sorted even while we are deep in the desert,” said Kapoor. In between waiting for shots that day, the actor was busy responding to work e-mails revolving around his hit TV show 24. Since it was an action-fuelled sequence to be captured, Kapoor didn’t have many dialogues to memorise.

“Today involves logistics and calls for perfect timing. Every second like the landing of the helicopter, the movement of our vehicles, have to be co-ordinated and synchronised. These are just a few seconds on the screen, but it takes hours to capture it. We actors are used to it because we are confident that it will be mindblowing on screen,” said Kapoor.

His only complaint? “There’s sand inside my throat, ears — so the secret is to love your job and psyche yourself to love the tough scenes ahead.”

Five minutes with Naseeruddin Shah

The veteran actor plays the blind villain in Welcome Back. He’s sporting a silver wig and there are blood stains on his shirt.

Q. How is it going today?

A. I took a ride in a chopper for the first time in my life. It looks very exciting from up there but it’s not too comfortable because I was in the co-pilot’s scene and I feared I would accidently push the wrong buttons. It is lovely except for the sand blowing into our eyes. We haven’t covered much of the scenes today because logistically it is a tough sequence. We have hardly done 30 seconds of footage since morning. On a good day shoot, you get two minutes of footage. Today is a particularly difficult day.

Q. Tell us about your role?

A. I play a villain who’s blind. And for today’s scene, I put on goggles so that I could protect myself from the sand. The other actors couldn’t do that.

Q. But you jumped off the chopper in style. Is that realistic for someone who’s handicapped?

A. In the past, I have interacted with a few who are visually handicapped for my role in Sparsh. From those meetings, I have realised that they are not dependent on anybody and hate being helped or pitied on. Yes, for Welcome Back, a few liberties have been taken. I am playing the bad guy who can smell the enemy from a mile off. He knows his way around and has that sixth sense. Plus, I don’t play a wicked, vicious gangster kind of villain in this comedy. He doesn’t kill anybody without reason. He is a funny guy and has a change of heart during the climax.