In an industry obsessed with deifying the star, the spotlight often evades those who work tirelessly behind the scenes. The success of a film is often attributed to its face but seldom to those who constitute the spine. And so, in this column titled Beyond the Stars, Firstpost highlights the contributions of film technicians who bring their expertise to the table.
The recently released action comedy Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, directed by Vasan Bala, has been hailed worldwide for inventively choreographed action sequences. Firstpost got in touch with its action director, Eric Jacobus, for an exclusive interaction on how he came on board the film, why an action film has a lot to say, and how Mumbai served as a great setting for stunning action pieces.
Vasan Bala contacted me because he had seen my indie action film Rope-A-Dope on YouTube, recommended by Mumbai stuntman Prateek Parmar. In Rope-A-Dope, we, the action team, were responsible for everything from the writing to the camera angles, final edit, and sound design. It was an action film to the bone. Vasan asked me if I could create Rope-A-Dope action in Bollywood. I joked, “I can’t even make Rope-A-Dope action in Hollywood! They don’t like the action team dictating the camera angles or the edit. And the actors have to do their own stunts!” But Vasan was dead-set on making it work for Man Who Feels No Pain (Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota).
I knew Bollywood action before stepping foot into India. I also knew how Vasan wanted to innovate within that genre. He referenced these ’80s films all the time, and how Bollywood stuntmen had speaking roles and they weren’t just generic bodies being thrown about. He wanted every stuntman to have an acting role. So, similar to how the actors did all their own stunts, the stuntmen had their own acting roles. They show up in later scenes with bandages and can even steal the scene. So the actors and stuntmen are playing by the same rules. The actors aren’t gods, and the stuntmen aren’t dirty. It speaks to a global change, when Tom Cruise is doing stunts and stuntmen like Chad Stahelski are directing movies, a total convergence of the two domains.
If we only copy moves or gags then we don’t get at the heart of what makes Jackie Chan and Keaton so great. The standard action hero is built within a house of cards replete with shaky camerawork and choppy editing to create an illusion we can believe, but that house of cards falls very quickly today. The global audience is far too smart because they’re all critics and they all make their own movies. We know when it’s a stunt double wearing a bad wig, we see the green screen or when a wire stunt defies physics. Keaton and Jackie didn’t build a house of cards to hide their tricks, but instead used a very deliberate style of filmmaking that helped us believe everything they were doing, and that’s why those films stand up to this day: They’re trustworthy. So we took this same philosophy: We need be trustworthy and not hide anything. The actors need to train to fight like stuntmen, like real action stars. This way we don’t lie. Then we ask, Now what can they do? How far can we push them? Can we have Gulshan fight 100 men in a single-day’s shoot while hopping around on one leg? We pushed and pushed, and the actors were happy to reciprocate. The gags and techniques revealed themselves and it’s all very unique and specific to Bollywood, so we’re not stealing anything directly from Keaton and Jackie, but their influence is all over this film.