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  • Akshara Madhavan

Kabir & Beyond: The story behind the transformation film of Hrithik Roshan

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

When we were first approached by the HRX team about a new film they wanted us to shoot, little did we know what the future had in store for us. They wanted us to make a film that showed actor Hrithik Roshan becoming the best version of himself, whilst preparing for his upcoming movie War. Hrithik Sir (as we call him), was determined to be in his best shape physically. Due to his multiple injuries, he used to workout in a way that was specially designed by him and his team. It was called ZMR or Zero Momentum Reps which enabled the person to workout with lighter weight without momentum, while focusing on the muscle being built. Knowing all this through our initial research, it was clear to us that this was not just a physical transformation that we would be documenting, but also the story of someone overcoming a major mental hurdle. So, we started shooting with a vision of what we wanted the end result to be like, the process however, would only reveal itself along the way.

Our approach while starting off was to understand the do’s and don’ts that could be involved while shooting a major celebrity. As we were being permitted to enter his personal space of home and gym, it was imperative that we were mindful of his concerns. What surprised us was that in spite of these concerns, Hrithik sir communicated a level of trust in us. Since the initial days of shooting, he was very welcoming and aligned to our points. He gave us a direction to travel while allowing us to shoot what we deemed was necessary for the film. It is not easy for an actor who has been lauded his entire life for his good looks and physique to bare his “out-of-shape” body and insecurities for the camera. But he did, and we were extremely grateful for the honesty.

There were certain things we kept in mind during the shooting process. One of it was that the objective of the film was to be a real documentation without any fabrication. We captured the process as it happened. Also, we would never interfere while the trainer was at work or ask him to move aside as per the camera placements. In fact, the narration at the end was written by Hrithik sir himself around the time War was released. Additionally, we would shoot and ask him questions in real-time as opposed to having the usual post-interview sessions, so as to keep it raw and authentic. An interesting note here: HRX never had to force their product placement anywhere. It came naturally into the film as Hrithik sir actually wears the products during his workouts. Over the period of one-year, we had a total of 27 shooting days. And we divided the narrative into 3 parts during the editing process-

“I fucking need to get out of this shit”

The title felt apt as we picked it up from something he said during the interview and captured the essence of his determination to get out of what he was going through. So the first part was the bare-it-all phase where Hrithik sir feels under-confident and was blaming himself for his predicament. This section was shot mostly hand-held at 24 frames per second, similar to how documentaries are shot. The shaky camera mirrors his then “weak” physical condition where he would struggle to complete his set. As we follow his movements down to every shiver, we capture the storm within him. Camera movements are very crucial in this regard because it can not just mirror the personal physically but also give us a feel of what he is going through internally. This was the more human part of the story, so it was fitting to use the frame rate that was closest to how our brain processes visuals in real-time. The lens used was 24-70 mm one, shooting mainly with a 35 mm as we had to get “closer” to his psyche.

“I’ll take off to space”

The second part of the film shows the character’s resolve to become better, truly represented by this dialogue where he dreams of the day he would not be in pain. He is more confident and believes that the goal is attainable. Here the pacing of the film changes as the music rises. We kept this part fast-paced and more dynamic to distinguish it from the general documentary-style films and make it more engaging. There is a section where he says that regardless of how it all turns out; he is glad to have enjoyed the last 6 months. This is in contrast with the visuals we show- of the days spent working out in pain. It was important to show that the process wasn’t easy but his approach to it was what defined his character. That was the mental transformation we were aiming to capture; when he hit the realization that this process was more than just for the film- it was also a defining lesson for his life.

“It’s never the end”

The third part was the denouement. It was the D-day when his character-reveal shot was to be filmed for War. His months of training were to be captured on camera for the world to see. At this juncture, we see him reflecting on his journey so far. We see Hrithik sir as a transformed person from his initial days of preparation. He reflects on the previous year and realizes that the journey was more important than the end goal and looks forward to the next journey that life would bring.

For the second and third parts of the film we used a 50 mm prime-lens camera and a tele-photo lens. The former was to capture his focused state-of-mind, devoid of any background information and the latter to emphasize his transforming body. The visuals were shot at 100 frames per second on a gimbal to show his calmer and confident state of mind.

In the post-production phase, the initial lineup during editing was around 24 hours. Having organized the data day-wise and knowing the basic structure, we sorted the footage and were able to make an otherwise tedious process, smoother. It also helped that we would prepare a lineup simultaneously after each shoot day. Since it was a transformation process, we would have had no opportunity to re-shoot. Hence, keeping adequate backups was necessary. We had 4 backups on multiple hard-disks, kept at 2 different locations. This was a big-learning for us and prepared us for future long-term shoots.

The final film was named Kabir & Beyond to represent how the film was not just about Hrithik sir’s transformation for the role of Kabir but also for his own life. When he runs into the distance in the final scene, we depict visually the main theme of the film- “It’s never the end”. The success of the film and his transformation was a major milestone for sure, but there were places to go. He showed us how it was important to not sit and dwell much on either our successes or failures, but to keep going and moving towards the next journey.

As filmmakers, we all have our guiding principles. Ours is symbolized in our logo which is inspired by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow had placed self-actualization as the peak of humankind’s needs after food, clothing, social life etc. Our principle has been to grow in this regard and be the best version of ourselves. During this entire process of shooting Kabir & Beyond, we realized how much each project that we undertake contributes to our individual journey as artists and human beings. And we will always be grateful for having been given an opportunity to be part of a project that hit so close to home.


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