Director Anup Singh is overjoyed as his film The Song Of Scorpions is finally releasing on April 29, after sustaining delays for years. The film starring Irrfan Khan premiered at the 70th Locarno Film Festival in 2017. Recently Anup Singh and actor Shashank Arora joined Hindustan Times for a chat and talked about celebrating Irrfan through his swansong.
The Song Of Scorpions released on Irrfan’s death anniversary. The director said, “I am choked with sadness as Irrfan is not here to see this moment.” He defined it as a strange feeling, a mix of grief and joy. Shashank Arora agreed, “It’s sad that people we love leave us. The joy of sharing something we made together is incredible. This altogether is life.”
Shashank plays Munna, a banjara in the desert. He is close to Aadam, played by Irrfan Khan. They are just travellers, nomads, picking odd jobs for money. Munna looks up to Aadam as his teacher, model, spiritual guide and his best friend.
Shashank not only looks up to Irrfan in the movie but also in real life. He shared, “Irrfan is one of my most favourite actors. It was a wonderful experience, to spend time with him on the sand dunes and learn from him. He is a very gentle, kind soul. From what I gathered during the limited time with me is, he loved gulkand ka halwa, and flying kites. One day we went on a bike ride together on the sand dunes, something I will never forget. He was a poet at heart. It’s a dream for an actor to work with someone like him.”
The Song Of Scorpions is heavier on dialogues in Marwari than in Hindi. Ask Shashank if it was easy or difficult for him to grasp it, the actor admitted, “It was a bit of both. It was easy because we were shooting in a geographical area where people spoke the same language. Even the guy who drove me to the set had a similar Marwari accent. It’s a tough accent to pick up. Of course, it’s not close to how I am used to speaking but working with a great team makes it much more approachable. It was a bit of a challenge.”
Besides nailing the correct language, the film also faced challenges during the shoot due to the harsh weather conditions of Rajasthan. The team had to plan meticulously to keep their equipment cool during the daytime shoot. However, Anup Singh clarified, “Challenges were immense but not a single one was due to our actors.”
“I remember Irrfan lying on the sand most of the time. I do not remember them being inside their vanity van, except maybe when they had to change or do a bit of touch-up. I don’t remember Shashank in his vanity. Even Waheeda (Rehman) got one chair next to me and she was there on the sand dunes all the time with us, being very much part of the shoot. At one point, I think the kind of collegiality was really immense, no one thought about their comfort. They became comfortable in the desert itself.”
He went on to remember Irrfan’s love for kites on the sets. Irrfan being a kite flyer, told everyone in the unit to fly kites. Anup revealed, “At the shoot, he brought 20 kites with him. Many of our crew members and Irrfan would disappear during the breaks. The only way to find him was to look up in the sky and see where the kites were. We would follow the kites and grab him to come back to the shoot.”
He also recalled how the shoot once came to a halt for some time after cranes started getting suspicious about the gathering of people in the desert. The birds from Mongolia, Siberia each year in winter migrate to the wetlands of Rajasthan. The Song Of Scorpions director shared with a laugh, “There were about 50 cranes and they started circling above us. They were screeching and crying. We tried everything but they would not leave. We tried shouting at them, banging metals. After half an hour, we simply gave up. Suddenly, we saw Irrfan with a kite, climbing a sand dune. When he reached the top, he set the kite flying into the birds. The birds started circling the kite. He started sending the kite further and further away. The kite took the birds with them.”
In 2017, Anup Singh told us that he has a script ready for Irrfan when he will be 80 years old. He had said, “I do hope I’ll make many more movies with Irrfan. I already have a script for when he is 80 years old!” When reminded of his words, the director grew emotional.
He paused for a few seconds and said with a heavy heart, “We were discussing the script even when Irrfan was at the hospital. At a certain time, he and everybody knew that he would probably not come out of the hospital. However, there was an incredible desire to keep making the film with words in the hospital room, even if there was a feeling that we would never get to shoot it. There was immense yearning which allowed us to discuss every moment of the film.”
“At this moment I have no desire to even think about doing the film because as far as I am concerned, it’s done. The film has been made,” he signed out.