Mahesh Manjrekar’s web series 1962: The War in the Hills revisits the Sino-India War of 1962 through a fictionalised account of a fight-to-the-finish battle. An Indian Army battalion led by Abhay Deol’s Suraj Singh and comprising 124 other members bravely resists Chinese 3,000 soldiers in Ladakh. The 10-episode series will be streamed on Disney+ Hotstar on February 26.
Among the actors who play members of Suraj Singh’s C Company are Akash Thosar (Sairat, Lust Stories) and Sumeet Vyas (Permanent Roommates, TVF’s Tripling). Thosar plays Kishen, a young soldier who embarks on a relationship just when he is called to the front. Vyas is Ram, a widower with a son. The series is a departure for both actors, they told Scroll.in. For Thosar, The War in the Hills was an opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream of joining the Army. Vyas said the series gave him an opportunity to “break the mould”. Excerpts from interviews.
‘Any actor would want to be part of such a show’
How did you get cast in the series?
Akash Thosar: I did a Marathi film with Mahesh sir. He told me about The War in the Hills over two minutes during a shoot, and I agreed immediately. It happened five months before shooting began in December 2019.
My childhood dream has been to go to the army. After the 12th, I applied to the army and when that didn’t happen, I joined an army academy for six months. Then I applied to the army again, even the police. I didn’t make it. Eventually, I passed the age limit. During this time, I was offered Sairat. If I weren’t an actor today, I’d definitely be wearing an official uniform of some sort.
So when Mahesh sir asked me to play a fictional soldier, I felt as if my dream to wear the uniform had been fulfilled.
Sumeet Vyas: I was actually doing a show for Arre, and one of the producers mentioned The War in the Hills. I was kicked about it right from the bat. I had never played an army officer before or done this sort of action.
Mahesh sir directing the show was a bonus. I’ve seen his work and his Marathi films.
What was the most interesting thing about your character?
Akash Thosar: It wasn’t just the uniform, of course. After Sairat, I kept getting the same roles – an innocent young romantic guy. I was determined to do something different.
My character transforms entirely from the first episode to the last. Also, the role is exactly me. When I asked Mahesh sir what sort of preparation I should do, he said absolutely nothing. Tu jaisa hai, vaisa hi bahut acha hai. Then I tried my best to translate the character on to the screen.
The show is not just a war story, it’s also about human relationships. And mine is a love triangle.
Sumeet Vyas: It was the scale of the show. It’s a period drama. On paper, it’s a very exciting project. Once I was through with that initial excitement, I realised it’s a very interesting story about this particular battalion. About 125 soldiers that fought off, the official numbers are 3,000 Chinese, but the unofficial data says it might have been more. Because they created this impression for the Chinese as if it were a fully-formed battalion. It wasn’t. The soldiers were underprepared and these were extremely harsh weather conditions they were fighting in. They were wearing canvas shoes and thin sweaters. They had rifles while the Chinese had machine guns. Any actor would want to be part of such a show.
It’s every actor’s dream to break the mould. First you try to make a mould for people to know you exist. Then it’s all about trying to do something else.
How was the shoot?
Akash Thosar: If there’s a single memory that stands out, it’s the first day of the shoot, when we were all dressed in our uniforms. That feeling can’t be described. I was so happy, I was smiling at myself in the mirror, saluting myself, puffing my chest out.
Sumeet Vyas: We shot in Ladakh and Panchgani. The shooting conditions weren’t the best. These soldiers aren’t big, they’re hardworking, mazdoors. The idea was to look as muscular and rugged as possible. I did endurance training for the show. We finished shooting in December 2019 and I still try to follow the training.
What was the hardest part of the shoot?
Akash Thosar: I had to put on 10 kgs. This is the first time I had to perform stunts. Before this, I’ve only wrestled, but that was to prepare for the army.
To be honest, I still don’t understand the craft of acting. I just look into myself to see what I feel about a scene and try to do that. If you work at something with real intent, you will succeed.
Sumeet Vyas: The physical preparation was the biggest challenge. It’s not like I’ve only done comedy, I’ve been doing theatre too, and I’ve done a variety of parts. I just wanted to do something that people haven’t seen me do much of.
The tougher part was the physical transformation, Our action director Don Lee is very raw, he doesn’t believe in sanitising the action. If someone is supposed to pick you up and throw you down, he will make it happen. I learned a lot.
What are you up to these days?
Akash Thosar: I live in Pune with my parents. I can’t talk about it since it’s not announced yet, but you will see me in a few films this year.
Sumeet Vyas: This is the big one this year. Then there’s another Hindi film which should come out at the end of this year.