In this series, Film Companion picks movies and shows of the past decade with memorable long take sequences. We get directors to take us through the process of creating these scenes.
Tiger Shroff's 'entry scene' in Pathaan director Siddharth Anand's War was the most memorable sequence in a film full of elaborate action set pieces.
The 3-minute-long unbroken shot sees agent Khalid (Tiger) burst into a roomful of drug lords in a villa in Malta, and systematically slice through them one at a time using only his fists and scattered furniture as weapons. It's an impressively executed sequence, and a rare one from Tiger's extensive body of action work because it does justice to his skills without feeling the need to rely on hyper-processed slow-motion shots and excessive cutting.
Director Siddharth Anand talks about what went into conceptualising the long take, and why he wanted it to be different from the typical massy action in Hindi films.
We knew this was going to be Khalid's (Tiger Shroff) introduction scene, and I was very keen on wanting to change the typical front-bencher massy kind of action sequences he normally does, but I wanted it to satisfy his audience also. This sequence wasn't there on a script level, but when I sat down with my action director and started deciding the beats, that's when I suggested we do this entire sequence in one shot.
To burst the bubble for the audience, and to serve as a learning curve for film students, it's not actually a single take. There are ways and tricks to use cuts to make it look like one seamless shot. There's an extreme level prep that goes into it. The shoot was 2 days and the prep was almost 3 weeks. You need to be in sync with the actor, the action director, the VFX Supervisor, the stuntmen and the camera team to get this right. Aside from that, it's all about rehearsals. First we did it on a mock set which was made of cardboard, and blocked the exact positioning and choreography of the punches and where the bodies were falling.
In terms of performance, action is about a lot more than just the actor. It's also about the stuntmen he's fighting with and how they react to the punches which is what lends the authenticity and impact. The secret to great action is great stuntmen and ours were flown in from South Africa for this very sequence.
There was no use of slow motion for this sequence, and that was something Tiger needed to be convinced about because most of his films have slow motion or high speed shots, which is how it's usually done. In War, all the action is in real time. Tiger asked me how the audience will celebrate his entry if it's just breaking through a window and fighting and ducking bullets. I told him the audience will clap not at the beginning but at the end of the sequence, which is what happened. After the entire sequence is over, he comes out of the water and walks away, which is when the slow motion kicks in and the audience started to cheer.
This was the first thing we shot with Tiger, so morale was high and everyone was up for the challenge. But when you finally do it on set it's a lot more chaotic because the lighting and other set up is all happening at once. You hardly get time to rehearse on the actual set.
With these sequences, resetting the shot is also tough because you have tables and glass being broken, and the actors jumping into a pool and getting wet and things like that. So having spare props on standby is essential. A key part to this is also the camera, especially in this kind of a shot. We initially had a rig in place of a steady-cam but we couldn't physically get the camera to go as low and high as required to get the movement that we wanted. So we had to stall the shoot and wait for a steady-cam operator who was out of Mumbai and had to travel in.