Neerja Madhavan is “unbreakable”, says Adah Sharma about her Bastar: The Naxal Story character

Two months after its theatrical release, Bastar: The Naxal Story, started streaming online from May 17 on ZEE5 Global. The film is based on the Naxalite (Maoist) insurgency in Bastar, in central India’s Chhattisgarh, and how a fearless female cop, IPS Neerja Madhavan, carries out the anti-terrorism operation.

Actress Adah Sharma played the role of Neerja Madhavan, a fearless officer who took on the Naxalites. Photo courtesy: Adah Sharma/Instagram
Adah Sharma played the role of Neerja Madhavan, a fearless officer who took on the Naxalites. Photo courtesy: Adah Sharma/Instagram

Adah Sharma, who portrays Madhavan, sat down for an exclusive chat with Connected to India, where she spoke about various aspects related to her film. Adah describes her character as “unbreakable” when asked how she saw Madhavan. She says that the role took a toll on her body, but the sacrifice was worth it.

Playing the role of an IPS officer, Adah spent weeks training with real-life officers, studying their mannerisms and etiquette. “I spoke to a lot of people from Bastar, a lot of higher officers to derive the character I’m playing. That added pressure was there because I knew I was playing them. The characters had attributes from those officers. They were very kind to show me their journey, share their insights, they also let me hang around and observe their behaviour. The CRPF officials allowed me to stay and train with them for weeks,” the actress says.

Not just the mannerisms, she also had to get her looks right and the preparation included a strict routine that incorporated heavy weight training. Adah says she gained 15 kilograms for the role. With her director, Sudipto Sen, opting for authenticity when it came to the usage of artillery, the actress had to train her body to be on par with the movements.

Apart from that, the various stunts, while filming with the heavy guns, left her with a severe back ache. “I used to get severe back ache. My pelvis shifted and I had spinal cord issues, because when you’re shooting with heavy guns on set, you’re making jerky movements. There’s a bomb blast behind you, so, you suddenly duck, you roll on the ground, you run, you bend, you jump over some things. You do erratic, jerky movements, which are not very good for your back. So, yeah, it took a toll physically.” But Adah says it was worth it, as she was doing a film for her country while portraying a character of a real-life hero.

When asked if she consulted any of her industry friends about filming with guns and the specific movements, The Kerala Story actress says she preferred talking to officers instead, as she wanted to understand their emotions. “I wanted to know how they feel when they see the bodies of 76 martyred jawans. I wanted to know that if you’re a woman and you’re on the battlefield, how do you manage an entire month, how do you manage three days without going to the bathroom, how do you manage without changing your clothes, how do you manage without food.” She says insights from the real-life officers helped her performance a lot.

The filming of Bastar: The Naxal Story commenced in October 2023 and was shot in locations in Nashik, Maharashtra, which nearly resembled the place in Chhattisgarh. Adah says it was a conscious decision to not shoot in Bastar as it was difficult to film with a crew of 70 people in the Maoist-infested zone.

Produced by Vipul Amrutlal Shah, Bastar: The Naxal Story is directed by Sudipto Sen. Sen had also directed Adah in The Kerala Story, which raked up INR 303.97 crore (USD 36,443,487) at the box-office (worldwide). Speaking about their second collaboration, Adah says she enjoys working with Sen, as he keeps the set ‘positive’ and allows her the space to perform. The actress says that Sen loves to tell stories about humans. “Sudipto Sir was making the movie for the right reasons. He wanted to tell this story about the evil happenings in the country,” she says.

After enduring a period of lull, Bollywood films are witnessing a surge in numbers at the box-office. While films such as Laapataa Ladies and 12th Fail have earned critical acclaim, Adah’s The Kerala Story, Shah Rukh Khan’s Jawan, Pathaan and several other films have done good business. Talking about the recent success of these films and its impact, Adah says, “A film doing well is always good for the entire industry. Just like when Kerala Story did really well and the whole industry celebrated, I too would celebrate when any film does well.”

“It feels so good, because when a film does well, it’s just not about that film and those actors. It gives the industry new life. Even if it’s not a film you’re part of, but every film when it’s made, there are thousands of people’s life connected to that one film. From your spotboys, to your lightmen, to your camera crew, to the direction crew, their families being fed on the daily wage they earn. So, when that film does well, it’s a celebration and joy for all of us in the industry,” she adds.