While John Hamm has been getting a bit part of the buzz for Million Dollar Arm, the film would NOT be the same without the two actors who play the two young Indian men whisked into the whirlwind of traveling to the United States and learning to become baseball pitchers in less than a year: Suraj Sharma as Rinku Singh and Madhur Mittal as Dinesh Patel.
You may recognize these actors from their roles in other big films. Suraj Sharma played the title role in Life of Pi and Madhur Mittal is best known for his role as Salim Malik in Slumdog Millionaire.
We had a chance to ask the actors a few questions before the premiere of MILLION DOLLAR ARM last week.
Q: What compelled you to audition? What was that like?
Madhur: I think I speak for the both of us that what really hit me was this is a tremendous feat that these guys have achieved and I had no idea about these guys. Nobody in my family knew. None of my friends knew this story. What these guys have achieved is something that nobody has ever done in any sport in the history of mankind. That is big. So, I was really kind of upset and I know for a fact that so was Suraj that nobody knew about this story. I think it's very important that this story reaches people. And also the fact that, you know, we'll get a chance to portray real-life characters.
Suraj: Yes, It's just the fact that these guys who came from nothing went and did something phenomenal. And nobody seems to realize that they weren't really appreciated for what they did.
Madhur: In a way, yes. They're not applauded enough.
Suraj: Exactly. And that depressed me along with the fact that I didn’t know myself. It just leads you to think that their story really needs to be told and people need to know this. And in itself, other than the fact that it was an amazing feat, it just gives you a sense that there's a whole lot out there that we don't really realize – opportunity wise. And the amount someone can work in a situation where they don't know what's going on and make something out of themselves is really – it’s very inspiring.
Madhur: Also I think it gave both of us a chance to showcase something different from what people have seen us do in our last films. I played a bad guy in my last film; Suraj played a completely different character. So, I think also it’s a great chance for us as young actors to portray something different and expand our spectrum as actors.
Q: Had you played baseball prior to the film?
Suraj: Absolutely not – zero experience in baseball altogether. It was quite hard. We had a lot of fun during training though.
Madhur: We didn't know anything and then we were going to try and get all this stuff under our belt real quickly. We had three and a half weeks to do whatever we could do. We had our coaches flown down from the states. We had four hours of baseball every day and we are both quite scrawny boys. So we had to put on a lot of muscle. We trained for three or four hours every day and then rested an hour, and then went to the gym for a couple of hours, and had a strict diet. Yes, it was quite physically challenging, but it helped, because it’s like a blank slate that you begin with, which was exactly what our characters were also going through. They didn’t know anything and they had very little time with high pressure to make it/do it and there's no other option. So it helped understand the emotional parts.
Suraj: Yes, I think we had a lot to draw from the fact that we were in the similar situation. We had a really short amount of time to prepare and then we had to perform on set. And also these guys they had like 10 months of preparation, and they had to perform. So I think it puts us in a similar kind of mind frame.
Q: Did you talk to the people you actually portrayed? What was like? What were things you pulled away from the people that you’re portraying?
Suraj: For me, the biggest problem was that Rinku, ever since this time period that we are trying to portray, ever since then he's changed massive, tremendously. He has been so good at adapting that at from the point when the movie ends until now, he has become a completely different person. So talking to him at this point doesn't really help me too much with all this that we’re trying to do. But Dinesh helped.
Madhur: Yes, Dinesh helped. He was with us in Delhi when we were training for baseball and he hung out with us a lot, which is obviously great for me, because I'm portraying him in the film. But what he also did was not just give us an insight of his mind, but he used to tell us all these stories and anecdotes of what happened when they were really going through all this that we’re portraying in the film. That would really give us a lot of insight into how Rinku was at the point in time or how JB was and how Aasif’s character was, etc. Just real insights into how these people were feeling when everything was unraveling in front of them.
Suraj: And also the fact that Amit's character in real life really did have that video camera. Deepesh is his real name. He basically went around recording footage of everything through the process so we had this massive footage.
Madhur: Massive treasure.
Suraj: That's how we got to know them before everything happened. Just their body language was so different. Their physique was different. The way they looked at stuff and talked about everything was really different. So all these things together like, kind of, helped us build these people in our heads.
Q: What was your favorite scene to film?
Suraj: That's a tough one. We actually had so much fun, just every day. It's like we were quite a handful. We were just two young kids, you know, and you give us a glove and ball – we would just keep playing all day long. They would literally have to drag us on set, but we had a lot of fun in a lot of scenes. For example, the scene where they throw up was not fun.
Madhur: Not fun for me. It stank! They had some really disgusting vegetarian soup. Yes, and it really stank.
Suraj: It wasn't really while we were shooting always that made it special. It was just literally the fact that everybody around us always was seemingly having an extremely awesome time. Amazing time. And it's not like you're having an amazing time and you’re letting go of work, you know, kind of situation. It was the fact that all that added to the dynamic that hopefully was being set up in front of the frame.
Madhur: There were some scenes that were really hard to shoot. For example, when we were shooting in India there were some really hot days. 145 degrees. 140.
Suraj: 140? It’s not degrees Celsius. Degree sFahrenheit. I don’t know if it got to 140, but it was really hot.
Madhur: It was 140. I know this for a fact, because I checked. I was like my skin is burning how hot is it. Especially when we shot in Lucknow, that was the day. It was 140. We were enclosed in four walls and there was this huge ground in the middle. So we had no air flow and the sun just beating down from the top with thousands of these people in this small space. It was really hot and we had scenes where we were running around and pitching and what not.
Suraj: Yes. It wasn’t the hardest for us. Imagine those 300 to 400 people standing there in the heat. – – And they have to act excited.
Madhur: And it’s very hard and they don’t even do it professionally like we do, so it’s really hard. Yes.
Suraj: But, you know, they managed to do it. Everybody, kind of pushed through it all. There were a lot of times when stuff got really hard or complicated for everybody.
Madhur: John probably changed his t-shirt like 20 times.
Suraj: It was really hot, but people managed. People really did- especially John. I felt like he’s got this adaptive feature to him that you don’t often see.
Madhur: He’s a bit Rinku that way.
Suraj: Rinku’s also a little bit that way. You get somewhere- at first obviously like a little bit- extremely different, and then you just start taking in whatever you can as fast as you can and you slowly start understanding what's going on. I think alot of people in our crew went through that when we were in India and we kind of used that when we went to America, to Atlanta.
Madhur: Hotlanta. “Ya’ll making a movie?” It was fun. We had a blast. Good times.
Suraj: Yes, very good times.
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