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Bindra on biopic: I can't promise there will be no dancing around trees

PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images

A year ago, Abhinav Bindra had left a packed IIM-Bangalore auditorium guffawing at a typically honest response. Asked about a possible biopic on him, his lightning quick retort was: "It would be boring."

For once, it seems, Bindra hasn't been taken seriously. With a biopic in the offing, India's lone Olympic gold medallist in an individual event has made his peace with the eventuality, drawing comfort from the larger picture. "I'm a bit nervous as the idea itself is daunting, but anything to take shooting to as far and wide an audience as possible," Bindra tells ESPN. Then he says in his trademark deadpan style: "I can't promise there will be no dancing around trees."

Directed by Kannan Iyer, the movie is being adapted from Bindra's autobiography -- 'A Shot at History: My Obsessive Journey to Olympic Gold and Beyond' -- with Harshvardhan Kapoor, who made his debut in the star-crossed lovers' tale Mirzya last year, playing Bindra.

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It's 7am and Harshvardhan is flipping through the pages of Mohsin Hamid's Moth Smoke when we get him talking on bringing to life India's singular greatest sporting achievement. "While everybody else is obsessed with Beijing, I was curious about Rio," Harshvardhan, 26, tells ESPN. "I wondered how this guy, who had already achieved what he set out to do in life when he was just 25, finds the motivation to keep coming back."

In his third and final appearance in five Olympic outings, Bindra narrowly missed out on a 10m air rifle medal after losing in the shoot-off to eventual Rio silver medallist Sergiy Kulish. Tied with Kulish on 163.8 after 16 shots, Bindra shot a 10.0 to the Ukranian's 10.5. It was to serve as the difference between a medal and a fourth-place finish.

"I found the book unbelievable," Harshvardhan says. "There's a line in it which says, 'For a man who's obsessed with numbers, my life was eventually decided by a decimal'. When I read it I told myself that I'm definitely doing this movie." The line also prompted a re-visit of the script. "We felt it should revolve around the emotional triumph more than anything else. We'll be following his journey from when he was a 16 year-old kid up until who he is today instead of just until Beijing. So a fresh draft is being worked upon now."

Son of veteran Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor (who will be playing Bindra's reel-life father), Harshvardhan has met Bindra twice so far and senses an almost immediate, deep connect. Some of it, he says, stems from belonging to similarly privileged backgrounds with an overarching influence of their respective fathers.

"I actually felt connected even before we met," Harshvardhan says. "People always thought he's entitled because his father could do things for him that other athletes' families couldn't afford. I could relate to that. My father has always believed in my talent and has done everything he could for me. But no matter how much support you receive, at the end of the day you have to work hard, deliver results and you're pretty much on your own."

Starting with shooting lessons under Olympian Suma Shirur in October which will last roughly four months, the thrust, Harshvardhan says, will be to master the body language and mannerisms of India's most decorated shooter. "The idea is to start with Suma and then move on to sessions with Bindra himself," he says. "He also wants me to interact with some of his foreign coaches like Gaby Buehlmann (who coached him to the Olympic gold in 2008) and pick up things from her. For me, hitting the target is not essential. It's more about mastering how he picks up the gun, the style, the form and recreating all of that.

"Since it's a psychological sport, it's very tough to put the conflict or drama into words. So there would be a lot of silent performance, conveyed more through eyes and body language."

"Just like Bindra and his father happen to be contrasting personalities, I'm also quite the polar opposite of my father."

Harshvardhan Kapoor

It could be a lot harder than it sounds. The sport is about stillness rather than spectacle and Bindra is a shy, unpretentious, po-faced star. Far from a movie buff himself, Bindra's favourite sports film -- Miracle, on the Cinderella season and unlikely gold medal run of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team -- isn't a surprising pick.

"After I heard the narration of the film, I started watching all of his videos and was drawn to the eccentricity of his character," says Harshvardhan, adding that shooting for the film would begin only early next year. "Since we're dramatizing the subject, we'll have to raise the level of emotion by several notches than what it's in real life."

Every session with Bindra and his family members, director Iyer explains, has been revelatory in many ways. "I've had numerous sessions and extensive conversations with all of them and each time new angles on his life and journey are thrown up. Harshvardhan brings an intensity to the character which makes him perfect for the role and since Bindra's father has played a visionary role in his success, it makes enormous sense to have someone like Anil play that part. It really sweetens it for the audience."

Harshvardhan, though, consciously chooses not to dwell on the aspect of sharing screen space with his father. It will only, he feels, tap him out of the zone he's curling into. "Just like Bindra and his father happen to be contrasting personalities, I'm also quite the polar opposite of my father," he says. "I'm more of an introvert, while my father is an extrovert and a very affable guy. So I'd want to keep it as real as possible."

There has been a spate of sport biopics in India over the past few years and the wave only looks to be gaining momentum with time. Apart from the quintessential underdog-conquers-all theme, what probably makes it appealing to filmmakers is the existence of a handy plot and well fleshed-out characters. "We're not looking at it as a movie that will get people to the edge of their seats," Harshvardhan says. "It will be more the kind which will give you hope, goosebumps, make you cry, smile and punch you in the stomach till you're fighting for breath."