Neil Nitin Mukesh has just returned from a shoot in Murmansk, Russia, strategically located in the Arctic Circle, and can’t wait to catch up on lost sleep. “We had 22-hour days that began at 5.30 am and we kept working till 10 pm. Then we returned to our hotel room, but even after a hot shower, curtains drawn tight, a mask over the eyes, sleep took time coming because it became dark only post midnight and the light was back at 2 am,” sighs the actor who’s used to sleeping in complete darkness and so was subconsciously alert for two weeks.
Besides the brightness outside, the unit of Abbas-Mustan’s Players had to contend with the freezing cold. The temperature was -5 degree Celsius and even with seven layers of clothing, including a muffler, monkey cap and ear muffs, Neil admits his teeth would be clattering as he stepped out of his SUV into the biting Arctic wind. He even had to trudge half-an-hour through five feet snow to the location to stand in even more snow.
“Sometimes it was difficult to breathe,” says Neil, smiling over the memory of his six-feet caravan with its small mirror, functional sofa, welcome heater and toilet that was so cramped that only a foot fit in. “The caravan was a luxury that embodied the warmth of the people.”
Murmansk is a sparsely populated town with similarly structured houses that level out class differences. Neil, with his fair complexion and light eyes, was initially mistaken for a Russian and the locals were curious to know how he’d learnt to speak Hindi so well. “My driver, when asked to sing a Hindi song, broke into Awaraa hoon… and Mera joota hai Japani… On being told they’d been sung by my grandfather, Mukesh, he insisted that dad (singer Nitin Mukesh) sing both songs for him. After that, we were celebrities,” laughs Neil, admitting that the unit often sang for each other and played games since the TV was out. “There were no English channels and we didn’t understand Russian.”
Vodka was also out for Neil, who hasn’t touched alcohol in eight months. Meals were mostly desi rice, daal (pulses) and vegetables, since an Indian cook was carted along. “But I loved the local fish and the Turkish delight,” says Neil, who’s ready to return to the country that still remembers his grandfather and Raj Kapoor. “I spent hours in the Hermitage Museum at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg that boasts of over 2.7 million exhibits, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rodin and Titian. Experts say that if you were to spend a minute on each exhibit, you’d need 11 years to see it all,” says an awed Neil, who was once a commercial art student.
Unusual shoot-outs Waverley Cemetery, Sydney: Has the graves of several Australian greats, including the first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton. Tanhai… from Dil Chahta Hai was picturised here. Pangong Lake, Leh: The climax of 3 Idiots was shot at this snow-covered location. Jungfraujoch, Switzerland: In The Hero – Love Story of a Spy, Sunny Deol jumps from the Jungfrau summit, more than 4,000 metres above sea level.