Monday, April 15, 2024

I keep the action as real as possible: Yannick Ben

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PNS | Hyderabad

Yannick Ben, the action choreographer for the upcoming thriller Yashoda, is in awe of Samantha’s dedication to get the action right. The French national has not only worked extensively in Hollywood, but has also worked with stars such as Shahrukh Khan and Suriya  in the Bollywood and South, respectively.

But when it comes to picking work, he is a purist. “I pick my projects based on the merit of the stories and not really the stars attached,” he says. Having worked with Samantha on her first action outing in the series Family Man, he tells us about working with the dedicated actor, about choreographing for a pregnant character, working in India, what makes his brand of action stand apart and much more.

“The world and its characters were fascinating to me. Those are the things that really matter to me when I say yes to a project. Was I looking forward to work with Samantha again? Yes. We shared an absolutely great working relationship on the sets of Family Man. I know how she works, how dedicated she is and she will put her everything in to pull out the stunts that I am going to design for her. I think she is one of those actors who is equally dedicated to drama as well as action. And as an action director, that’s a boon for me. And if you ask me, do I want to work with her again? Yes and I hope very soon (laughs).”

Trained in various forms of martial arts and who is passionate about parkour, when it comes to his style of action, he explained his aura, “While parkour as a form by itself is not a style of fighting, I incorporate parkour when it is like a chase but only and only if it makes sense for the character and the world of the story. But when it comes to purely action, my style is a mix of all the martial arts I have trained.

That’s in Aikido, kickboxing and MMA. Again, the extent to which and what forms I use depends on the character. So if I am designing fights for a character who doesn’t know how to fight, I keep it as simple and as real as possible. The actor can’t be showing off some crazy moves. I also don’t like putting on too much wirework or anything too dramatic or bombastic.”

He doesn’t discriminate even in his action scenes. They all are actors for him and sometimes you can have actors who are very dedicated and want to know what is going to happen before they arrive on set. Sometimes, he has actors who come to the set, on the day of the shoot, and ask to show me!

Again, this has nothing to do with how big the actor is or how new the actor is. “Samantha is one of those stars who wants to be prepared beforehand.So I would choreograph the fight based on the script and what the directors wanted.Then rehearse with my team.This trial fight or pre-viz was then shown to directors of course. After that I check with Samantha if she is comfortable with every move. This is crucial for not only the fights to look good but also for her to look good doing those stunts on screen. I also had some actors who have never landed a punch in their life and when they have to punch—it doesn’t look good. And when timelines are tight, it’s nfortunate that actors don’t get time to train either.

But with Samantha, she had trained prior for Family Man which was her first action outing.She was trained in boxing and kickboxing and that really helped with Yashoda as well! She remembered that training and had her basics in place in terms of how to move and how to work with me. So it was a breeze.”

Yannick’s work begins with a lot of research on the character and his/her backstory. For example, the character of Raji came from a more trained space and her world was very different.

But here in Yashoda, he was designing an action for a pregnant character, and so he needed to incorporate her movements accordingly. While the fact that the character is pregnant added a great deal to the emotional angle, he also had to ensure that at every given step Samantha moves like a mother, who is concerned about the baby that’s growing inside her.

He added, “This is the first pregnant character that I have choreographed stunts for. But in terms of the thought process, it’s similar to let’s say a character who can’t use or strain one part of their body. Here’s the torso or the tummy.

So we adjusted the choreography according to that.  But we used the counter attacks or offenses to build more tension and emotion into the fight; like for instance having a goon trying to hit her belly and then building on to how a mother would protect her child. It wasn’t so much of a physical obstacle per se, because Yashoda isn’t in her full term of pregnancy. But it definitely added a layer of tension and emotion to the fights.”

As per his outlook, Samantha was very flexible and cooperative. She was always dedicated to bringing the best fight out. And it helped Yannick in building a trust factor too.

He revealed that sometimes, it wasn’t even Yannick who had to ask for retakes. “If the position or the punch is not in the right place, you can see Sam only  preparing to go for one more!” Rating her fitness, he laughed and said, “She is one of the most fittest actors. She trains a lot. And it’s evident even on her posts on social media. And on set as well, she has tons of energy and really positive aggression. Sometimes, we can’t even match her energy. And I have had to ask her to tone it down even.” We heard that Sam did not use a body double for most of the toughest scenes as well! So in a time, when actors decide to do that, does that make the action director doubly anxious about rigging for safety? He asserted, “While the safety gear and rigging is always standard, my fears sometimes would be how the rest of the stunt team is going to perform. So I ensure that they are well practised and know the choreography like the back of their hands. It’s okay for actors to make mistakes. But when a stunt man or double does it, it irks me a bit because that’s their profession and so everyone needs to know and perform to their best so that there are no accidents, especially with the star performing everything on their own.”

For Yashoda, there was a professional approach to the stunts. There were minimal last minute changes and he shot on a fully prepped set. Of course, working with Samantha again was something he would cherish too. And it was Sam only who asked the producer to bring Yannick in!

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