Harry Potter, the Boy who Lived. As a series of magic novels, Harry Potter, the saga of the boy who defeated the evil warlord transcends time, space, age gaps and probably even universes, that is if you still believe there’s a Hogwarts out there. I remember my first introduction to Harry Potter; I was still a nerdy kid with glasses and not many friends and as is the rite of passage for any middle school goer, got picked on the most. So when my librarian asked me to give this 500 pages long novel a try, simply because I would rather while away my time behind the bookshelves than interact with anyone (getting bullied made me shy and conscious as a kid), it opened up a whole new world for me. A world to which I could relate to, and a world I wished desperately to be a part of. Reading Harry Potter, his undying friendship with Ron and Hermione, his bravery and more importantly, fighting for what’s right and taking a stand for himself and all those he loves, got me more and more entranced. I found myself willing to walk down the huge stone steps of the revolving staircases in Hogwarts, practising quidditch under the Weeping Willow outside, learn about potions and dark arts in the classrooms, which as per the author’s imagination always had an aura of mysticism, lounge in the gryffindor common room, go on shopping trips up Diagon Alley and so much and so more.
If me as a kid, who devoured Harry Potter books, could feel the same thrill and excitement even to this date when she starts afresh any novel from the franchise, I can only imagine what the actors in the movie must have felt like on returning to their sets 20 years down the line. When I first heard the stars, crew and directors were all going to return to the sets of Hogwarts, which was actually shot over a couple of different locations including the Warner Bros studio in Watford, Christchurch college in Oxford and Scotland and Edinburgh, I could barely control my excitement. To watch the actors, Harry, Ron and Hermione rather, for they’ll always be the roles they played (to me), get together and talk about their experiences on set was nothing short of a joyride. And indeed it was.
Premiered on 1st Jan, 2022, Harry Potter reunion kicked off my new year on a magical note. I laughed and cried together with the cast and there was forever an underlying bond, which if I had to dissect, would perhaps go like this – “After all this time?, Always”.
The one hour 42 minutes long journey starts with a close-up shot of Diagon Alley and the wand shop, Mr. Ollivander’s, followed by the huffing and puffing of the trains on platform 9 ¾ up King’s cross station and Hedwig’s theme playing in the background. Emma Watson, who plays Hermione Granger, receives a letter where she gets invited for the 20th anniversary and reunion of the cast and so starts the journey. As I am penning down my thoughts, I cannot help but get goose bumps all over, such is the impact of J.K Rowling’s writing. The reunion begins with the three main characters getting invited to come back together on the sets. Alongside return Draco Malfoy, played by Tom Felton, lord Voldemort played by Ralph Fiennes, James and Oliver Phelps, who play the notorious twins, Fred and George Weasley and others. Directors, Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell and David Yates as well as producer, David Heyman also returned to give an insight into the casting and direction, thought process and the effort that went into making the movies. As the scenes roll and the set comes alive, we once again are taken behind the scenes and into the Great Halls, the lighting and decorations are still intact besides a few changes or modifications here and there. The tables, chairs, podium for the professors have been left intact but the ceiling, which according to the book and as portrayed in the movies, had a thousand candles magically suspended into the air and protected with charms to give the look of a beautiful night sky. A video montage of the three young protagonists is played as well where the Malfoy’s, Weasleys, and Potter who otherwise have been sworn enemies in the series, are actually seen having a gala time as kids behind the scenes.
The first two films directed by Chris Columbus had a different kind of impact for each of the young stars. Cast for their roles at the tender age of 13 or 14, they had no idea how much of life changing and defining moment it would be for them in the future. Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry Potter was chosen after the producer, David saw him in a BBC production of David Copperfield. As Heyman talked about his time on the sets of the movies, in the reunion, he recalled how they were at loss over casting the right kid for the role of Harry but the moment he laid his eyes on Daniel, he knew it had to be him. Emma Watson’s casting was quite presumptuous, given the fact she had grown up reading Harry Potter books as her bedtime stories, and there simply couldn’t have been a more suitable person than her to play the bookish Hermione. Rupert Grint on the other hand was just cut out to play Ronald Weasley, with his red hair, British heritage and freckles all over. How perfect the casting has been actually, could be understood from this one hilarious and ironic incident, which Columbus recalled in his interview.
To get the teenagers to learn and understand their characters better, Daniel, Emma and Rupert, were all given an assignment where they’d have to prepare an essay on their respective characters based on the book and the script. Adapted for the theatres by none other than the author herself, Emma went meticulously through each of her scenes and dissected them to the extent that she came up with a two pages long essay, front and back for her character, Hermione Granger. Daniel, started writing but didn’t finish it but Rupert, simply showed up on the sets empty handed saying his character Ron, if he were given an assignment, wouldn’t have done it anyway. That was the moment for Chris, he realised his casting has been on point.
Getting the kids to focus and deliver on their scenes and lines, and all amateurs with most of them being first timers on a movie set, was no doubt a difficult job. But all the three protagonists agreed nostalgically that Chris was more of a father figure to each of them. As they got back together and chatted about their times on the sets of Harry Potter and how each of them have evolved outside the protective magical shroud of this movie franchise, they could agree on one thing, “it feels like no time has passed, it’s still the same”. This goes to show that the friendships forged on the pretext of making a children’s movie transcends everything, age, time and universes. They were joined by Robbie Coltrane who plays Hagrid, Helena Bonham Carter who plays Bellatrix Lestrange, Gary Oldman who played Sirius Black and others including Toby Jones, who voiced the house elf, Dobby. Each of the cast members took the audience and me through a whirlpool of nostalgia, fond remembrances and a gripping hour, as they reminisced their time on the sets of Harry Potter, their interactions with each other and how they perfected their roles with each other’s help.
The last segment of the reunion episode was shot mostly keeping in mind the cast members and the ones from the crew who have passed away. It was indeed a sad moment for everyone as they recalled the famous Alan Rickman who delivered some of his jaw-dropping lines and performances as professor Snape, Richard Griffith who played Harry’s uncle Vernon and Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore. Each of their contributions shaped and moulded the franchise to its current stature and it simply wouldn’t have been the same without them. As aptly pointed out by Daniel in the Gryffindor common room while talking to Emma and Rupert, “I guess we can all agree that we didn’t realise then that we were surrounded by the cream of the British national TV”.
Harry Potter taught me a lot of things, to live, laugh, have faith and take courage; in the words of Professor Albus Dumbledore, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one remembers to turn on the light”. 20 years since Harry Potter, the boy with the lightning scar, the boy who won over lord voldemort, the boy who lived, swarmed into the theatres and our hearts; it’s been 20 years since we got to know how to make mice transform into an ornament box with a simple flick of your wand and it’s been 20 years since we learnt “It’s not wingardium leviosaaa, it’s wingardium leviosa”. And I can just say, probably even take the privilege of speaking on behalf of all potter nerds out there, that these 20 years have been enriching precisely because of these three.
“After all this time?”, I’ll say “Always”.