What is it like to work on a Marvel film? Sussex actor and Bollywood dancer reveals all after working on Eternals

A Sussex actor and Bollywood dancer has lifted the lid on his experiences working on a much-anticipated Marvel production.

Saaj Raja, who was born and raised in Crawley, appears in Marvel’s Eternals alongside one of the film’s stars, Kumail Nanjiani, in a Bollywood dance scene.

Saaj, who this year also appeared in Netflix’s Indian Hindi-language remake of the 2016 film The Girl on the Train, admitted that when he was offered the role he was unaware he’d be working on a Marvel film.

He said: “What they do with these big productions is that they have a codename, so things don’t get out.

A screenshot from Disney's Marvel film Eternals, which stars Sussex actor and Bollywood dancer Saaj Raja (right)

“The manager of my dance group, the Bollywood Company, Nileeka Bose, is the choreographer of the scene. She got an email while she was in Paris doing a gig, and it said someone was interested in meeting me for a film project.

“The name of the film was Sack Lunch. That was the codename for the production.

“It’s quite an underwhelming name and it didn’t cause much excitement! I thought, Sack Lunch!? That can wait!

“And then, a couple of weeks later, word got out that it was the next Marvel project which caused a lot of buzz and excitement.”

The director of Eternals, Chloé Zhao, wanted a Bollywood dance scene in the film due to the inclusion of Marvel’s first South Asian superhero Kingo, played by Pakistani-American comedian, actor and screenwriter Nanjiani.

Saaj continued: “His [Kingo’s} public identity is that he’s a Bollywood actor, so she [Zhao] thought it was the perfect opportunity to put the scene in.

“They interviewed a few choreographers, and Nileeka got the role. I’ve danced with her for a number of years, so she pulled me into the project and it was magical.

“We had two days of rehearsals and we filmed for two days at Pinewood Studios. A lot of dancers auditioned but I’ve worked with Nileeka for a long time, so she brought me in which was nice.

“Luckily I was positioned right next to Kumail so I got ample screen time amongst the dancers, which was nice.”

Principal photography on the film began at Pinewood Studios in July 2019, with filming officially wrapping in February 2020.

But Disney pushed the film’s release date back to February 12, 2021 due to the pandemic, before pushing the date back again to November 5.

Saaj, who was shooting an independent project during the making of the Eternals, said his scenes were shot over two years ago, meaning it was hard to keep his involvement in the film under wraps.

He said: “We filmed it [the Bollywood scene] in November 2019. It’s a long time to be excited about something, and then finally to wait for it to come out. It was very difficult to keep under wraps!

“At the same time, I was shooting a British independent film. One morning I was shooting there and then in the afternoon we had rehearsals for the Marvel project.

“It was like jumping from one end of the budget scale to the complete other. They custom built an entire set just for five minutes of the film.

“We had two days of rehearsals, and it was kind of like being in a theme park. When you walked onto set you could see the magnitude of what they created just for a few minutes.”

Saaj also revealed that Marvel went to extreme lengths to ensure nothing leaked from the Eternals’ set.

He added: “One of the choreographers was quite happily snapping away and out of nowhere this plain clothes Marvel security guy came and took his phone and deleted all the pictures!

“On some productions they put your phone in a secure case and you have to collect it at the end of the day. The directors can keep them, but they do have security in plain clothes keeping an eye on things.

“But a lot of money goes into it and they don’t want anything leaking.”

Marvel’s Eternals is currently being screened in cinemas nationwide.