"Shabanaji agreed to do the film within a day. It was my idea to cast Shabanaji for the role, but others were not convinced as they thought she would not be ready to do the film," said Atul.
"She is one of the finest actresses and I am just a novice in film production. Shabanaji is close to Rama Bhanot. When she came to know that I have bought the rights of the story from the family, she agreed to do it," he added.
"Despite the low budget, she did the film. She is a true artiste and has an eagerness to do good roles. I feel these kinds of honest and sincere roles are rarely offered to actors these days," said Atul.
Shabana Azmi plays the role of Neerja's mother Rama Bhanot in the film.
Neerja documents the story of Neerja Bhanot, who was killed in the 1986 hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi. Ms Bhanot, who was 23, died while shielding a group of children from gunfire and became the youngest ever recipient of the Ashok Chakra, India's highest peacetime gallantry award. Sonam Kapoor plays the role of Neerja in the film.
"After I read the script of Neerja, we realised that Sonam's features match a lot with Neerja Bhanot. Neerja was tall and did modelling, and so did Sonam. So, I told her that I want to produce a film and she was surprised. I gave her the script to read and she was impressed with the narration. As I asked her to do the role, she said, 'Have you gone mad'" added Atul.
"Nevertheless, Sonam agreed to do the character. After, Sonam got to know that Ram Madhvani would direct the movie, she realised that it would be a difficult role to portray. I am really thankful to Sonam for keeping faith in me as a first-time producer," said Atul.(Also Read: Why Ram Madhvani 'Feared' That Sonam Kapoor Might Not do Neerja)
Neerja will release on February 19.