Hansal Mehta Exclusive - On Making 'Aligarh', Telling Stories He Believes In & Why Filmmakers Must Learn Budgeting!

By Aditya Savnal. Posted on February 18, 2016

Before he took the plunge into filmmaking, Hansal Mehta had a successful stint as a director on TV having directed Khana Khazana - the most successful cookery show on Indian television in the early 90's, a show that spawned an entire category of TV shows. During this while, he had also directed a few episodes for the Zee teleseries - Rishtey,  one of them which starred Saurabh Shukla (who later wrote Mehta's Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar).

But Mehta's filmmaking journey was filled with difficulties and obstacles. His debut film Jayate which starred Sachin Khedekar, Kishore Kadam and marked the debut of Anurag Kashyap as a writer, never made it to theatres.

It was the critically acclaimed Manoj Bajpayee - Tabu starrer Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar that kickstarted Mehta's filmmaking career. He followed it up with the lesser known cop drama Chhal - starring Kay Kay Menon that met with a fair share of critical acclaim.

However post these two films, Mehta faltered and lost his way as a filmmaker in his bid to reach out to the masses (by his own admission). What followed were some uninspired, indifferent films such as Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai and Woodstock Villa that found neither commercial nor critical acclaim.

But the storyteller in Mehta wasn't the one to be bogged down. And everyone loves a good comeback story and his is as good as any in Bollywood.

After a hiatus of four years post Woodstock Villa, Mehta made Shahid - a biopic on the life of slain lawyer and human rights activist Shahid Azmi (played by Rajkumar Rao). The film not only helped Mehta and Rao win National Awards for their work in the film, but also put the spotlight once again on Mehta.

The widespread acclaim for the film also helped revive his filmmaking career and led to Mehta directing the acclaimed Citylights that was produced by Mahesh Bhatt and starred Rajkumar Rao. The acceptance of Shahid and Citylights gave Hansal Mehta the courage to attempt stories that were close to his heart and the ones which he felt should reach out to the audiences. Thus Aligarh was born.

The film based on true events stars Manoj Bajpayee as professor Ramachandra Siras - a man humiliated and shamed for his alleged homosexuality and Rajkumar Rao as the journalist who interviewed Siras and chronicled his story.

Aligarh had its world premiere at Busan International Film Festival and the European premiere at the BFI London Film Festival last year where it won rave reviews from festival audiences and international critics alike. It met with a similar response when it had its Indian premiere at last year's Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival.

Interestingly the film reunites Mehta with Manoj Bajpayee after a long hiatus and also marks the screenwriting debut of editor, and Mehta's longtime collaborator, Apurva Asrani.

After successfully completing the rounds of film festivals, Aligarh is all set for a theatrical release in India on 26th Feb. It is a brave film that deals front on with the issue of homosexuality & an individual's right to privacy. The film sees Bajpai deliver one of his finest performances in a long while & it's a delight to see him inhabit the skin of a character with nuance not often associated with film acting in India.

With these last 3 films, Mehta has turned a corner & established himself as one of the best filmmakers currently working in Mumbai. Very few other filmmakers can boast of having delivered three powerful films back-to-back & Mehta's rebellious streak makes him the most exciting filmmaker to look out for. Perhaps a little late in his career, but he's finally arrived & not just to stay, but to push the boundaries of his craft.

We recently had the privilege of having a long and freewheeling chat with the man himself. During the course of the interview, the filmmaker spoke to us about why he likes to provoke people and initiate a debate through his films, his inspirations, why filmmakers must learn to budget and sell their films and his views on the state of independent cinema in India.

Part 1

In this part of the interview, the filmmaker talks about what inspired him to make films and why he prefers shooting in digital. He also talks about what inspired him to make Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar and why he isn't bothered about his films getting a theatrical release as long as they are reaching audiences.

Part 2

Here Mehta talks about why he lets others do the research for his film and trusts their authenticity and accuracy with the same.

Part 3

Mehta says that he likes to provoke people and invite them to a debate about a particular subject. This tendency to invite a debate or discussion is what drives him to make a film on a particular subject. He also talks about how the uncommon stories of people belonging to humble backgrounds is what prompted him to make Shahid & Aligarh and keeps motivating him as a filmmaker.

Part 4

Mehta feels filmmakers are more of human resource managers and have to go with their gut feeling and rely on it once they have made their decisions. He also states why a director's job is often overstated.

Part 5

When asked about the Indian indie film movement, the filmmaker does admit that there indeed is a wave of well made and unconventional Indian films being made, that are not following the commercial diktats. But he also feels that filmmakers must not get carried away by the wave and must make a conscious effort to evolve with every successive film.

Part 6

In perhaps the most important part of the interview, the filmmaker says that one must be smart in order to survive in the industry. Having gone through some tumultuous times himself, Mehta says that it is essential for filmmakers to learn to budget and sell their films. In his opinion, filmmakers must realise that commerce and aesthetics cannot be separated from each other and is an essential part of the filmmaking process.

It is this realisation that will help filmmakers to make their projects more viable and get it released by studios.


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