Chaar Cutting Special - Hardik Mehta On Making 'Skin Deep'

By Aditi Patwardhan. Posted on May 18, 2015

Director Hardik Mehta's Skin Deep narrates the story of a young couple whose first adventure of wanting to make love is tested when the guy discovers that an extra piece of foreskin is causing hindrance. The film which has won accolades at Indian Film Festival Of Los Angeles (IFFLA) and International Documentary & Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK) is now being released as a part of the film Chaar Cutting.

Chaar Cutting is a compilation of four award winning short films across genres like comedy, satire, romance and thriller and is being released by Jamuura in association with Celebstall. Besides Skin Deep, Chaar Cutting features Blouse (directed by Vijayeta Kumar), Manila Running (directed by Anuj Gulati) and Bawdi (directed by Vivek Soni).

Chaar Cutting releases on 29th May in cinemas through PVR Directors Rare. Click here to know more about the film.

Hardik has assisted filmmakers like Vikramaditya Motwane, Dev Benegal & Vikas Bahl in films like Lootera, Road - The Movie & Queen. He has also directed a couple of TVC's. We recently interviewed Hardik Mehta on his filmmaking journey, on assisting Vikramaditya Motwane & Dev Benegal and his short film.

Published below are some excerpts from the interview.

1. Tell us about your filmmaking journey till now? 

I come from Baroda, Gujarat. As the joke goes, kids in Indian households first become engineers and then think about what they want to do in life. That’s what happened to me too. I did my B.Tech in Dairy & Food Technology, four long years of food science. In fact, after the course I even joined work at Surat Dairy.  That was in 2004. But during the last two years of my graduation, I was addicted to movies and the process of movie making. I would religiously visit cinema halls every Friday. And one fine day I decided to take the plunge, away from the security of the job and into the world I felt I belonged to. I worked as a copywriter for a couple of years in an advertising agency in Baroda and that gave me the confidence to go ahead and try my hand at the moving image.

I had applied to both FTII Pune and Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. I got a call from the Mass Communication Research Centre at Jamia and that’s how my filmmaking journey formally began. In 2008, Dev Benegal came to my college to conduct a ‘screenwriting’ workshop. The two day workshop was more invigorating that the entire semester that year and I knew that instant that I had to work with this guy, somehow. In a few months, his Indo-US production Road, Movie went on floors and I was asked to work as an intern on it. That was it, my bags were packed and here I am.

2. Vikramaditya Motwane has written the film. How did you come to direct it?

When Lootera was to go on floors, I got a call from Phantom. They needed a script and continuity supervisor for the film. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Money didn't matter then and working with someone like Vikramaditya meant a lot. Working with him, I realised the difference between a director and a filmmaker, and his complete control over the medium is something that I aspired for. After we finished shooting Lootera, Vikram had sometime at hand and I gave the first draft of my feature screenplay to him to read. After reading he asked me if I have a show reel. I showed him a couple of TVCs and a short film called Chal Meri Luna, which I had made in 2005, even before joining Jamia.

So he asked me if I would like to make another short, and also generously offered Udaan’s left over 16mm film stock for the same. Frankly in today’s times if someone offers you film stock then it’s like a dream come true. But that wasn’t it. While I was thinking about the short, Vikram gave me Skin Deep to read. It was a short film he had written and suggested I should give it a shot, and see how I translate the written word to celluloid. So that’s how this journey of Skin Deep began. My friends Niraj Kothari and Devang Bhavsar had just started their production house called Inglorious Films and they pitched in solid support and produced this short film.

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3. The film deals with the topic of circumcision, a subject which is quite a taboo in the Indian society. Could you tell us what the film is all about? 

Skin Deep is about a couple, very much in love, which faces an awkward situation, in the form of an extra piece of skin, well, the guy’s foreskin. They want to consummate their love on the wedding night itself and the guy is ready to do whatever it takes to make that happen. But this pursuit of ‘ideal love’ could change things for them.

I was so glad that Naveen Kasturia and Aditi Vasudev agreed to do this short film; cause I think they are fantastic actors. They not only got their talent but also all their enthusiasm and energy that any indie film set needs! They made shooting a joy.

4. You have assisted directors like Dev Benegal & Vikramaditya Motwane. What did you learn from them and how did it help you as a filmmaker while making Skin Deep? 

Dev Benegal is someone who I will always be indebted to. He trained me in every aspect of filmmaking and that includes using an Apple computer. He taught me every single thing about script supervision, even the tiniest details. For example he told me that a 35mm stock rolls 90 feet in 60 seconds, and I was to mark each take and its duration. Thus I was made responsible if a can runs out in between the take, when an actor is acting!

All of this I applied on Lootera as it was also being shot on 35mm. I always made sure there was enough stock for the take and enough coverage for a scene. Also the way in which Dev talks and reaches out to each and every individual on a film set is a lesson in itself and that is a huge training in making films in Bombay, where most sets are like cauldrons and one never knows which head of department will throw a tantrum and when.

Apart from being a super film maker Vikramaditya Motwane is a fantastic editor.  Someone who just knows how he intends to cut his songs, cut through the narrative and change completely change perspectives and point of views in a given scene. Vikramaditya is constantly editing in his head, while writing, while shooting and post that, his film is made on the edit table. I’ve closely imbibed and internalised this delightful process. Also from him I’ve learnt to use every lens in its best possible way for a given shot. His exhaustive, unrelenting approach towards his craft makes him a tough task master, but he is worth every second of it. He is someone from whom I can never stop learning.


5. How was it working with the senior cinematographer, Mahendra Shetty on the film? Were you intimidated working with him? Tell us about how it worked on the sets? 

When Vikramaditya gave us the 16mm film stock, we knew that this film stock belonged to no one else but Mahendra Shetty. We were very very lucky with Skin Deep when Shetty sir agreed to shoot it! I had always been an ardent fan of his work, and him shoot our short was more than what we could’ve asked for! While shooting, he never interfered in the process, no hand holding, no suggestions, no critique. He just watched over us. He allowed me to make my mistakes, he allowed me to think on my own and ensured I shot it the way I had wanted – which perhaps was not be the best for the film, but certainly was the biggest opportunity he could give me.

There’s just too much to learn from Shetty Sir. But you have to be quiet and watch him closely, for he has the most unassuming way about his craft.  But his nuanced understanding of emotions and the honesty of his person comes out in each of his shot. Actually, while shooting and editing Skin Deep, I never felt intimidated. I actually felt I had managed some control and knew where I wanted to take this film. But ever since I put it out for people to see, each time someone mentions that your film was shot by Mahendra Shetty and Vikramaditya Motwane wrote the screenplay, that’s what’s intimidating. I constantly reel under the pressure, I know that there is no way I can justify these two names.

6.Which films and filmmakers inspire you? 

Hrishikesh Mukherji, Dibaker Banerjee's Khosla ka Ghosla, Yash Chopra’s earlier films, Mahesh Bhatt’s films, Where is the Friend’s Home by Abbas Kiarostami - Films, Documentaries and writings of Werner Herzog, Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan, Emir Kusturica, Gulzar saab, Vishal Bharadwaj’s Kaminey and the passion of Edward D Wood Jr inspire me.

7. Short films are finally being recognized and getting a platform with initiatives like Chaar Cutting. What in your view needs to happen to promote short films?

Short Films face a lot of competition from the digital platform and viral videos industry. While some of the viral content is amazing, most fall into the fast food category and if our audience today has to even notice a short film then it has to be something better, something more cinematic than another YouTube video. Why else would an audience member leave the comfort of his home and come to a theatre and spend the money?

An effort like Chaar Cutting is such a innovation, where format viewing is being re defined. It’s a welcome change for today’s multiplex going audiences. I attended the International Documentary & Short Film Festival at Kerala and every short film that played there was packed with audiences and it was such a pleasure to be watching your film with so many people. We made Skin Deep with a lot of heart, but we had never imagined we would be able to see it on a big screen. We are extremely thankful to PVR and Jamuura Talkies for releasing these four lovely films with such a distinct voice. I hope the audiences like the variety offered!

8.What next? What are you working on? 

I am working on a very exciting documentary project, it is based on the ‘kite-runners’ from Astodia, the area in Old Ahmedabad. I shot this documentary over a period of two years during the kite flying festival (uttarayan) and right now it’s in post-production. My wife, Akanksha Tewari is producing it for me and we hope to finish the film by the end of this year.


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