As someone who started his career with presenting one of India’s most loved cooking shows Khana Khazana, back in the early 1990s, filmmaker Hansal Mehta has evolved to dish out one amazing story after another on Indian film and web. A National Film Award winner, he follows immense reverence in the fraternity for his path-breaking work in Shahid, Citylights, Aligarh, Simran, Omerta, Scam 1992 and more recently, Scoop.
The Free Press Journal caught up with him for an exclusive chat.
A still from Scoop
Scoop has further reaffirmed Mehta’s ability to deliver a human story, despite an omnipresent source material that can be interpreted in multiple ways. When asked if he has been able to process the reception that’s been pouring in from all corners, Mehta shares, “I’m just ecstatic and quite overwhelmed. Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story released under very different circumstances. It was a time when everyone was stuck in their homes. So, some of the viewership came from that. Although I tell myself that I don’t need to look back or live upto the kind of success that Scam witnessed. It is always a burden that is thrust upon you. And, I’m glad that Scoop has lived upto that. We have worked hard and Scoop has released at a time when the world has opened up. Storytellers have been releasing outstanding stuff in cinema halls and OTT platforms. It feels good to be celebrated in the midst of such amazing work that is happening around you.”
Karishma Tanna in Scoop
One of the most notable strengths of the filmmaker lies in his uncanny ability to draw out the most competent performances from actors with whom the expectations are at the lowest. As much as he is aided in the process by casting director Mukesh Chhabra, how is his belief fuelled in the actors chosen for their respective parts. “I just try to be as honest as possible with the casting, alongside being disruptive. Mukesh is a great help in that. The moment he knows that he can be disruptive, the floodgates open up. You are able to cast against type and at the same time, you’re able to look at the multitude of options that are available around you.”
He adds, “It’s not possible for me or Mukesh alone to do this, if you don’t have the support of the platform. Our partners on both Scam and Scoop supported our choices. That support empowers us to do this more and more. The success of Scoop vindicates these choices and allows us to continue making them. Otherwise, an actor like Harman Baweja would have been relegated to being an actor, who had a meteoric rise and then disappeared. With people poking fun at him, he would’ve regretted the thought that nobody took a chance with him. So, I’m glad that I’ve been able to provide him and others a platform for them to showcase their best abilities.”
Mohd. Zeeshan Aayub and Karishma Tanna in Scoop
With Scoop, the audience is having a tough time choosing between the characters that they enjoyed the most. But unanimous praise and love has been heaped for Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub, who plays Imran Siddiqui. To which Mehta raves,” Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub is a proven fantastic actor, who I believe hasn’t gotten his due, in terms of the characters he gets to play. The moment you give somebody a character like this, he does such a beautiful job with it. He doesn’t go overboard yet he gives it so much dignity. So, the rediscovery of Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub, the reinvention of Deven Bhojani, the joy of watching somebody like Jaimini Pathak, Ravi Mahashabde who plays investigating officer Jagtap or Teekam Joshi, who plays ACP Devrath. Not many people have spoken about them but they are such good actors, the characters appear real. You don’t feel like there is an actor in that part. Or when you look at Inayat Sood (Deepa Chandra in the show) Tanishhtha Chatterjee (Leena Pradhan), Tanmay Dhanania (Pushkar Mohan), Ira Dubey (Anita), Aseem Hattangadi (Sandeep Narvekar), it’s an ensemble of fantastic actors, who unfortunately don’t get enough characters to chew on.”
Mehta, also makes a brief cameo in Scoop | Instagram
How did it help to have a co-writer and creator in Mrunmayee Lagoo for a show like Scoop that occasionally addresses the rampant gender inequality that exists in Indian society. “In addressing the gender inequality in Scoop, a lot of the credit of that goes to my co-writer and creator Mrunmayee Lagoo, who wrote the exceptional Thappad with Anubhav Sinha. So, she and my team of writers create these characters that I can add my touches to. I don’t aim for loudness or subtlety but I try to stage whatever I can in the most believable manner possible.”
Has the show helped him in introspecting his actions or words in the past, where some of them might not have been his best moments? “Every story that I tell, every character that I explore through my stories, makes me introspect. I’ve particularly grown up in a time when we were conditioned to be patriarchal. We were conditioned to see the role of a woman in a particular way. Although, we’ve grown up in a city which is supposed to be far more liberal and understanding than the rest of the country, but, no, we grew up in a very patriarchal set-up. So, I use my stories and my characters to shift something within me. I feel it just goes towards making me a better person. And it’s perhaps one of the reasons why I tell stories.”
A day at work | Instagram
Given the day and age where filmmaking has become a lot about appeasement, how does he view the future of films in the time to come? “I just feel that whatever is the ideology that you’re trying to espouse through your filmmaking, even if I disagree with it, you should use the craft of filmmaking responsibly. You should trust your audience’s intelligence and try to provide a balanced perspective. I think the audience is intelligent enough to decide for themselves and I have a lot of faith in them. So, Scoop is lapped up and it succeeds. I believe that in a free country, everybody should make all kinds of films, but may I add, that we should make better films. All of us, including me, must make better films.”
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