THE WILD CHILD
“People see me as a very sorted and mature person. But, I’m none of those things when I’m creating and that’s the way I like it,” said Hansal Mehta as we chatted in his office. The director, at the peak of his career after delivering the brilliant National Award winning Shahid and the critically acclaimed CityLights, seemed relaxed and in his element.
“Shahid came from a bankruptcy of ideas. I felt that I had nothing left to say, no story to tell. I was mired in mediocrity and flowing the herd. That’s when I read a news report and it’s a terrible thing to say, but from his death I found life.” The killing of Shahid Azmi, a lawyer who defended those accused of terrorism, touched a chord with Hansal. Azmi’s unique journey of going from a terrorist camp to becoming a defender of the defenseless was an ideal vehicle for him to talk about his concerns for society in the form of a film.
The travails of the common man is a recurring theme in Hansal’s work and other than news reports, another big source of his ideas is talking to people and asking them where they come from, what they are doing and how they feel. Hansal also sees his cooking, a hobby he is very passionate about, as giving him the space for his creativity to blossom. “Input and output, the kitchen and the bathroom are two places of creativity for me,” he added with a grin.
The filmmaker follows the classic process of having an idea and then consciously not thinking about it, while allowing his subconscious to fill in the blanks for him. “Shahid appeared in my dreams and I saw certain images, and those images are there in the film. When you are resting, those ideas inhabit your subconscious, so when they come into consciousness, you need to be aware. Other times you may have an idea you think is brilliant and maybe it is at the idea level, but later you realise it’s too one dimensional.”
Another critical part of his process is the feedback stage where he discusses the idea with the people close to him. But at the same time, he does make it a point to shield himself from the practicality of, ‘How will you make this film?’ during the early stages of his idea. “I’m not analytical, I don’t do pros and cons and I won’t make a PPT about my idea and completely fuck it up.”
Hansal, in many ways, sees this phase of his career as a second birth, after spending years in a creative drought that he blames entirely on his fear of letting go. “I was becoming a senior director and getting certain opportunities, so I thought I had to behave differently. Before Shahid, I only pretended to direct because I just wanted to prove to the producer on the set that I knew my craft well. So, that is gone. Now, I’m reliving that time in primary school where all your emotions flow naturally. You don’t want to do homework, you throw a fit, you don’t want to eat something, you throw a fit. And, it doesn’t come out of conditioning. Creating is a very innocent space, otherwise you’re very guarded.”
When asked to share the secret of his success, Hansal replied, “The reason I’ve survived all these years in this industry is that I’ve always been ready with ideas to sell. A lot of people get stuck worrying about the lack of opportunity, but I know if I am passionate about an idea, it will bear fruit. After all, that’s how I married my wife, I knew that if I love her so much, she’ll be mine someday.”