Hardik Mehta Curated
Indian film director and writer
CURATED BY :
You’ve spoken of the fact how supporting characters have slowly vanished from Hindi films’ posters. But don’t you see a power shift in terms of where a supporting actor stands today?
That’s correct. Things have started to change in a big way. But when I wrote the film, this scenario was completely true. It’s only in the last year that we’ve begun to see the change. Suddenly we see an onslaught of actors like Pankaj Tripathi and Gajraj Rao. It’s a pleasant change and is here to stay. All credit goes to new scripts. But even now if you look at business, you see hero oriented films and posters like Simmba’s. Masses are still watching hero-oriented films. That’s exactly where Kaamyaab stands right now. It’s about a forgotten character actor that Bollywood is trying to bring back. In Kaamyaab we are not talking about people like Anupam Kher or Boman Irani. We are speaking about people like Vrajesh Hirjee. We are talking about actors who are always on the fringes. Earlier, even they found a space in posters. My world in this film is where you see Iftekaar saab on a poster and think to yourself, “Oh, there must be some interesting police angle too.”
How do you keep yourself active as an artist?
I read a lot. It helps the mind travel. I expose myself to all kinds of good cinema. European Arthouse, Japanese action, U.S indies to blockbusters. There are a certain blockbusters that I can’t watch but I am developing taste for them. As a director, I want to deliver all kinds of genres. That’s what the challenge is. As an artist I keep challenging myself to different genres. I made short fiction like Skin Deep and then made a short documentary, then this feature and after that I wrote a web series for Amazon. Similarly, I’d want to work in a different genre next. Maybe a thriller or horror. Just trying these different genres and reading classics and being at it. Reading non-fiction also helps as it exposes me to politics and geographies of the world.
What’s your relationship with Bombay like?
I have grown to love Bombay. I tell my friends when you love a city, the city makes you feel special. I know many people who come to Bombay and start complaining about the struggle, the people, the networks. But once you embrace the city, it starts to look after you. I see it in simple things, when I’m running late and taking a local train to a meeting in town, the city ensures that I manage a FAST local train so that I happen to make it on time. Shooting in Bombay is a challenge, though. You either need to shoot on holidays or wee hours. But I’m a strong believer in Werner Herzog’s ‘grassroot’ style of filmmaking. So for me it’s a ‘just shoot, don’t take any permission’ approach and ‘Ask for forgiveness and not permission’ approach.
Any advice to share on distribution and exhibition of independent films.
Well, Skin Deep (2014) was released theatrically across India along with three other short films in an anthology called Chaar Cutting. Our documentary Amdavad Ma Famous (English: Famous In Ahmedabad) has traveled extensively to film festivals across the world and is now available on Netflix in 192 countries and is subtitled in 26 languages. The Affair has garnered over 2 million views on YouTube. But I don’t think I have ever set out making a film thinking ‘mujhe aisi film banani hai aur yahan dikana hai’ – that kind of “plan” corrupts the mind and sets you up for disappointment. My films have charted their own paths. Right now, it’s a great time to make your own film. There are so many avenues to shoot and submit. One has to be really lazy to still ‘want’ to be a filmmaker; the system has ensured you are a filmmaker, just make a good film.
How did ‘The Affair‘ come about?
After the National Award that we received for Best Non-Feature Film, our film was invited to Paris by the French Academy of Cinema (Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma), where every year they invite films and filmmakers from around the world who have received the highest honour from their respective academies or governments. So suddenly our film was amidst some elite company of Oscar, BAFTA and Cesar winners .The French Academy also requested participants to carry another short film about their city/culture that we can showcase there. While I was reading Manu Joseph’s book, an idea struck me about the couples who sit at Marine Drive. That’s what conceptualised ‘The Affair’. After showing it in Paris, when I returned, I showed it to Manish Mundra of Drishyam films and he absolutely loved it, so he decided to put it online. That’s how The Affair made its way to the web. Then it captured the attention of listicle sites and earned buzz with headlines such as ‘Watch this Bombay couple having an affair’.
How did you begin with filmmaking?
Post my last job as script supervisor on Queen, we shot ‘Skin Deep’ in four days, and the post-production took 6 months. Shorty after its release, I happened to visit some relatives in Ahmedabad where I witnessed Uttarayan (the kite-flying festival) in full swing. I decided to film the festival in the spur of the moment. I shot over two festivals (2014-2015) and by October 2015, ‘Amdavad Ma Famous’, my first documentary, was ready. Since it wasn’t a documentary about social change, or about a particular issue, I wasn’t very confident about it initially. We wondered if the documentary audience would be interested in a young boy’s story during a kite festival. But much to our surprise, it was heartening when Nishant Radhakrishnan, editor of Dhobi Ghat, saw the first rough cut and texted, ‘It is like City of God In Amdavad’. We started sending it to film festivals. It’s now travelled to 75 cities and some major film festivals including HotDocs, PalmSprings, IDSFFK Kerala, Al Jazeera and many more. Still, my fondest memory was at the first screening at the film’s premiere in Budapest. The audience was smiling, but one guy happened to laugh the most. I was trying to understand what made him laugh so much. When the lights came on, we realised he is from India and couldn’t get over the Indian-ness of this film.
Why did you shift from script supervision to film-making?
The role of script supervisor is unsung. A specialist script supervisor is very rare. It is a job that holds too much responsibility, and it expects one to be very attentive to maintain the mood and continuity of each scene and each shot while shooting. Not only is there great deal of paperwork, but also a great deal of communication between the actor and director. There aren’t many script supervisors in the industry – when I started work, I would hear stories about legendary script supervisors like Hassan Kutty, Shubha Ramachandra to name a few, and that’s why I decided to pursue it. Udaan had released around the same time as Mausam. I managed to connect with Vikramaditya Motwane to work on his next, ‘Lootera’. This time around, my role was more significant. Vikram is reserved as a person, so I had to be quite outspoken. I had to get extra involved, keep asking questions to know what he’d approve of, and to figure out his approach to filmmaking. Lootera was a confidence booster and opened a whole new world to me.
What brought you to Bombay?
During my course at Jamia, we had a ‘Script to Screen’ workshop conducted by filmmaker Dev Benegal: one that taught us how to turn the written word into a convincing visual. At the end of the workshop, there was a pitching session where I managed to impress Dev. After the workshop, I decided to try my luck and ask him for some work, but Dev said that he will get back. And indeed, he did get back. Somewhere closer to my graduation, it was him who remembered me; he called up my Jamia professor and asked about me. He then invited me to work on ‘Road, Movie’ – a film that he was just about to start with Abhay Deol and Tannishtha Chatterjee . My work was script supervision, a role largely ignored in Bombay Cinema. But Dev Benegal gave it priority, so I had a lot to do.
Were there unmistakable signs that you were destined to be a film-maker?
My childhood was basically spent watching potboilers of the ’80s and ’90s – growing up in Baroda, the highlight of middle-class birthday parties was to watch these films. During my B. Tech days in Anand, I used to watch a lot of movies. There was nothing else to do in the small town. I am talking about early 2000s when the saying, “In India you first become an engineer and then decide what you have to do with life” was still popular. Your parents might like films of Hrishikesh Mukherjee, but that doesn’t mean they’ll encourage you to join cinema. After B.Tech, I got a job at Surat Dairy. After working there for two months, I decided to quit, and applied to advertising. I became a copywriter. It’s here that I learned a lot of basics about design, ideas, writing and visualising. I started renting DVDs and watched a lot of world cinema. During this advertising stint, I realised how all the arts – photography, music, writing -converged into the art of making cinema. So I decided to pursue filmmaking. I applied and got through the Mass Communications Course at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi (of course I had to convince my parents why I had decided to study filmmaking). Jamia opened me to a whole new world of documentaries. I started going regularly to the India Habitat Centre for screenings. You can understand that for someone who had grown up on the likes of Tridev and Ghulam, this was a whole new world.
Are streaming platforms the new way for young filmmakers to reach an audience? Does that satisfy the artist in you?
Definitely. It’s a great feeling to know that your work has reached so many people. 5 years ago, who would have even thought about it?
Do you see documentaries and short films as an end unto itself or a stepping stone to Bollywood films?
There are so many filmmakers who have made only short films. People like Daniel Mulloy and Spanish filmmaker Juanjo Giménez Peña are making short films even today. So I definitely don’t think it’s a stepping stone. Some stories lend themselves to this medium. And if the story is bad, at least a short film is less boring than a full length feature film!
You’ve been on the sets of great films like Lootera and Queen. What’s the single biggest practical tip you’ve picked up over the years?
Discipline. We’re not like architects or space research scientists doing the world a great favour. We’re privileged to be able to spend so much money to tell our stories. A lot of people are giving you their time, resources and money and you need to respect that.
You said that director Vikramaditya Motwane taught you the difference between a director and filmmaker. What did you mean?
A director comes on set and says yeh shot le lo and yeh karo and then leaves. A filmmaker imposes himself on his material. It’s like the auteurship that Godard and Truffaut spoke about. A filmmaker is there throughout the duration of the making of the film. Everything is a product of his vision.
You’ve been a script supervisor on films like Queen and Lootera. What is the role of a script supervisor?
I have to thank Dev Benegal sir for teaching me script supervision when I worked with him on Road, Movie. Since the film was being shot on 35mm, I used to make sure the film roll didn’t roll out during a take. I was in charge of timing rehearsals, keeping a track of how much coverage for a scene was being done from different angles. He also taught me the basics Final Cut Pro and using the footage that was shot on that day to make a scene out.
You worked as a dairy and food technology engineer, what made you take the leap and pursue filmmaking?
It’s the same story as most other engineers. It was never satisfying. There were a lot of prospects in that industry, especially for a Gujju boy like me. But I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and be happy. So I started by joining an ad agency as a copywriter since I thought ads also use a type of filmmaking. And eventually I left that to do this.