un is hardly a word we associate with Hansal Mehta, maker of heart-rending films such as Shahid and Aligarh. As he is ready with a social comedy Chhalaang, he not only promises a bagful of fun and entertainment but also uses the word rather generously. The acclaimed director, better known for profound and thought-provoking cinema, says. “Nothing is more profound than humour especially in the times we live in.” The film, the making of which was a joyride for him too, is actually a gift for his daughters who have been unable to watch his rather serious films.
Whether we will get to hear his distinctive voice that never shies away from stating some unsavoury truths, he agrees that Chhalaang sure is a departure. Yet he reverts to the word fun even as the film will drive home a message or two about the education system. Since one of the producers of the film happens to be Luv Ranjan, whose messaging often raises the hackles of feminists, we wonder aloud what made him sign what he calls is essentially a Luv Ranjan film. Mehta says, “Every film is a point of view. It need not always be a popular point of view.”
Of course, one of the many reasons he said yes to the film was the fact that Rajkummar Rao was already on board. Teaming up with his favourite actor is always a joy, “For not only is he a fine actor but like family.” Whether we will get to see a new avatar of Rao, the indulgent director quips, “Rajkummar is always new. Every character he takes up or I have asked him to do is different from the previous one. ”
Question of choice
Creatively, they, who have worked together in five films, continue to challenge each other and bring out the best. He can’t say the same about all actors and his recent remarks about Kangana Ranaut pertaining to the making of Simran created quite a stir. What made him keep quiet for so long? He replies, “Simply a question of choice. I chose to speak out when I felt like.” Always candid, he doesn’t think he has paid a price for being who he is. “I am who I am. I don’t take sides politically, only voice my opinions according to what I feel is right or wrong.” Rather active on social media, he is aware of its pros and cons, “Often, the noise on it so deafening that it takes away the focus from your main job, which is to tell stories.”
Authenticity remains his trademark whether speaking out or making films and the same pulsates in his characters too. The director known for detailing and humanising people on the margins, he won’t hog the credit for bringing the common man on the forefront. But yes, he admits, “It has been a collective effort to tell stories of ordinary people and make them extra-ordinary.”
Gifting a smile
Will Chhalaang set in Haryana do the same and more importantly defy stereotypes associated with Haryanavis? Well, he hopes so. What he knows for sure is that the film is a kind of homecoming for Rajkummar, who belongs to Haryana and plays the Haryanavi with a natural flourish. Can Mehta identify with Haryanvi sense of humour, which too like him is rather blunt and forthright, all he would say is, “Chhalaang will make you smile.” Actually, he dubs his latest offering as his Diwali gift to the viewers. The fact that yet another big film Laxmii will be vying for attention around the same time doesn’t take away his smile. But then the director for whom filmmaking has always been a challenge and a chhalaang too, a leap of faith at that, what matters is making his voice heard.
Larger playing field
As his web series Scam-1992 is being hailed as an outstanding piece of work, he is both humbled and grateful,. Whether OTT platforms offer greater creative liberty or not, his series on Harshad Mehta certainly did allow him complete freedom. He adds, “Though I had these very fine set of actors, there was no baggage of commercial viability.” He doesn’t think arrival of digital platforms means end of star system or thrill of cinema-going experience. “What OTT has done is created a larger playing field and wider range of choices.”