Hansal Mehta has churned out impactful stories year after year — Shahid in 2013, CityLights in 2014, Aligarh in 2015, Omerta in 2017. next will be The Accidental Prime Minister, releasing in December
Carving out strong characters inspired from the intricacies of real life, film director Hansal Mehta chose to follow the unconventional path. Despite being low on the glamour quotient, his movies that are mostly based on true events or are a reflection of the reality, strike a chord with the audience. From Dil Pe Mat Lo Yaar to Aligarh, he has been consistent in his bold and unique choice of subjects.
With Aligarh, which released in 2015 and was based on the true struggle of a professor who was suspended from his job because of his sexual orientations, he raised the bar. He is now busy working on his upcoming movie, The Accidental Prime Minister, a biographical political drama, starring Anupam Kher as Manmohan Singh. Mehta is also planning a film based on the life of late Sridevi. Praising her for the brilliant roles she performed, he regrets that he could only meet her once or twice.
Having faced several budget constraints, Mehta has learnt to use the movie’s low budget as its selling tool. He also understands how the cast is crucial for any movie, which made him particular of having Manoj Bajpayee for the professor’s role in Aligarh. “Manoj works hard to build his character. He spent time getting acquainted with Marathi to play the role of the Marathi-speaking professor,” he says.
For him, Aligarh was not so much about homosexuality as it was about invasion of privacy. Hansal says that in 2010, a young film-maker, Ishani Banerjee emailed him that idea and he loved the subject. But he admits that making such films is not an easy task in a country like India where freedom of speech is not absolute. The controversies surrounding Aligarh made him go through a terrible phase.
His journey began with the popular TV show, Khana Khazana in 1993. He then moved on to films like Jayate, which was screened at the International Film Festival of India (2000) and Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar that was based on the life of a migrant and was a success at the box office.
In these 25 years, he has bagged critical acclaim for many movies but he is best known for his biographical drama Shahid, based on the life of human rights activist and lawyer Shahid Azmi. Time and again, he has displayed his competence in dealing with sensitive topics.
Nowadays, when filmmakers want to make films that fall in the category of commercial cinema, Mehta is winning hearts with movies like City Lights, Omerta and Simran.
Mehta shares a good chemistry with his actors. In Aligarh, he worked with Manoj Bajpayee after 15 years but he was confident from the beginning that no one could perform the role better. He said that Manoj, who can perform certain characters meticulously, delivered a career-defining performance in Aligarh.
With Rajkumar Rao, a constant in many of his movies after Shahid, he feels that he shares a similar understanding of the cinema that makes for a comfort level between the two. He is also very close to director Mahesh Bhatt, who he considers his mentor. It was Mahesh Bhatt who encouraged Mehta to make such bold films.
Narrating real-life stories is challenging, but he does that painstakingly. Hansal does not believe in selling stale stories to his audience. He has a knack for discovering true stories that can be turned into soulful movies.