New Delhi: Biopic is a territory where very few Bollywood filmmakers want to tread, but Hansal Mehta was not apprehensive to take on the real-life story of slain human rights activist and lawyer Shahid Azmi even though people dissuaded him.
Produced by Anurag Kashyap, Sunil Bohra and UTV, ‘Shahid' tells the story of Azmi's “death and life in that order”. After travelling to some 14 international film festivals, the film hits theatres in India this Friday.
“I never had any apprehension while approaching or helming this project, though there were people who tried to dissuade me from the subject. The news of his murder sparked my interest and we started researching about him only three months after his death,” Mehta told PTI in an interview.
Mehta is happy to see biopics doing well at the box office as he believes life-stories are the new literature in cinema. The director agreed that political biopics may face difficulties in India but recent projects may indicate a revival of the genre.
“Biopics have always been made in India. Even 1990 ‘Ek Doctor ki Maut' was one. Biopics are today's literature and ‘Paan Singh Tomar' and ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag' are two recent examples of what they can do. It's always about demand and supply. The audience is waiting for good storytelling but we must also supply them the same,” Mehta said. ‘Shahid', starring Rajkumar Yadav of ‘Kai Po Che' fame in the lead role, marks Mehta's return to moviemaking after 2008 ‘Woodstock Villa'.
The director, whose previous films include ‘Jayate', ‘Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar' and ‘Chhal' and ‘Ye Kya Ho Raha Hai', says the one thing that he has learned from his career is that to make films “fearlessly”.
“I chose the film as Shahid's life offered a lot of optimism, which one doesn't find in a terror story... Real life or shadow biopic I have to make my film fearlessly,” Mehta said.
Shahid's brother Khalid has called the portrayal of his elder sibling on screen almost 95 per cent accurate and the director takes it as a big compliment. “I take it as a big compliment but I can't quantify. We have been very faithful to the research and the story of his mission. In the film we did not want to dwell on his death but his life,” Mehta said.
Yadav, on his part, found the story “emotionally very draining”.
“We received support from Shahid's friends, family and acquaintances and we had to deal with the issue with great sensitivity. But Rajkumar has essayed the role with due diligence. You can actually see his body language change as the story progresses,” Mehta said.
The director said he found Shahid's family and friends very objective in recalling his “character and personality”.
“The film is not about Shahid per se but his life and others lives that he intersected. But, you can't understand someone's life without understanding his character, his thinking, his personality. And, that is what Rajkumar did,” he said.