Whether it is "Shahid", "Aligarh", "Simran", "Bose: Dead/Alive" or the upcoming "Omerta", National Award-winning filmmaker Hansal Mehta seems to have found his space in telling stories that are based on real life characters or incidents. He attempts to express his "individual voice" through these narratives. "I am glad if people also find such stories interesting, as I do. But it is not conscious. I have my individual voice and that reflects in my films. Not necessarily everything translates into acceptance, but I try to maintain my voice in the stories that I tell," Mehta told IANS in an interview.
His forthcoming film, the intense drama "Omerta" that releases on May 4, traces the life of British-Pakistani terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh. Is it a biopic?
"Yes, it is an unauthorised biopic. You can say that," the filmmaker said with a smile.
Given that "Omerta" tells the tale of a man who was involved in terror attacks in recent history, including the Mumbai terror strike and the brutal beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl - and possibly the 9/11 attacks -- it is understood that the character will be dark.
Nobody is a born terrorist. And so, the question arises: Has Mehta tried to humanise Omar Saeed Sheikh?
"Being evil and negative is (a) human characteristic that we all have somewhere or the other. But we are not brainwashed like Omar. What Omar is doing is something that he strongly believes in and his ideology has its own logic.
"The reason why the story of Omar scares us is because he is so real. He is a murderer, he is evil; and (if) such a man... comes in front of you, it would be spine-chilling. So we kept it that real... He doesn't dance or eat like a don... things that we get to see in regular Hindi films. All his actions are coming from a certain conviction," Mehta explained.
The film premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and received a good response. Asked if the theatrical release and box office numbers worry him, Mehta said: "Yes, we have been travelling with the film since last September and everywhere people are talking about the impact that the story is creating in the minds of the audience.
"I just hope that the way the international audience has engaged with the story, our Indian audience feels the same."
"Honestly, when people talk to me about box office numbers, my first and most important concern is to recover the money. Once that is done, the film will live its own life in the theatre. The audience will do that for us. But I want the cost of the film, marketing, everything that is invested should be recovered from the theatrical release," said Mehta.
Starting his career in television, Mehta made his debut as a film director with "Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar!!". His movie "Shahid" bagged him a National Award for Best Direction.
It is interesting to observe how actor Rajkummar Rao, who played the protagonist in "Shahid" and now features as the terrorist in "Omerta", has found a new dimension in his career after collaborating with Mehta.
"Raj is evolving with each film and we can all see that. But I noticed how involved he is with each of the characters he plays. I remember how he was trying to pick up the Malayalam accent to play Deepu Sebastian (for the film ‘Aligarh'). Since Omar Sheikh is a very dark character, I think he went through a certain emotional transformation that we can see in his performance.
"There was a certain aggression that I noticed in him even when the camera was not rolling. That's Raj for you," said the director of his actor.
The filmmaker, however, said that when he developed the script of "Omerta", Rajkummar was not on his mind.
"I wanted to make the film in 2007. So, basically, the story has lived with me for the last so many years. At that time, no one was interested in making this film, and I did not know Raj back then. In those years, people did not have much faith in me because of the kind of films that I was making.
"However, I think everything has its own time. Raj came into my life during ‘Shahid' and then he enabled me to make this film," said Mehta, who is all set to do another film with the actor.
(With IANS Inputs)