Hansal Mehta and I have known each other for a few years now, but we had never met. For this interview, I found myself at his place, which was eclectically decorated, with loads of cookbooks stacked up in the living room. Did you know Mehta is the creator of Khana Khazana, the longest-running cookery show on TV? Looking at my bewilderment, he says, “There’s another bookshelf downstairs. My wife has threatened to leave me if I get one more book in the house.” Mehta is set to shoot his next web show titled Scoop, based on the Journalist Jigna Vora’s book titled Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison. Scam 1992 ended on a sad note, but it kickstarted the most exciting phase of Hansal Mehta’s career. One of the most sought-after creators, we discuss all things film.
You are attached to multiple projects right now. There’s Faraaz, Scoop, Modern Love (India) and Scam Season 2. Is this the busiest you have ever been?
I guess I am, but I was perhaps busier when I used to do TV. More so because TV takes a toll on you. You shoot long hours, but you don’t particularly enjoy what you are doing. I don’t feel as busy now because I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I took up TV work at the time as a source of survival. But the problem was that I didn’t fit into the TV parameters. My approach to a scene, the story, or the performance was not what TV wanted. I used to get a lot of work on TV because I was considered a good technician, and I was pretty quick with my work. It was difficult, and I never made money. Now, I am getting paid for what I’m doing.
After Scam’s success, do you feel the pressure mounting on you?
I really don’t see it as pressure. I’ve done too much work over the years. What has changed is that I’m telling the stories that I want to tell. I’m not getting pushed into doing something I don’t want to do. Every story has its own approach, and with Scam, there was nothing new that I did. I did what I do best, authentically telling a true story. It seems that you are really enjoying the long format. I am. It is giving me a chance to delve into characters. The stories that I tell are character-driven and not necessarily plot-driven, and that’s why the long format is fun. There’s a discovery happening, and I’m not limited by time. You can discover the character on the way while you are making it, and while the audience is viewing it. Each format will have its own challenges, but I’m enjoying this long format.
It has taken a lot for you to reach where you are, and the glow of success is seen on your face…
I’m glowing because I’m going for a shoot. I love being on set, and I don’t know anything else. My struggles did scar me. Over the years, I’ve learnt to pick up the pieces, and I’m not scared to start afresh. I’m not scared to look back and say I fucked up. Life is all about that. That is why I remarried. If one marriage didn’t work, that doesn’t mean that the institution doesn’t work. Just because I had kids earlier, doesn’t mean I don’t want children again. It is about embracing everything. Failure has taught me a lot, including patience and mindfulness, and I now know how to remain in the present.
You recently spoke about Shahid not streaming on any OTT. Has there been any update on the same?
Even Ronnie Screwvala, the film’s original producer, was very concerned, and had reached out to me. He asked me to check it with Disney-acquired UTV. Danish Khan, who heads Sony Liv, got in touch with me and assured me the movie was available on his platform. When I asked someone to check, he called me back and informed me that it was nowhere. Hence the tweets. I was later told that it was a licensing issue. It has expired, and once the license expires, no one really bothers. There’s a website that tells about the titles going off Netflix and other streaming services every month, and you will be surprised to see that list. But for now, the licensing work has been completed, and it will be back on Sony Liv.
At one point, you were referred to as a niche director or someone who directs art films. How do feel about that now?
Everything you create is art, and I used to find it very reductive. You are a film-maker, and you tell stories whether your film is seen by 10 people or by one crore people. All films have an audience, and are viewed. Every story has its critics and fans, so we should learn to coexist better. I don’t like to complain. I’m in the 25th year of my career. The industry has embraced me and been nice to me, and I’ve done my own thing all these years. Even in the bad films, I’ve done my own thing. I own them as much as I own the good and the acclaimed ones.
How do you feel about your son, Jai, making his directorial debut?
He was 18 when he joined me on Shahid. It has been a long journey of knowing each other, working with each other, and learning from each other. I’ve been watching the rushes of his debut show, Pirates. As a father and a colleague, I would say that I’m very proud of him. His work is wonderful. It has a very big cast, and is an ambitious project. Jai and I are very different in that sense. I became a father at a very young age. Jai was born when I was 22. I got married very early. At 23, I did not know what to do with a child. The marriage did not survive. What matters is that Jai and I found each other after working together. We are more of friends and professional colleagues. We hang out with the same set of people. In the long run, one understands the advantage of having a grown-up child so early in life. I have more proclivity to intimate stories, while Jai has a more ambitious canvas. He enjoys the spectacle. He loves the genre I hate, and that is horror. He’s majorly into horror. I can make any film but horror.
Your next big-screen project is Faraaz, with Aditya Rawal (Paresh Rawal’s son) and Zahan Kapoor (Shashi Kapoor’s grandson). What’s the update on this project?
I’m still finishing the post-production. After which, the producers Anubhav Sinha and T-Series will take a call over the film’s release. It should be out soon.