Retelling a tragic love story: Harshvardhan and Saiyami on Mirzya
There is a lot to look forward to in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s magnum opus Mirzya. For one, it marks the legendary Gulzar saab’s return to writing after more than a decade. It is also Mehra’s directorial venture after a gap of three years, his last film being Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. And if that was not reason enough, the movie launches two fresh faces – Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher.
This retelling of the tragic folklore of Mirza-Sahiban has generated much curiosity ever since it was announced. So we caught up with the lead pair to know more about the contemporary twist to this classic tale, the intricacies of their characters and their much-talked about acting debuts.
Was acting something that destined for you? How did you bag your debut film?
I think it was a given that I will do films at some point. For a long time, I was strongly considering being a writer-director. I studied writing for four years, but within that program I also did a year of acting. It was then that I realized that acting came naturally to me and it was something which I enjoyed. Hence, I decided to go ahead with acting first.
I met Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (ROM) on the sets of Delhi–6 in 2008 and he liked the way I looked. After the movie released, I went to college in America, but we kept in touch. Three years later, in 2011, I got a call from my Dad saying that ROM is thinking of making Mirza-Sahiban, a romantic tragedy with me. He told me that Gulzar is writing the film and he (ROM) thought that I was the only young kid that he could imagine playing the role. But I wasn’t ready because I was studying and at that time I also felt that it is was too soon for me to take up such a huge responsibility. After I finished college, I came back and trained as an actor for a year and then in 2013 I messaged ROM and we decided to go ahead.
I realized that acting came naturally to me and it was something which I enjoyed
Mirzya is a very intense character, how challenging was it to emotionally prepare for such a character?
It is hard to describe because it is a combination that includes a lot of factors. I think you draw from your emotional experiences and then apply those emotions to the character’s circumstances. For instance, if you have to cry or feel rejected and sad in a scene, then you revisit a time in your life when you felt like that and apply that to the character’s circumstances. Maybe listen to the music that gets you in that mood, scream if you have to, do anything that helps.
A lot of the physical work that you do for the character can also help you emotionally because you are putting in the manual labor. For instance, you are riding horses, cleaning after them, putting on the saddle, firing arrows and so on.
To sum it up, it’s a combination of a lot of things, you are trying to get all the right tools together and then release those emotions at the right time. The timing is also crucial because if that emotional outburst happens in your vanity 10 minutes before the shot then it won’t be relevant, at the end of the day what is captured in the shot matters.
Were there any traits in your character that you could empathize with?
Mirzya has two films in it – one is the folklore and the other is a contemporary love story, so there are two different characters. It is a well-designed, well-thought-out script by Gulzar. It is not poetry for poetry’s sake; every scene says multiple things. Therefore, there was not much to be done in terms of improvisation because the characters are well-defined in the script, it was more about mastering what was on paper.
Adil is a stable boy from Rajasthan who had an interesting childhood and that has made him the person that he is. He works in the palace, looking after the horses and plays polo with the guests, takes foreigners for night safaris and so on. While Mirzya is a very masculine warrior from an undefined time.
I could relate more to the stable boy than the warrior because he is an introvert; tough looking, but vulnerable inside. He has a quite intensity about him and he communicates through his eyes. The warrior, on the other hand, likes to show off his skills and is flamboyant.
There was not much to be done in terms of improvisation because the characters are well-defined in the script, it was more about mastering what was on paper
At what point did you decide to be an actor, what influenced that decision?
My grandmother was an actress, my aunt is an actress and my parents were both models. But I was brought up in Nasik as my parents wanted me to have a small town upbrining. They wanted me to know that there is more to life than just films. I used to play badminton and cricket for Maharashtra, so my childhood was about playing sports and that took up a lot of time, so acting never crossed my mind. The bug of acting bit me somewhere during college (Xavier’s College) as I started doing a lot of theater and I stopped playing sports competitively. That is when the transition took place and I started auditioning.
The audition process for Mirzya was a film in itself because it went on for six months
How was the process of auditioning for Sahiban?
The audition process for Mirzya was a film in itself because it went on for six months. The first audition happened way back in October 2013, post which there were 10-12 screen tests that happened over six months. For Rakeysh sir, the role of the female was very important, so he wanted to be very sure that ‘this is my Sahiban’. Another girl had auditioned for the part at the time and both of us were sent to Delhi for three months. When we came back to Mumbai, we had another audition, after which I was signed for the movie.
As there are two stories that run parallel in the movie, and you play two different characters, did it get confusing at any point of time?
We shot Mirzya as two different films; first we shot the contemporary portion in Rajasthan. We finished that in around 50 days after which we had a four month break. During this break we had to completely forget what we had shot. Rakeysh sir even changed the entire team. For the folklore portion we had a new hair and makeup team, a different costume designer and so on. We also shot it in a new location, which was Ladakh, so it felt like we were shooting another film. Both the stories were treated independently.
You normally imagine a princess to be pretty and delicate but that is a perception that we have broken
Were the characters also treated independently or were there traits that you had to maintain in both aspects of the film?
They are two completely different characters. Rakeysh sir wanted to keep both the characters separate. When I met Rakeysh sir for the first time, he told me that we are making two films – one is the legend of Mirza-Sahiban while the other is the contemporary version of how the love story between Mirza and Sahiban would play out if they were alive in the present time.
Sahiban’s character is very strong; you normally imagine a princess to be pretty and delicate but that is a perception that we have broken. Rakeysh sir wanted me to be really muscular because she is a warrior princess. I needed to be rough and have a raw sensuality about me.
The contemporary character can be described through the song Ek Nadi Thi which basically says how you are the river and your conflict is that you are between the banks. There is a lot of emotional turmoil within the character and it was emotionally draining for me to play her.