He’s been one of the star directors of Vishesh Films. Within a career spanning over a decade, he’s directed three successful film sequels. Starting his career as an assistant director with Vikram Bhatt to turning a producer with his latest release Half Girlfriend, director Mohit Suri has clearly come a long way. In a chat with Pandolin he talks about the making of his latest film and why romance seems to be his favorite genre.

Mohit Suri

Mohit Suri

What did you have to keep in mind while adapting the original book? Also, is it easier or more challenging to adapt a literary work?

Adapting a book has its own advantages and disadvantages. But, the best part about having a book is that it has a story to tell. The most difficult part for a filmmaker is to find a story to tell. A question dangles, about whether the story would be liked or not. Come to think of it, here we had a story that has already been appreciated by two crore people.

But at the same time, it poses a difficulty. Since the book has been loved by so many people, it’s difficult to edit it. I depended heavily on my writers Tushar Hiranandani and Ishita Moitra who were my pillars, they worked with me for two years just to get the right adaptation of the book.

Everything that I have done has had a romantic angle. I am a die-hard romantic

How was it working with the author Chetan Bhagat? What were his inputs?

It’s been great working with him. He’s someone who lets somebody else take over his position. This was his project where he said that he wanted my vision and then (he) let me take over from there. It was a great advantage working with him in the capacity of a creative producer. He doesn’t just count the numbers but also understands your value. He knows if you are spending an amount to shoot a scene then how much value it is going to add to the overall project. He sees everything in totality because he’s written the book. He’s worked holistically from getting American basketball coaches to requesting St. Stephen’s College (Delhi) for shooting sequences there. He even spoke with the Bihar government to help us. There are plenty of things that Chetan has added to the project.

Can you also talk a bit about the casting process? Was Chetan a part of that as well?

No, Chetan wasn’t involved in the casting. Yes, he was informed but wasn’t involved. I don’t cast conventionally. I don’t cast on the whole marketability of the person. I cast according to the emotional impulses of actors. That is my tool.

Arjun’s background as a person is quite similar to what this character is. Things like where he has come from or how his mother has brought him up is similar to the struggles of the character Madhav. He was a fat kid who lost weight. Arjun proved his mettle through hard work. He wasn’t launched by his father but on the contrary, he worked hard and signed his first film with Yash Raj. Till I got to know this background of his, I had a perception that he’s a rich producer’s kid.

Madhav Jha also comes from a royal family. His mother single-handedly takes care of his upbringing in a rather male dominated village. He isn’t good at studies so he works hard at playing basketball so that he can enter St Stephen’s through a sports quota. You can give the look, dialect and other external things to a character, but the emotional experience is an actor’s personal tool. Arjun had everything that was needed for the character.

Whereas for Shraddha, it is always fun working with her. This is my third film with her. I enjoy the fact that even today, when she comes on set, she has the innocence of Aashiqui still left in her. But today she is a skilled star. So, in a way, I have the best of both the worlds – innocence of a newcomer and the ability of a star.

All the secondary characters have added to the film in creating the environment

Half Girlfriend

Mohit suri (Extreme Right) with Chetan Bhagat, Shraddha Kapoor and Arjun Kapoor at the trailer launch of Half Girlfriend

And what was your brief to Casting Director Mukesh Chhabra for the other characters?

Real and honest was the brief. That’s what he has done. All the secondary characters have added to the film in creating the environment.

I cast according to the emotional impulses of actors. That is my tool

You are also debuting as a Producer with Half Girlfriend. Why did you choose this particular film for it? As a Producer, what are the added creative liberties that you got?

Until this project, I did not have a choice to become a Producer. I have started from scratch. From a coffee boy to an Assistant Director to becoming a director in my company to moving out from there. Ekta Kapoor was the one who gave me the choice of becoming a producer for this film. I never looked at myself as a producer till she saw it. I thank her for making me one.

The reason for becoming a producer was not financial or creative. It was just to raise the bar of responsibility and risk. Challenges help us to grow. Staying at the same level and just seeing your money increase is not a motivating factor. When the stakes are higher you start to work harder.

And creative liberties as a producer?

I would say, creative responsibility increases but not creative liberty. I never had a problem with working in fixed budget scenarios. Vishesh Films was my training ground. They make films with path-breaking budgets. What I enjoyed on this film was that I tried to create a vibe on set where people working on the film would not feel that they are working under a boss. They were all my friends and colleagues. Even if there was a money constraint, we’d laugh about it together. That’s the kind of vibe I created on set and that I could only do after being a producer.

Adapting a book has its own advantages and disadvantages

Half Girlfriend

Still from Half Girlfriend

In your career, of all the genres you’ve explored romance the most. What makes it so special to you?

I have done thrillers as well. But yes, I’ll agree with you, everything that I have done has had a romantic angle. Maybe I am a die-hard romantic. I like the emotional connect that romance has with the audience. I don’t like films which lack an emotional connect. Tomorrow I might want to make a father-daughter film or a father-son film but it will always have an emotional connect.

You have worked with Raju Singh in all your films for the background score. Can you talk about your professional relationship?

He does background (score) for all my films. But I feel he has also mentored me in music. There is a tendency in the industry to make you repeat your music. Raju sir, in his own way, tells me how I should just keep flying. Since I had a connect with music, everyone kept asking me to learn it. It was Raju sir who gifted me my first guitar and asked me to not learn it. He said, “Since you don’t know the rules just go ahead and make your own. If you learn the conventional way, then you’d end up becoming one more rule-book music composer/director”. That I feel was an amazing advice that I got from him.

The reason for becoming a producer was to raise the bar of responsibility and risk

Hindi Medium, which releases on the same day, also addresses a Hindi Vs English battle. How important is it to, in your own way, address this growing language gap?

With my film, I am not trying to pass a social message. It’s important to know that films shouldn’t be expected to necessarily have a social message. Though, I find this relevance in my film. Every love story is essentially boy meets girl, boy loses a girl and boy gets the girl back. But the journey between these plot points is what makes it a new love story. I feel all the love stories that are being made here are in some way inspired from the West. You mostly see concepts of live-ins and friends with benefits. But here was a book with a love story rooted to a social issue in India. I am not here to change people’s perception with this film. Nobody can change an age-long perception with one film. But what I understand is that this film is going to connect to people at different levels.

Coming back to Hindi Vs English, if you walk just out of Bandra you’ll find people who do fall in love and feel slightly lesser valued from people who can speak English. It is a colonial hangover that hasn’t gone. The British always used to say that if you spoke English you’ll get better jobs. That’s something which has gotten ingrained in us. Ironically, Sahab is the man who speaks best English, it’s not what he says.