Wanted to recreate the wonderful world of the 70s and 80s when cinema was simple: Hardik
It is a good time to be an independent filmmaker and Hardik Mehta agrees with us. Hardik’s first documentary Amdavad Ma Famous won him the National Film award for Best Non-Feature Film, traveled extensively to film festivals across the globe and has now been acquired by the digital giant Netflix. Skin Deep, a short directed and edited by him, written by Vikramaditya Motwane got a theatrical release under the anthology Chaar Cutting. Mehta strongly feels that if you have a story, you shouldn’t wait for anyone and just go out there and shoot it. His filmography also boasts of films like Lootera, Queen and Trapped.
Hardik’s latest short, The Affair, produced by Drishyam Films, is an affectionate and a tenderhearted love story that will resonate with every Mumbai couple. Hardik chats with Pandolin about the inspiration and shooting process of The Affair, the city’s influence on his filmmaking, the success of Amdavad Ma Famous and the digital revolution.
From Skin Deep to The Affair, what would you say about your filmmaking journey?
The journey has been good because I was not as satisfied with Skin Deep as I am with The Affair. I can see myself maturing as a storyteller, which is also something my friends and family members have told me. I thought I will never be able to be a part of the film industry but I have managed somehow. Bollywood and studio produced films are very typical; the director doesn’t have a voice, it’s all about what the producer and the studio want and what the actor needs to look like with the director becoming a puppet in most cases.
Of course, there are some great directors out there who can bend the rules and voice their opinions but they are a handful. In a quest to find one’s own voice, you try to make a short which you produce yourself, film a documentary and take it to festivals because you don’t want the product to be diluted or polluted by somebody else’s whims and fancies of how you should dictate the market or how the film should look like.
How difficult is it riding solo in this film industry?
It is difficult but it is the reality, in today’s times we have to be our own producers. Nobody is going to praise your talent and give you tons of money to produce a film. So let’s be very practical about it, if you have a topic, get into the dirt and do the job even if that means carrying the tripod on the streets of the city or working in extreme weather conditions, you can’t expect a vanity van for yourself at the beginning.
You have to try and make good films even in the most limited resources possible
However, with the digital revolution and more independent filmmakers coming to the forefront, has the scene become better?
Yes, absolutely. We never thought Netflix would acquire rights to our film Amdavad Ma Famous because documentaries don’t have a future in India apart from a couple of screenings. We have come a long way. If you make a good film, there is a platform and a market for it and the audience will appreciate your work. It is a very good time to be a part of the industry. We had a small concept (The Affair), we shot it in a day and within a day of uploading, we had 50,000 views. Who wouldn’t want that! Times are good for people who want to tell stories and don’t want to depend on producers and studios. Just go ahead and do it on your own.
You have worked on films varying in genres and formats, has this been a conscious decision?
In today’s times, there is no stereotyping; one is not expected to stick to a genre. If a person has made a TVC on jewelry he won’t get only jewelry ads to make in the future, that is not how it works. Also, if you have left everything behind and come to Mumbai to make films then limiting yourself to only one kind of cinema would mean not giving due respect to yourself. Amdavad Ma Famous is a documentary, Trapped is a feature film and The Affair is a short, so it is great to work on different genres and formats and today’s digital revolution is giving us that opportunity to be everywhere.
You shouldn’t try to put too much of yourself into the story and tell the story in the way it can be told best to the audience whether it is drama, thriller, comedy, documentary or a short film
You directed and edited Skin Deep, co-wrote the screenplay of Trapped with Vikramaditya Motwane, worked on Lootera and Queen as a script supervisor and an assistant director, would it be right to say that every aspect of filmmaking fascinates you?
Nothing can replace the high of being on a set with technicians and actors but I haven’t had that kind of luxury till now because we have been shooting with a very limited crew. The Affair was shot with four people; the location sound was by my friend Pranav, cinematographer Piyush, producer Akanksha, the actors and myself. Even Amdavad Ma Famous was shot with only four crew members; Trapped was made with the crew size of thirty five which is very less for a feature in India.
Being on the set with different equipment would be great but you can’t have that luxury always. You have to try and make good films even in the most limited resources possible.
Having worked with Vikramaditya Motwane on Skin Deep and Trapped, how have these collaborations influenced you as a filmmaker?
One of the biggest learning is that there is no replacement to hard work. I have seen how much that man works, on his edits, on each shot, designing the sequences, working through the night. He is a terribly hard taskmaster and everyone who works with him loves that about him. Also, the craft of what kind of camera should be used for a certain shot, whether the camera should be placed behind the actor or you need a profile shot to get a particular emotion; he is very good with it. It’s great to learn from him but at the end of the day you should have your own voice. So yes, I tried to get so many aspects from him but at the end of the day I should have my own voice and people should never feel like someone’s assistant has made this film.
If you have a topic, get into the dirt and do the job even if that means carrying the tripod on the streets of the city or working in extreme weather conditions
Coming to the making of The Affair, what was the inspiration behind the story?
The inspiration is all these couples you keep seeing at Marine Drive, Worli Sea Face and Bandra Reclamation. My parents might have also been there once in a while thirty-five years ago. When you walk around the city, ideas do come to you. I wanted to make something short and sweet like Chhoti Si Baat or the wonderful world of 70s and 80s where the cinema was simple, even if the conflicts were complex they were treated simply and the outcome was beautiful. There was no dramatic music or villains so I thought why not recreate that kind of cinema again.
Despite being from Vadodra you get the essence of Mumbai right, how have you connected with Mumbai? How much has this city influenced your stories and filmmaking?
The day I landed in Bombay, I told myself that this is my karmabhoomi, which means whatever I have to achieve, I have to achieve it here. Mumbai has been such an inspiration to so many people and storytellers. The idea is to tell something about the city in the best possible fashion. My stories are related with the city and the individual. I co-wrote Trapped with Amit Joshi, it was his idea but I could relate to it. The lines which we had written about one wanting to go out, eat pav bhaji, face the daily struggles and insults that Mumbai has to offer are so unique to the city and fun to experience that you would miss it in any other city.
Similarly when I saw the whole kite flying madness in Ahmedabad, I was intrigued by it. The city would reveal itself to you as an artist, filmmaker, painter when you walk through it. The idea of walking in a city is very important so you can see the sights and sounds, which you would never see from a car or a cab.
How did you go about the process of casting for The Affair?
Akanksha, my wife, who is the film’s producer was very fond of Khushboo (Upadhyay) and wanted to cast her in something. When I showed her this script, she said the woman should be Khushboo. I was very happy that she pointed it out because I saw potential in her as she had played a small role in Trapped ( the woman who stays in the opposite house).
Amit Sial is a superb actor. His face resembles somebody who has struggled in Bombay and has had a difficult life. For some reason he has always been cast as the negative, aggressive character so I thought why don’t I cast him as a sweet fellow and he is such a warm person in real life too.
The story starts revealing layers to you when you are shooting and the actors bring along a lot on the floor
With Drishyam Films on board, how does the film get an added impetus? When and how did they come on board?
Manish (Mundra) saw the film and was very happy with it. He asked me what I was doing with it and since I had no plans, he suggested that Drishyam Films present it. We were overjoyed as Drishyam Films is a name to be reckoned with, they represent good cinema and none of their films have been bad or over the top, Umrika being my favorite. Them presenting the short was adding so much to my biography, the views would be great which otherwise our own production house wouldn’t be able to achieve. Drishyam came at a very good point; it’s a great collaboration. It’s great to see that a production house feels the need of telling stories in whatever format that can be possible.
The film has been shot in real outdoor locations, what was the shooting process like? Was it a guerilla shoot?
Yes, that’s the whole idea. If you watch Amdavad Ma Famous too, the entire shoot is guerilla. There are only four people shooting, nobody even knows that there is a shoot happening. Cameras like Sony A7S or Canon 5D look like still photography cameras. The idea of using this new technology is to use it to your own benefit.
While shooting The Affair, we just entered a bus and the conductor asked for a ticket, so we paid the money and told him that we wanted to take a photo. In the train too nobody had any problem when we were shooting. You get some curious looks but you have to be swift enough to get out after a few stations otherwise you might get into trouble. The idea is to always do things quick and fast and not give too much thought to how you will do it.
I wanted to make something short and sweet like Chhoti Si Baat or the wonderful world of 70s and 80s where the cinema was simple
The film is just 6-minutes long, yet it stirs something within the viewer. As a storyteller, how do you encapsulate all the right chords in such a short duration?
You don’t plan these things. We had a basic one page script which I sent to my crew and a couple of friends who I thought could give me inputs and we just went ahead and shot it. You don’t think and design that this will mean something, then you are becoming an academician and not a filmmaker. You take a story and the story starts revealing layers to you when you are shooting and the actors bring along a lot on the floor.
What draws you towards a story?
I believe that you shouldn’t try to put too much of yourself into the story and tell the story in the way it can be told best to the audience whether it is drama, thriller, comedy, documentary or a short film. The point of interest and whether the story has ever been told before in this particular fashion draws me to it. When I was making Amadavad Ma Famous someone told me that there is a film called Patang that is exactly like this. Patang is about a family feud during the kite flying festival but mine is about kids running and capturing kites and getting abused by the adults. Even with The Affair, a lot of people told me that it reminded them of Piya ka Ghar, I had no clue about the film but I read about it and it was very similar. It was interesting to notice that the conflict was same in 1975 and 2017. Although these films represent similar worlds but the treatments are so different.
If you have left everything behind and come to Mumbai to make films, then limiting yourself to only one kind of cinema would mean not giving due respect to yourself
You are penning a series for Amazon Prime next. What are the merits or demerits of this medium from your point of view?
This is such a great time to be a filmmaker, you can make a short, a documentary, work on a feature, be a part of Amazon series’ writer’s room. Anushka Sharma is producing this series, Navdeep Singh of NH10 fame is directing it and Sudip Sharma who wrote Udta Punjab and NH10 is the show runner. I am writing the series along with two other writers. It’s a noir investigative series with a different treatment and approach that excites me. To write a noir story is not very easy, you can’t be slow or too pacy, the atmosphere and the investigation has to flow smoothly. Working under Sudip and Navdeep Sir who are experts in this genre will be fun, let’s see how it goes!
There is a lot of merit in digital, everyone is telling stories now. The demerit is of course democratization of this medium, which will lead to mediocrity but that’s fine, to each his own. I absolutely love the idea of film and celluloid but you can’t be so romantic about these things.
And is a feature film on the cards any time soon?
Yes, hopefully. I hope this gives people some ideas that I can do a feature too.
Watch The Affair here