Larger Than Life

Hansal Mehta writes on the journey of his obstinate pipe dream called Shahid

Published: October 18, 2013 1:19 am

It all started in February 2010 when I shifted back to Mumbai after an extended sabbatical that was intended to shake me off my creative inertia and to give birth to many new ideas for my uncertain future as a filmmaker. The sabbatical lasted over two years and all I achieved was a perfect Nihari recipe and some other happy culinary accidents.

And then a young lawyer was killed in his office. Information on Shahid Azmi was sketchy but somehow I saw my next film in his life. Young writer Sameer Gautam Singh gave me a script that had promise but way beyond my interest at that point. I was too angry with the world. Shahid’s story gave me the opportunity to not only express my concerns,but also to tell a story that was optimistic and hopeful beyond his sad end.

Sameer and my son,Jai (then 19 years) were given the task to collect information that would be converted into a script. They met his family,colleagues,friends,neighbours,opponents and clients. They managed to get me transcripts and petitions of Shahid’s controversial cases. I approached Shahid’s brothers Khalid and Arif,who took me to their heartbroken but strong mother for permission to convert Shahid’s life into a film. I think she sensed honest intent and a passion for his story when she consented to allow a failed director to tell her son’s amazing tale.

While the script was being developed,there was uncertainty over its future. I did not have a producer on board and no star to play Shahid. Sunil Bohra is an old friend and I knew that he would at least listen to my idea. He asked for a five-minute narration,which I completed in three minutes. He called Anurag Kashyap who made his debut as a writer in my unreleased debut film Jayate. Anurag told him that he would be happy to partner in making the film as he believed I would emerge out of my previous failures to finally make a good film.

Anurag (and then casting director Mukesh Chhabra) recommended Raj Kumar to me. Thankfully,we got along and he reposed enough faith in me to help bring Shahid alive.

Shahid in Arabic means witness. I wanted to shoot Shahid’s story like a witness in an unobtrusive manner,without drama or conflict. Shahid has been produced at a budget of less than Rs.1 crore in multiple locations. People called my dream to make this film an obstinate pipe dream. There were many days of despair and chaos that all of us had to endure while making the film. For me,Shahid is the triumph of teamwork,passion and immense faith.

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