Conceive the joy of a lover of people who wanders in the hustle and bustle of a cityscape, noticing little acts of emotions that define the race he belongs to. When adman-turned-filmmaker Vinil Mathew, director of Hasee Toh Phasee, talks about his journey into films, you can see the joy on his face. A democratic spirit is reflected with the instinctive feeling that as a storyteller, he is not here to judge, but to observe and record.
“I have a broad idea of what I am looking for. I keep deviating from what is written because I like exploring what can be pushed to get something more interesting instead of a fixed notion,” says Mathew. A self-confessed bystander, he wants performances that don’t carry the baggage of straightjacket. “I am very character-oriented. I try to shoot an emotion and catch some sort of reality,” he adds.
Born and brought up in Delhi, he was bitten by the film bug when he watched Parinda and Roja on the big screen. “I liked the visual appeal, more than the narrative of it, and thought a new kind of cinema is possible,” he says. That enchantment brought him to Mumbai for a stint with Bharat Bala where he worked on the Vande mataram song, and consequently applied to the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. “Because I was enamoured by visuals, I wanted to study cinematography. But Physics as a prerequisite was a hurdle, so I settled for direction,” he adds.
Mathew then moved to Mumbai, joined advertising and started assisting Prasoon Pandey. A lot of learning and a few years later, he started his own production company. Drawn from his experiences, all his commercials, which include Dairy Milk and the Madhya Pradesh tourism ads put an emphasis on the emotional universe.
But it’s only now that he is finally realising his lifelong dream of telling a story on celluloid, with Hasee Toh Phasee. “I know it is a bit late, but making a film was always the cherished idea. I am happy that I’ve finally made it here,” he says, with a smile.
Does this feel different? “Advertising is like T20. You spend three weeks on a commercial and move on but there is an assurance that it will be shown a certain number of times on screen. This gives you the scope to layer it in a way that the audience might notice it in the second or third viewing if they missed it the first time. But feature films are a different ball game altogether. Holding audience’s attention for two hours is not easy. It needs a different level of perseverance,” he says.
A man of varied influences, ranging from Richard Curtis to François Truffaut, he admires the Czech New Wave filmmakers especially Jiri Menzel, and the gentle giant, Yasuziro Ozu. “Menzel is actually my favourite. I’m very influenced by that school of Czech filmmaking, which presents humour in a gentle way. I also adore Ozu’s I was… series, which he made much before his Tokyo Story,” he says.
Isn’t romantic comedy too obvious a choice for a debut? “I am a big sucker for romcoms, I like exploring relationships, dealing with people and their issues, that’s something that attracts me more than a dramatic event or a plot. Hasee Toh Phasee has humour and fun, everything that I can associate with,” he adds.