After a self-imposed exile,Hansal Mehta is back to filmmaking with ‘Shahid’,a biopic on the life of slain human rights activist and lawyer Shahid Azmi,which has restored his faith in storytelling.
Starting his career with ‘Jayate’,Mehta went on to make films like ‘Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar’,’Chhal’ and ‘Ye Kya Ho Raha Hai’. Mehta’s last film ‘Woodstock Villa’ in 2008 prompted him to take a step back.
“I don’t have any regret for ‘Woodstock Villa’ because I believe in the old adage that failure is the stepping stone to success. I owe ‘Shahid’ to my lack of success,to my lack of focus,” Mehta told PTI in an interview here.
Mehta realised that he needed to get away from direction two days before that film’s release.
“I saw the film and it was my nirvana moment. I felt like I was hit by a hammer in the head. I sat there and realised I needed to do something. When I came out of the theatre,everyone said it was a very good film. I knew then that I had to start afresh,” he said.
But when he read headlines about Shahid‘s murder in 2010,Mehta says he just could not get it out of his mind.
“I think ‘Shahid’ has some of my anger. Also,I had reached a point in my so called exile where I was very keen to make a film. You can’t get away from filmmaking. I now know that I will die in a director’s chair,” Mehta said.
He began researching Shahid’s story barely three months
after his murder,getting help from his family,friends and
neighbours to build his life-story together.
“I read the headlines about his murder and the idea got stuck in my mind… It was the journey of this boy who was jailed under TADA,who studied,became a lawyer and fought the same system that put him in jail. We tell a lot of stories about terrorists but we do not provide optimism… I found it to be a very optimistic story despite his death at the age of 32,” Mehta said.
The film,starring Rajkumar Yadav as Shahid,travelled to some 14 film festivals,steadily building buzz with its strong narrative after first screening at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012.
UTV Motion Pictures is releasing ‘Shahid’ this Friday with 400 screens initially but they plan to increase the number as the film picks momentum at the box office.
Shahid Azmi appeared as a defence advocate for accused in the Mumbai train blasts,for Arif Paanwala,who was acquitted in the 2006 Ghatkopar bus blast case and then Faheem Ansari,who was let off in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack case. It was while he was defending Faheem Ansari in the 26/11 case that he was shot dead in his office in 2010.
Shahid’s brother has called the film to be 95 per cent accurate.
“I take it as a big compliment but I can’t quantify. We
have been very faithful to the research and the story of his mission. We were dealing with the character of a common person with a strong mission and it was important that it reflected correctly,” Mehta says.
The director found Shahid’s family very objective,which helped his narrative but he had to occasionally step back to respect their grief.
“There were times when the family would not talk and you had to leave without expecting anything. The memory of his death was too fresh and we had to respect that but they were very objective and his brothers Khalid,Arif and his mother were very forthcoming about details.”
Mehta considers casting Rajkumar as one of the best decisions for the film as the actor,whose past films include ‘Love,Sex Aur Dhokha’,’Talaash’ and ‘Kai Po Che’,gave his all to the character.
“It was a difficult character to portray as there is no video. But Rajkumar interpreted Shahid beautifully. He gave so much of his heart that he was close to the real character.”