THE latest cinematic adaptation of The Merchant of Venice — Noblemen — written and directed by Vandana Kataria, uses the tried and tested story-within-a-story device. The movie, which is set to have a limited release this Friday, is the story of a 15-year-old who is subjected to extreme bullying at an idyllic boarding school even as the students prepare for their foundation day where Shakepeare’s iconic play is to be staged. The film follows a chain of events, triggered by bullying, which results in loss of life and innocence. In the process, it also touches upon the rarely discussed topic of homophobia in boys schools.
In 2016, Kataria started working on Noblemen soon after winning accolades for the production design of Dibakar Banerjee-directed Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015). The National Institute of Design (NID) graduate in film and visual communications “always wanted to direct and write”. She directed commercials and music videos even as she was handling production design for movies such as Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye (2008) and Shanghai (2012). “I’m a trained filmmaker. I always wanted to make movies. After Byomkesh Bakshy!, many people within the industry, including producers and directors, got to know me and appreciated my work. It became easier to knock on the doors and say that I have a script,” she says.
Kataria was always intrigued by the themes in The Merchant of Venice. “It is the story of the oppressor and the oppressed. The desire for revenge is the cause of downfall. I wanted to explore these themes,” she says. Ahead of Noblemen’s release, the writer-director says, “I’m hoping that people will find it engaging and the movie makes them think. After watching the movie, there should be something to talk about .”
The movie was shot over 22 days in two boarding schools in Mussoorie. “We lived in one of the schools with the cast and crew. We shot during the winter. We all slept in the dormitory and used to line up for hot water and food,” says Kataria. Having such a close-knit team helped her wrap up the shoot in such a short period. Prior to the shoot, the actors underwent two weeks of workshop. “The workshop was all about being in the moment. That helped in getting natural performance from them in front of the camera,” says the director.
For the role of the drama teacher, Kataria had Kunal Kapoor in mind and he came on board. The casting of students took around three months. Young actors from Bangalore. Pune, Kolkata, Delhi and Calcutta were auditioned. “Most of the cast is from Delhi and some are from Mumbai,” she says. One of the prominent characters is being played by 19-year-old Ali Haji, who as a child actor featured in Fanaa (2006) and Ta Ra Rum Pum (2007).
For her sophomore directorial project, Kataria will travel to Kerala in the winter. Produced by RSVP Movies, that will be a family drama set in a matriarchal home in Kerala. “This is the first movie I wrote. It is a comedy and story of a dysfunctional family,” says Kataria.