Dubai: Filmmaker Hansal Mehta took a break from directing after getting disillusioned with his work, only to return to filmmaking four years later with the inspiring true-story of slain human rights activist and lawyer Shahid Azmi which screened at the Dubai International Film Festival here.
"I was disillusioned with my work. It was becoming monotonous. I was making films without having a story to tell. I was misusing my craft. I realised I had had enough and needed to reinvent myself by going back to why I was making films in the first place," Mehta told PTI.
Starting his career with 'Jayate', Mehta went on to make films like 'Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar', 'Chhal' and 'Ye Kya Ho Raha Hai' but decided to quit direction after 2008 film 'Woodstock Villa' because he was not happy with his work.
"As an artiste you need to reflect. While you are making films, lines get blurred, you are tempted, you want money, you want your family to be comfortable. While that is important, it cannot be your only priority," Mehta says.
"I was unhappy with what I did with my last film. The career of two newcomers was placed in my hands and I thought I was dishonest. I had to go back because I started as somebody who had been honest to his story but I was just using my craft. The break helped me and I realised that I just needed to tell stories but it is easier said than done. Because of all these years of dishonest work, I could not think of stories."
His comeback film 'Shahid' starring Rajkumar Yadav as Azmi, has already travelled to Toronto and Mumbai festivals. Mehta says working on the inspiring story of Azmi changed his life.
"Shahid was a victim of racial prejudice. We all are somewhere victimised and sodomised by the system and either you rebel, you are passive or you try to change things. What he did was commendable because he used the system to change
things. It is a very inspiring story. Working on this film changed my life in many ways because it taught me to deal with adversity," says Mehta.
Azmi toyed with the idea of becoming a terrorist but decided to change the course of his life. After being arrested under TADA, he completed his education in Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai. Once acquitted of the charges, he went on to study law and started representing people wrongly accused of terrorism.
He became a successful lawyer and was working on the case of Faheem Ansari in the 26/11 case when he was killed by four gunmen at the age of 32.
Ansari was acquitted of all the charges by the Supreme Court in 2012.
Interestingly, Mehta was originally planning to make another story with Azmi as a part of the narrative but news of Azmi's murder changed everything. "I never met him but I had spoken to him briefly over phone. I don't even remember the conversation. I was researching something else but that did not happen. Then I saw the headlines that he was killed and I realised that his was the story that I wanted to tell."
"Now I know why the other film never got made. It was a hopeless story while Shahid is full of hope though it is a known fact that he was killed," says Mehta.
The director faced trouble from Shiv Sena with his 2000 film 'Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar'. 'Shahid', in a way also reflects his anger. "I somehow feel vindicated with the positive reception of the film. It also voices my angst. I am a filmmaker, I needed the right story to voice my anger. I am quite overwhelmed. I
started without a grandfather and made truly independent films. I stumbled and it took a toll on everyone around me, my family, my relationship. I went into cycles of alcoholism and depression. Luckily, the blogging helped all this while," he says.
Despite going through a difficult phase, Mehta remained hopeful. "I was never cynical and that's what kept me going. If I was cynical, I could have continued making those kinds of films because I had offers."
It was Mehta who was first offered the script of 'Gangs of Wasseypur' that finally went to Anurag Kashyap. "I could not find a producer for the film, which was set in Bihar and had an epic scale. I had given a deadline to the writer, I told him, 'Listen, if I don't find a producer, you need to move on because I will be broke and you will be broke'. What Anurag did with the original idea is totally different from the way I would have made the film. It would have been softer. He created the story of Sardar Khan. The original script had only the second part while this character was part of the prologue."
Not many know that it was Mehta who gave Anurag his first break as a writer on 'Jayate'. "It was his debut as a writer. We were giving an interview and Anurag introduced me, saying, 'He is the one who got me into films'. So I told them that Anurag was the one who got me back into films."