As Scam 1992 The Harshad Mehta Story Completes One Year, Subhash K Jha Speaks To Its Director Hansal Mehta On The Series’ Cult Success.
Did you ever expect Scam 1992 to become such a cult show?
Of course not. I knew that we were making something very special and that while it was at times a difficult process the end result would be gratifying. But this kind of success and adulation is something none of us expected – and should never expect. Expectations weigh you down. The show’s success has only gone on to reinforce my belief that the best way to tell a story is with honesty, love and conviction. Easier said than done in our industry!
Tell me about its genesis? I believe the idea of Harshad Mehta biopic was with you for long?
I wanted to tell his story as a film way back in 2005 but of course there were no takers – neither actors nor producers were interested in either me or the story. So it was put on the back burner as was another of my scripts Omertà. In the meanwhile I made some terrible choices for the rest of that decade until Shahid happened. But I am digressing.
My agent Ashoo connected me with Sameer Nair who had just started executing his vision for Applause Entertainment. Sameer offered me this story and I jumped at it. There is a time for every story and I think this was the best time and best partner to tell this story with. My Gujarati roots and my personal connect with Harshad’s world since I was a schoolboy were all part of this tale. I was getting to relive my life through this tale. That too in the long form ,something I’d been following with envy. This was the correct time and format to tell this story. Things fell into place and I’m thankful that Sameer Nair thought of me and that I was able to make this exactly the way it should have been. It was a long process, often tedious, often tense but totally worthwhile, totally memorable.
How did Pratik Gandhi come into the picture? What made you think of him?
I trusted my instincts and Sameer Nair backed me completely! Mukesh Chhabra and his team proposed some names for Harshad and Pratik was the choice for me. I have yet to see his audition for Harshad Mehta. But I’d seen some of his theatre work and his Gujarati film Wrong Side Raju to know that here was a real actor, a fine actor. I am also not a stickler for physical likeness and mimicry of the real life character. I believe that a biography is an exploration of the character and not a mimicry session. For that exploration you need a damn good actor – and a good director(laughs). I was so desperate at the time to tell this story that had Sameer rejected Pratik I might have gone on to work with somebody more known at the time. It would have been a different show. Thankfully Sameer backed my instincts and vision for the show. The rest as they say is history!
Today when he is much sough– after in Mumbai do you feel proud of him the way you do of Rajkummar Rao?
Of course I see his journey with great pride. He will always occupy a special place in my life. To see an actor of his caliber get his due is most satisfying and in these unjust times you feel like there is finally some justice in this world! We talk regularly about the work he is doing and about life in general. We hang out whenever we find time. Rajkummar and I share a longer filmography and relationship. With Raj I found my voice and with Pratik I found success. Answers your question?
To what do you attribute the series’ vast popularity?
I think the exceptional writing to begin with. I had a talented, diligent and eclectic team on the writing process. The solidly researched script, brilliant characterisations and then all the elements of the show’s making including casting, direction, cinematography, sound, editing, costumes, art etc working towards a singular vision with passion and things falling into place seamlessly contributed to the final product. And of course the exceptional music including the prodigy Achint Thakkar’s cult title track and those beautiful Kabir Cafe songs. It all just fell into place.
It’s like the universe conspired to make it work?
It was magical. That’s all I can say today. Great crew, great producers and ultimately a fantastic platform (SonyLIV) to back the show. I think the audiences connected with the world, the characters journeys/aspirations and the emotional ride that the show offered with a regular sprinkling of entertainment!
Biopics are now the rule rather than the exception in our cinema. what is your take on cannibalizing real-life characters?
I don’t want to speak for others Subhash. But as I’ve told you often I chose real life stories because there are so many untold stories of such incredible characters that I feel compelled to tell. Ultimately these are stories for me and no different from fiction. Either way I have to dramatise stories, create authentic characters and engage with audiences through my own cinematic language.
In no time at all a certain formulistic staleness has crept onto the OTT platform? also a star sy stem. what is your take on this?
I don’t agree in totality. But yes anything that is mass produced will ultimately adhere to formula. That is the nature of the beast. The onus is on us as storytellers to use our success to power unique and clutter breaking stories.
What are you working on now?
Multiple things. I am deep into the post-production of Faraaz,a film I’ve made for Anubhav Sinha who produces the film. I’m mentoring new shows, new voices, working with phenomenal talent to develop so many stories that I desperately want to have told to the world and working on my next directorials. It is a busy time but also fulfilling. 25 years I’ve worked towards this time and I’m enjoying myself thoroughly!