‘It’s a wonderful time to be making movies’: Hansal Mehta on ‘Simran’ and ‘Omerta’

‘Simran’ will be released in India on September 15, and ‘Omerta’ will be premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11.

Filmmaker Hansal Mehta has two movies out in a single week. On September 11, Omerta, loosely based on the Pakistani terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh and starring Rajkummar Rao, will be premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. On September 15, the Kangana Ranaut-starrer Simran, about a divorced housewife who becomes a robber, will be released in theatres. Mehta has also served as the creative producer of the upcoming ALT Balaji web series Bose: Dead/Alive, starring Rao as Subhash Chandra Bose.

Mehta’s career was resurrected with the biopic Shahid in 2013 after a series of indifferently received films, including Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar!! (2000), Chhal (2002) and Woodstock Villa. Mehta didn’t respond to a question about the row over the story and scripting credits of Simran, which the film’s original writer Apurva Asrani claims were unfairly shared with Ranaut, but he did reveal his journey before and after his debut feature Jayate (1999), which was never released.

‘Simran’ in India and ‘Omerta’ in Toronto in the same week. How does it feel?
It is a wonderful time to be making movies. I have two of the best actors and collaborators one can have: Kangana and Rajkummar. Simran and Omerta are both very special films.

I am very excited about Simran. I think it is a cracker of a film, very entertaining and one that I am proud of. For once, I have made an entertainer where my protagonist is not dying. When you will leave the theatre, you will have a broad smile on your face.

How did the ‘Simran’ script evolve from being a crime drama to a slice-of-life comedy?
Since 2014, I had been trying to work with Kangana. The subject did not materialise. In 2015, I approached her with another subject on the sets of Tanu Weds Manu Returns. That too did not materialise.

Then, I was in the US attending a film festival and I read about these petty crimes committed by very ordinary migrants. I shared these articles with Kangana and she said, let’s do it.

In all my films, the scripts evolve over a period of time. It was always a migrant story right from the beginning, but then we added humour and took an intimate look at migrant life. Gradually, the script changed. The Gujarati community became a part of it, which is relatable to my whole cultural background. The crime is part of the character graph.


This is your first film with Kangana Ranaut.
Yes, she is a very, very intense collaborator. I respect her intelligence a lot. As an actress, she surprises you constantly. She is very well-prepared but she also has spontaneity... one of the finest actors of our generation.

What was working with writer Apurva Asrani like?
I don’t want to answer this and invite controversy. One answer leads to 20 other things on social media.

According to a report, the Central Board of Film Certification did not appreciate Ranaut’s ‘colourful language’ in ‘Simran’. Is this true?
That’s the sad part. It is an unsubstantiated report. If the censor board does something, I will be the first person to protest. Remember, I spoke out when the Aligarh trailer got an Adult certificate. The CBFC asked for some audio cuts and I complied. I cannot complain about that because they are bound by outdated guidelines.

If the guidelines are the issue, does a change of guard help?
No. I have always maintained that we tend to focus too much on individuals. I have been making films for almost 20 years and I have seen different chairpersons. Each had his own personality, political leaning and cultural background. Asha Parekh was the chairperson during Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar!! Leela Samson was the chairperson during Aligarh. But for how long should we focus on the person?

The real job is to get a fresh set of guidelines. A new Cinematograph Act should be drafted immediately.

Rajkummar Rao in Omerta.
Rajkummar Rao in Omerta.

‘Omerta’ has an out-and-out unsympathetic character Omar Sheikh as the protagonist.
As a filmmaker, you seek challenges. After Shahid, Citylights and Aligarh, I wanted to break free from my filmmaking habits. Those kind of films I could make easily. They were tragedies. With Simran, I have tried to make a happy film.

In Omerta, Sheikh is unsympathetic, but the film is a character study. A study of evil as a human characteristic. We are studying a mind that conspires to destroy. A man with a family and a normal life and yet he starts a journey of destruction which he can justify to himself. Through this character, Omerta is also a study of the times we are living in.

‘Omerta’ is your fourth film with Rao.
Five collaborations, actually, if we include Bose: Dead/Alive. It is difficult to describe our relationship. He and his family are close to me. I still keep telling him that I feel grateful that he came to my office one day when I was casting Shahid. Without Rajkummar, there would be no Shahid, and without Shahid, I wouldn’t be here today.

How did ‘Bose: Dead/Alive’ happen?
Ekta Kapoor and her team had been working on the script for Bose: Dead/Alive for a year and a half. Rajkummar was cast after that. I was brought in as creative producer in March. The show has been directed by Pulkit, a young and very enterprising director.

The trailer fuels the conspiracy theory that Bose did not die in a plain crash in 1945.
I am not supposed to be discussing the script or telling you what we are trying to say. We are delving into the various theories around his death and through these theories, we are looking back on his life. It is like a political thriller, in a way.

Bose: Dead/Alive.

Are you also attached to ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ adaptation?
Yes, but I am under contract to not speak about it as well. A new director, Vijay Gupte, is making it.

How did you become a filmmaker?
The journey was a bit of a ride. I am an accidental filmmaker. I had a very ideal childhood, nothing traumatic, and I was a computer programmer. My life became abnormal when I decided that I want to enter the filmmaking business.

I always loved cooking, so I pitched a food show to Zee TV. That’s how Khana Khazana began with Sanjeev Kapoor. He is my first success story.

I would also edit to make ends meet. I made friends with Vishal Bhardwaj and Manoj Bajpayee. At that time, Zee TV was commissioning short films. I had no experience of making fiction but I did, and somewhere it appealed to people emotionally, so they asked me to make movies. I thought that was a very far-fetched idea. But today, Simran is my 14th film and I still wonder, how did I start making movies? And that too, so many?

How did you sustain yourself?
I used to do odd jobs. I worked in television, made commercials, and somehow survived. It was not easy. I had to cope with failure, but the good thing was that I did not stop making films. But after Woodstock Villa, I decided that that was it. I wanted to leave for a few years and reinvent myself. Then, Shahid happened.

Your career before ‘Shahid’ is rarely discussed.
I made Jayate, Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar!! and Chhal, three very interesting films. But they were ahead of their time. There was no audience at all, no right platform.

Today, I would like to make Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar!! again. I wanted to make that film on a Super 8 camera. But Manoj had become a big star after Satya and the film became a proper feature. And with that film, my romance with migrants began. If you notice, a lot of my films deal with the migrant issue, stories of outsiders and aliens in a different space. Be it Ramchandra Siras in Aligarh, Praful Patel in Simran, Deepak Singh in CityLights or Ram Saran Pandey in Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar!!

But you are a Mumbai native.
I was born in Bombay. But now, I live in Mumbai.

Hansal Mehta.
Hansal Mehta.
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.