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Interview – Hansal Mehta: “Kangana is a director’s dream.”

Hansal Mehta has worked with the best of the industry – from Rajkummar Rao to Irrfan Khan, he has brought us the best of cinema in modern times. He returns with Kangana Ranaut in what can only be called an intriguing film, ‘Simran’. He talks about the controversy his star is embroiled in and what sets her and his film apart from the rest of them.

Did you have Kangana in mind when you took up the project?
I have been talking to Kangana since 2014. We have been trying to make a film since then! There was another script but there was some issue with the rights. I was in the USA when I was reading about a wave of petty thefts. Things just tied together and I gave her a call and she said yes!

Why did you choose Kangana?
I have wanted to work with her since I saw ‘Fashion’. I have been spoilt when it comes to actors. I have worked with true talent – Rajkummar Rao and Irrfan Khan. She’s an actor of that caliber and I was proud to work with her.

Kangana was involved with the dialogue writing too, right?
Yes, we always do that. When Shahid Kapoor’s film won ‘Best Dialogue’, the writer looked at me and said, “This should go to the actor.” It’s a part of the process and a very healthy collaboration.

What were the films you could not make with Kangana?
There was a biopic that couldn’t be made because we couldn’t get the rights. The other was ‘Sarbjeet’. I was supposed to make that with her, but things changed. Somebody else directed and produced it and I wasn’t in the project. But I’m glad that happened because this is a very fresh idea, it’s different. As a director, you have to break out of that safety net, you have to challenge yourself.

Is the film light hearted or dark?
It’s a little of both. She is a majorly flawed character but her optimism shines through. There are aspects that are funny and there are those that are heavy. She has her quirks and madness. It’s a story about crime, love and redemption.

Do you think box office is crucial for this film?
I’ve never fallen in the trap of this box office business. We are telling stories, don’t measure films in terms of money. That’s not why we do what we do. They have trivialized cinema and it’s art. I see only a story and an actor. A film is a success if it recovers the money and makes a profit. Beyond that, the box office doesn’t measure success. For me, it has never mattered.

With a lot of talk about Kangana’s personal life during the film’s PR, has it affected you as the director?
No, why should it? In fact, it is commendable how unflinchingly she has handled it. It is not that easy for everyone. I can’t deal with situations like this as well as she has. It is the media that keeps asking her questions about her personal life, so she answers them. If she is asked about the film, she will speak about that. Even on set, she was very professional.

Is Kangana a director’s actor?
She’s a film’s actor and a director’s dream. I manage and nurture talent. I don’t teach them. I take the best out of everyone on set so that my film blossoms.

What’s next for you?
Holiday! (laughs)

How do you think Simran affects people’s perspective on feminism?
Actually, ‘Simran’ was compared to ‘Queen’. But the character doesn’t really preach feminism. She is just herself, she is strong and self sufficient. She is feminist by choice. That’s how the ideal comes through truly. You are free to make your choices however you want, so that you are responsible for how you end up. If you chose that path, you can also fail.

Was it conscious not to give Simran the Gujarati accent?
Yes, because a lot of Gujaratis don’t have that typical accent. The accent would’ve murdered to character’s depth. It’s a stereotype that doesn’t need to be done.

How was the shooting schedule abroad?
‘Simran’ was a very different experience. I wanted to show the migrant community’s life in Atlanta. They live in far flung suburbs, so we would have to travel at least 2.5 hours a day. So we would wake up early, which I love. But I don’t like working early, but we had a very professional crew. So by the time we reached, everything would be ready for shooting. We had 5 hour shoots and then a couple of breaks.

Simran releases on 15th September 2017. 
Watch the trailer here!

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