An Interview with Pravesh Bhardwaj – Writer and Director of the Film Mr Singh Mrs Mehta
Pravesh Bhardwaj was born in Amritsar in 1970. After graduating from Rohilkhand University Bareilly he moved to Mumbai in 1992. He trained himself as a film maker by assisting film-makers Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Gulzar, Aruna Raje Patil among others before co-writing & directing a Television show Shaheen for SET (1999-2000).
Pravesh got interested in films as his father used to see many films and he didn’t mind taking children along. Pravesh’s father used to do government jobs in various small towns in UP and he would happily tag along to see whatever his father was going to see. He developed a fascination for medium and decided to take up film making as a career.
Pravesh firmly believes that a true film maker ought to be an auteur and should have his or her own ideas to make a film. A big Fan of Stanley Kubrik, he wants to make films of almost all genres. An avid film watcher of almost all kinds of films Pravesh loves to follow Cinema of all kinds but shows a fascination towards World Cinema.
Pravesh Bhardwaj is the director who is all set to give the hot desi bond girl a makeover as a small town girl next door with his film Mr Singh Mrs Mehta. Assistant to acclaimed directors like Shyam Benegal and Gulzar, Mr Singh Mrs Mehta is his debut film which releases in cinemas June 25.
Tells us about your new film Mr Singh Mrs Mehta.
Mr Singh Mrs Mehta which release on June 25 is the directorial debut of Pravesh Bhardwaj who has assisted directors like Shyam Benegal and Gulzar and is produced by Medient. Set in London, “Mr Singh Mrs Mehta” is the story of Ashwin Mehta and Neera Singh who find that their spouses are having an affair. Drawn together by shame and anger, they find comfort in their growing friendship even as they resolve not to be like their unfaithful mates.
How did the idea of film develop?
I have always had a fascination for agony aunt columns. The immediacy & urgency of tone in these columns always moved me. I used to read them a lot during my early days. Agony aunts always have a solution of the problem. Usually the problem is about love lives or husband/wife sleeping with other people. I was also impressed by the fact that someone could come up with ways to make their lives right. I always thought what if they, themselves, encountered a problem. What will an agony aunt do if her husband was having an affair? Will it be any different from any other woman?
This became the seed idea for Mr Singh Mrs Mehta. The agony aunt aspect, however, found itself losing out in the screenplay as it developed; I was interested in only one woman’s story rather than a horde of problems being tackled by one person.”
Why did you choose a tough subject like extramarital affairs as your first film?
With time the institution of marriage has changed. In our society we still attach stigma to broken marriages/separations/divorces. The morality of this whole thing is evolving afresh every day. With Mr Singh Mrs Mehta I found an ideal vehicle to explore this issue. While writing the script of Mr Singh Mrs Mehta the key thing I kept in mind was to present the characters in such a way that I don’t judge them for the audience. I did not look at them as the custodian of virtues. They are people like us caught in a situation.
The story of Mr Singh Mrs Mehta revolves around just four character.
I wanted to keep the intimate tone of those columns in the film and this became the guiding force as I sat out to write the script. Intimate, almost first hand tone has its own appeal. It’s like a friend’s conversation and I used to wonder why one misses these things in films now a days. This is primarily the reason why the film has only four characters.
Casting your first film for a first time director is not an easy job. How was your experience?
Though there are just four characters in the film, casting for it was a very difficult process. Almost a hundred actors in Mumbai must have read the script. Many of them passed the script for practical reasons like not wanting to do a low budget film with new director. A lot of actors became uncomfortable as soon as they saw a script that had absolutely no potential of being the next summer block buster.
From being a desi bond girl to a girl next door in your film, what made you cast Aruna Shields?
It was not an easy decision to cast Aruna in the pivotal role of Neera Singh. Or for that matter any British Asian actors. She didn’t know a word of Hindi and so she was reluctant to be part of something so alien to her. Contrary to herself she was required to play a rather ‘timid small time girl” kind of character in this film. Not only did she have to dress in a rather different manner but speak in an alien language. Though we had shortlisted other actresses also for the role of Neera, I somehow could not see anyone else playing the role. To top it we were communicating very well. The way she prepared for the audition, her total focus and dedication made factors like she not knowing the language irrelevant in her casting.
Aruna plays a girl from a small town of North India, clearly a world she is not aware off. She had to go with my interpretation of a world she didn’t know and that kind of surrender is not normally possible with our actors. It was an absolute pleasure working with her.
But still language must have been a problem.
It was initially. Not only Aruna but Lucy Hassan who plays Mrs Mehta was also a British Asian actress who did not Hindi. Lucy has a strong role but in terms of screen presence, she is there for a limited time, so it was bit easy to work around with her but the story of Mr Singh Mrs Mehta revolves around Aruna and Prashant’s onscreen relationship. It was sheer perseverance on part of Aruna that we managed to get the tone and mood right in each and every scene.
For every scene Aruna made me explain her meaning of every line separately. With a different coloured pencil she would note down the meaning.. And then she would ask me to explain the meaning of every word jotted in the script. After doing all this she made pronunciation note of every word. After that she made me tape the scene. Now she was ready to start preparing. She guided herself by the way she understood the scene and tried to mug the scene in the intonation I had dictated. Back in the hotel she would often shout her dialogues loudly in her room. At times top of her voice but I couldn’t complain. I wonder where she has kept her copy of the script. It definitely is a piece of art.
How did you go about convincing renowned sitarist and Grammy nominee Shujaat Husain Khan to compose music for your debut film?
I had heard this particular track of Shujaat Khan Sahib Lajo Lajo on the internet which stayed with me for a long time,” he says. “When I connected with Shujaat Bhai for the film he asked me what kind of music I wanted. I had told him that I would like the music of our film to belong to my father’s record collection. Shujaat Bhai gave a hearty laughter. He has been approached many a times to compose for Hindi films but he has always turned it down. Item numbers is something he was not willing to do. However I wanted the kind of music that he makes. I guess that’s why he agreed.
Tells us about the music of Mr Singh Mrs Mehta.
The soul of Mr Singh Mrs Mehta lies in its music. Shujaat has composed six songs for the film. A mix of ballads, ghazals and sufiana songs, the music of Mr Singh Mrs Mehta guarantees to take you back to good old days of melodious music backed by heart stirring lyrics. Besides composing the music, but has also lent his voice to the song – Aye Khuda. Udit Narayan, Shreya Ghoshal, Kay Kay, Richa Sharma and Roopkumar Rathod are the other singers in the album. Amitabh Varma (Metro) has penned the lyrics for the film.
Another highlight of the music is that in keeping with Hindi film music tradition, Shujaat Husain Khan has actually composed music to pre-written lyrics, a rarity in current times where tunes precede words.
What are your feeling now that your first film is releasing.
I have an unreasonable attachment to my first film and I think the film actually gets over when it gets released. It’s is very exciting to see the poster of your film on someone else’s Facebook profile and I wonder how it would be to see it pasted on a wall. I have a feeling that many won’t spit paan on it. Citizen Kane is still world’s greatest first film but like many others I will be a film maker with the release of Mr Singh Mrs Mehta.