Like most Indian teenagers, Hardik Mehta was pursuing a B.Tech and was set to be a part of the corporate rat race. But fate and his growing love for films ensured otherwise.
After completing his engineering, he joined an advertising agency and worked as a copywriter for two years before pursuing Masters in Mass Communication from the prestigious AJK MCRC Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi.
Mehta began his filmmaking journey by working as a script supervisor – a term (by his own admission) not many consider worthy enough in Bollywood. But it was a role that helped Mehta learn a lot about the initial ropes of filmmaking and exposed him to the scripting process. His first film as a script supervisor was Dev Benegal’s Road, Movie, followed by Vikramaditya Motwane’s Lootera and Vikas Bahl’s Queen.
This stint also kick-started his association with Motwane that would considerably influence and shape his filmmaking journey. Mehta’s first as director was the acclaimed short Skin Deep, which was also released theatrically as a part of the anthology film Chaar Cutting (2015). He has an interesting anecdote to share about how the film came to be made.
“We were watching something and I was grumbling about the various issues I had with the film. To this Vikram retorted that if you have so many issues with the film why don’t you make one? And he offered me a script. I jumped at the opportunity and that’s how Skin Deep was born. He also generously offered me Udaan’s remaining 16 mm stock, that was lying unused in the lab. It was incredible to be able to shoot on film with the genius Mahendra Shetty agreeing to be the DoP!”
Interestingly, Mehta has co-written (with Amit Joshi) the screenplay of Motwane’s latest film Trapped that stars Rajkummar Rao. When asked if this was a way of repaying Motwane’s favor of scripting Skin Deep, he dismisses it as a sheer co-incidence, “In fact, I have Vikram to thank for it”, he adds.
I Had Got Stuck In My Apartment Which Triggered The Idea For Trapped – Amit Joshi
“Actually the setting shares some tiny similarities with Skin Deep. But the situation under which both the films came to me were completely different,” says Mehta who joined the scripting process of the film later.
“Amit (Joshi) had sent across the screenplay to Vikramaditya, who was very excited about the idea. So he got us (Amit and myself) together and asked us to jam and flesh out the screenplay further. Amit was a perfect co-writer, very receptive. The idea itself was so powerful, especially for people like us living in these ever expanding urban spaces, the physical disconnect and apathy is a byproduct. We jammed together for a period of 2 to 3 months, even Vikram would drop in and shake things up. At the end of it all, from 110 pages, we watered down the film to a 40-pages affair”
Talking about the film’s location that is set in an apartment in the vicinity of Prabhadevi in Mumbai, he adds “The film was earlier set in the vicinity of Royal Palms, Goregaon East in Mumbai which is a bit removed from the hustle bustle of the city. But while scouting for locations, this building in Prabhadevi was optioned. What better than being isolated right in the heart of the city, Vikram immediately locked it.”
From Trapped, the conversation veers towards his National Award winning documentary Amdavad Ma Famous.
‘It happened at a time when I wanted to do something independently. I was desperate to find my own voice and the only way to do that was to go out there and make my own film’
From being an official selection at international film festivals like Hot Docs Canada, PalmSprings US to winning the National Award (for Best NonFeature Film 2015) to eventually being acquired by Netflix, Mehta is pleased with the journey the ‘short’ docu has chartered. But he is dismissive of the term ‘short’.
“In Andheri, nobody takes you seriously if you use the word short” he adds laughing.
Prior to its theatrical release, Indian audiences got to view Trapped at last year’s Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star.
“It was the most surreal experience, a packed theater, and collective gasps, like they were with the character, Trapped! Vikramaditya is the most diverse filmmaker of our times! The film received a standing ovation. People loved it and it was such a high for me and Amit to see people reacting so positively. But the real test of Trapped is now when it releases in cinemas. I am very hopeful.”
Incidentally, Jio MAMI with Star 2016 was a memorable affair for Mehta as Amdavad Ma Famous was also screened at the festival besides Trapped. From being one of the many aspiring filmmakers who would make a beeline for the films to having two of his films screened at the festival, the filmmaker adds he suddenly felt very privileged.
A National Award winning filmmaker who idolizes Werner Herzog, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Abbas Kiarostami and Michael Haneke – Hardik Mehta has chartered quite an interesting journey.
“In Search of Ecstatic Truth”, Werner Herzog on Documentary Filmmaking
Mehta states that he is working on a feature film script. Meanwhile, he is currently penning a series for Amazon Prime with Udta Punjab writer Sudip Sharma. It is a thriller series that will be helmed by Navdeep Singh (Manorama Six Feet Under, NH-10) and co-produced by Anushka Sharma’s Clean Slate Films.
“Navdeep and Sudip are experts when it comes to penning thrillers and stories in the Noir genre. And scripting it will be a great learning exercise. Writing is the only way you become a better Director, I’m taking that route. ” he concludes.
Drug Is Only The Backdrop, Udta Punjab Is About Those Four Characters- Sudip Sharma
Interview By: Aditya Savnal