Shekhar Suman, the man for all mediums, goes behind the camera for “Heartless”

Versatility has always been his defining trait and next week Shekhar Suman will add one more feather to his decorated cap as his first directorial venture “Heartless” is all set to be released. Once shunned by the film industry as a wannabe Amitabh Bachchan, Suman made television his home and ruled it for almost two decades in different avatars. Call him a comeback man and he disagrees, “I have always come out of the comfort zone to do something new. From films to television serials, from anchoring to politics, from body building to singing, I have tried it all. Every time anybody asked can you do it, I have said let me try and now I am looking for a fresh start as a filmmaker.” Suman says his solid training in theatre at the start of his career ensured that he straddled different media with ease. “I have always been a natural even if it meant doing cricket commentary with the stalwarts of the game.”

His image of a non-stop purveyor of puns doesn’t fit into the cast of a helmsman of a emotional thriller against the backdrop of medical profession but Suman insists that the real Shekhar Suman is different from what we see on screen. “I am not a comedy loving person. What you see is a well-carved out image. Even when I anchor the show I tell myself that I am playing the role of an anchor. I like to watch dark thrillers and multi-layered narratives and it reflects in the story I have chosen for my first film as a director. The only thing that I have learnt during the process is patience. That everybody can’t work at your pace and it takes people time to understand your vision.”

Talking about life on the other side of the camera, Suman says he has always believed that cinema is more about storytelling than technique. “Take the films of Hrishikesh Mukherjee. He told some of the most arousing stories with basic techniques. Of course, one has to be careful about axis and composition otherwise there is no one right way to shoot a scene.”

The promos suggest a strong similarity between “Heartless” and Joby Harold’s “Awake” and Suman agrees the inspiration has come from the film. “The anaesthesia awareness bit and the hospital sequence are similar but the first hour is completely different. Still we have signed a contract with the makers of ‘Awake’ and we have got the permission to adapt the film without mentioning the source in the credits. However, I feel in these times one cannot be brazen about the source.”

Coming from a family of doctors, Suman says, “He has taken creative license to dramatise certain portions but doctors will not say yeh kya dikha diya. We have come a long way from the pop science of ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ and this will reflect in the hospital scenes of ‘Heartless’.” There are divergent opinions about anaesthesia awareness but Suman argues that it is more common than what medical fraternity agrees upon. “Most people come out with experiences when they are administered anaesthesia during operation but many times they don’t care to report it officially.”

The film is also seen as a re-launch for his son Adhyayan. “I didn’t need a hero in the Bollywood sense of the term. I wanted a boy next door whose actions are not always heroic and it is not a kind of film where the director focuses on the entry of the actor and the camera caresses his biceps. And Adhyayan fits into that image. He plays a character who carries a death wish as he holds himself responsible for the death of his father.” Suman feels his son is more underrated than I was. “I feel he did a good job in ‘Jashn’ but the film didn’t work. I hope ‘Heartless’ will open new prospects for him.”

Like “Awake”, the film also explores the mother-son relationship and Suman is elated to have cast Deepti Naval as the mother and getting the opportunity to direct Om Puri. “My casting director came with various options but I was adamant on Deepti as I didn’t want any cosmetic emotions. She is underutilised by the industry. The film has a track where Om Puri comes into the scene as a doctor who once liked Deepti’s character but could not marry her. After the demise of her husband the two come close all over again but her son doesn’t like it even when his mother knows where to draw the line. It provides a different triangle of sorts which is not usually explored in our films. We usually shy away from non-linear relationships despite the fact that they exist around us,” Suman opines.

Delving into his film career, Suman, who is playing the crucial role of a doctor with grey shades, agrees that he had got an enviable start with “Utsav” where he starred opposite Rekha in a Girish Karnad film produced by Shashi Kapoor. “I was told it is a matter of time that I will become a star. But Jennifer Kapoor died during the making of the film and “Utsav” got delayed. I got to act with some of the biggest names in the industry but somehow things didn’t click for me. When I was working with Dimple Kapadia in “Pati Parmeshwar” director Madan Joshi said the film will change my career but when it released people found it regressive. Meanwhile, I lost my son, and by the time I recovered from the personal setbacks the industry had moved on. It was Vinod Pandey’s “Reporter” that brought me back in the reckoning through small screen and after that I didn’t look back.”

And after that he started acting pricey for filmmakers? “’Dekh Bhai Dekh’, ‘Andaaz’, ‘Main’, I was getting so many shades to play on television. Sanjay Leela Bhansali had come to me with the role of Chunnilal in “Devdas”. Had I left television to return to films at that time things might have been different. Anyway I believe in Murphy’s Law: Whatever has to go wrong will go wrong and as I say this, the promos of ‘Heartless’ are playing on television!” The observation betrays a man who knows the taste of failure. “I think now I am ripe to play different shades and hopefully the industry will see me in a new light after ‘Heartless’,” he adds.

A politically aware person, Suman fought the last elections on the Congress ticket but these days he seems interested in the rise of Aam Aadmi Party. “I am with Aam Admi Party as long as they deliver what they have promised. Otherwise I will return to ‘Poll Khol’ mood!” he ends with his trademark laughter.