Cinema Director Hansal Mehta, the maker of Shahid, says that cinema can never change people

Hansal Mehta was in the city to talk about his latest film “Shahid”, releasing on October 18. The film is based on the life of the slain lawyer and human rights activists Shahid Azmi, who was known for defending those wrongly accused in cases of terrorism, which also included some accused in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Hansal’s Mehta’s film which has won accolades at the Toronto International Film Festival, speaks about the film and its making. Excerpts:

How did “Shahid” happen?

The film was born out of my own anger… about the times that we live in, where the common man gets angry about many things, and does nothing about it. The film is my reaction as a film maker. I have used it as a medium to provoke some thought process and debate in the mind of the audience.

Do you think the audience is ready for films like this?

Oh, they have been ready a long time back. All our ancestors have watched films like “Do bheega Zameen” and so on. Why, even our mythology has strong stories. Its just that we film makers were not ready to narrate such stories.

Most of your films seem to have some message. Like say “Jayate” for instance had a strong message about injustice. Do you think films are a medium to bring in a change in the mindset?

For me a film is a medium to tell a story. It has to provoke the person watching into thinking. Film cannot be a vehicle for change. Cinema can never change people. But, if the message hits certain people then they will get a group of jobless people to protest. Then after a while everything -- the story, the film and the protest – will gradually fade out.

Every one is doing biopics today. Is there a shift in the trend in Bollywood?

It should have happened a long time ago. I think the cinema dwindled in the 90s when it came to literature. Technically, it has developed a finesse, but has lacked when in the area of story line. I believe that biopics are a great way for us to celebrate the many unsung heroes that deserve to be celebrated.

You say the Shahid’s death changed you. How?

I find that everyday has become a minor battle for me.

Not many producers wanted to invest in Shahid, why?

May be I did not instil the right confidence in them when it came to my belief and strength in the script.

Why are you so critical about your work? You even went on to say that you were lying and being dishonest in the film “Woodstock Villa”.

Yes, when you become indifferent to your work, the final product suffers. You do it for money. Your heart is not in it. When I saw Woodstock, I felt that I was saturated when it came to telling a story. I left Mumbai the day Woodstock was released and stayed away from this medium for a while.

You chose Raj Kumar for the role of Shahid.

Yes, there were no stars that I could see portray this character. The person portraying the character had to be free from a public image. It had to be someone who had no baggage but someone who could get into the skin of Shahid.

You faced threats from the Shiv Sena for your film “Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar”. Expecting something like that to happen here?

Cowardice is our biggest enemy and I will not buckle down to that fear. No matter what the threat is, I will not back out from what I do.

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