Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra has always maintained that he doesn’t select a film; the films pick him. After the very successful Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, the director is back with his first love story Mirzya. Based on the folk tale of Mirza-Sahiban, the film launches Anil Kapoor’s son Harshvardhan Kapoor and Tanvi Azmi’s niece Saiyami Kher.
Mirzya is a film that Mehra had wanted to make almost three decades ago. “I first heard about Mirza-Sahiban when I was in college. It was enacted in the drama society and at the end, we were asked ‘why did Sahiban break the arrows’. That stuck with me somewhere. When I went to Gulzar to write the script for this, my first question to him was ‘why did Sahiban break the arrows’. We thought it would be a good idea to try and figure out why she did what she did,” recalls the director.
Gulzar had written the first draft even before Bhaag Milkha Bhaag went on the floor. “I had to make a choice on which movie to take on first. Gulzar bhai had already written the first draft. I felt that I wanted more time to make Mirzya. This film has many more layers compared to Milkha. I felt I needed to give myself a couple of years to live with the script. Even when I was finishing Milkha, though there were quite a few ideas, I think, I knew this was the one.”
Having directed seasoned actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Farhan Akhtar earlier, Mehra decided to launch two fresh faces with Mirzya. “It’s the requirement of the film. It is a new kind of story. Sahiban is a very strong character. She is caught between the love of two men. It was important that the audience go into the theatre not to see their favourite actor but to see the characters. Art Malik is playing a pivotal role in the film as are Om Puri and K K Raina. On the sets, I would ask them to hold workshops with the youngsters.”
Mehra had both his leads go through months of prep before they faced the camera. “We had to have a lot of workshops with teachers in different disciplines. Most of them begun workshops 12-18 months before we started shooting. I spent about six months working with them so they were prepared for the starting block.” He maintains that the young actors aren’t the only ones who got to learn from making the film. “I love being in touch with youngsters because there’s a lot to learn from them. Apart from their energy, there is a sense of mystery and discovery that surrounds them. They are looking for answers, which is very interesting. I have a 16-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son so I am seeing life afresh from their eyes. I spend a lot of time with youngsters and kids in seminars and master classes in IITs and primary school.”
Mirzya is Mehra’s first attempt at telling a love story. “Making this film has been a very interesting experience. You make a love story with a feeling rather than when you make a social film where you are guided by an ideology. You know exactly why something is happening in a life. Milkha was guided by his hatred for Pakistan because his parents were killed there. But with this film, the only guiding force is love. And, love is so simple and yet so complex. There are no reasons for why you fall in love or out of it or for who you fall in love with. Nothing makes sense. That’s what this film has taught me.”
This is Mehra’s first cinematic collaboration with Gulzar. He calls the veteran writer his ‘guru and co-conspirator’. “I can use words like learning process, amazing and master class to tell you about my experience of working with him, but nothing can truly match up to what it was like. When you work with someone like him, you can only gain. We are neighbours. When I am on the terrace about to start my yoga, I see him coming back from tennis. We have never had scheduled meetings. It’s always been ‘what are you doing? Come over for chai’. He is such a great writer, but he still gives everyone around him so much respect.”