MUMBAI: The coronavirus pandemic triggered the feeling of isolation in people, something which served as the perfect backdrop for the upcoming crime thriller "Dial 100", says the director of the film Rensil D'Silva.
The events in the movie unfold overnight as police officer Nikhil Sood, played by Manoj Bajpayee, gets a call on the police helpline from a woman (Neena Gupta), who wants to commit suicide.
As secrets from the past are revealed, Nikhil races against time to save his family.
The germ of the idea for "Dial 100", which takes its title from the police emergency service number, stems from the personal experience of the writer-director when he was in the advertising industry in the 1990s.
"I had spoken to a writer, who was trying to meet me and couldn't. One night he got drunk and said to me over the phone 'you don't value talent'. And that he doesn't want to meet anyone as the world doesn't understand him. He said he was going to burn all his work and when the last paper burnt he was going to kill himself. I got worried and told him 'Don't do this', but he slammed the phone. The next day, I tried to look for news about someone jumping. But I never found out what happened later, D'Silva, known for helming the film "Kurbaan" and TV series "24", told PTI in an interview.
The phone call set the tone for "Dial 100", he said, adding that the concerns around mental health struggles amid the coronavirus pandemic compelled him to weave a plot around it.
"I didn't get the story that time. Around last year, because of the pandemic, I was listening to people feeling isolated, depressed, there were talks about mental health issues. The story came and I felt it was the right time to tell it," he said.
D'Silva, who has also co-written Rang De Basanti and Aks, said the aim has been to incorporate a message in all the films he has been associated with.
With his latest, Dial 100, which also stars Sakshi Tanwar, the objective was the same.
"The challenge was to tell the story and something more about mental health. I try to find projects that challenge me on various levels."
D'Silva said he along with his producer Sidharth P Malhotra met the Mumbai Police officials to learn more about the emergency control room, where they receive numerous calls related to suicide.
As part of his research for the film, the director said he studied the kind of calls the emergency call centre received and how they were addressed.
"They have trained officers, who know how to deal with such calls. There is a strategy. I found this world interesting," he said.
D'Silva said the team received distressed calls from mainly women and older people, who are either harassed or ill-treated.
"One of the important things is to keep talking and convince the person, who is trying to kill themselves. There are a lot of women who call for different reasons and it is a very sad thing, it shows what women go through. It is unfortunate. However, it is good that people are reaching out (for help)."
He further pointed out that about 15-20 years ago there was a lot of social stigma around people seeking help.
"I am not saying it has completely changed. If you need help, there is no shame in reaching out," he added. The story, a fast-paced thriller, demanded a talented cast, the director said.
Having worked with Bajpayee in Aks and with Tanwar in 24 -- the two became his obvious choice.
"Neena ji is the only person I did not work with but I admired her. Initially, she was in two minds because she had not heard the script and when she did, she said yes. This will be her strongest role because she is playing against time. It is an unusual role and she has done really well."
Backed by Sony Pictures Films India in collaboration with Siddharth P Malhotra and Sapna Malhotra's Alchemy Films, "Dial 100" will premiere on August 6 on ZEE5.