A poster of Lootere
A poster of Lootere

Hansal Mehta tackles Gandhi's relevance in upcoming web series amidst hyper-polarised times

With his upcoming series on Mahatma Gandhi, filmmaker Hansal Mehta continues to document important moments from India’s past and present

"Being fearless is overrated. I find fearlessness and stupidity interchangeable. We are just storytellers doing our job of reflecting the times we live in,” says filmmaker Hansal Mehta.

A telling statement considering his next is a series on Mahatma Gandhi, revisiting the life and times of the man whose ideology is more significant than ever in today’s hyper-polarised world. “All my energies are currently devoted towards this man,” Mehta says, pointing towards a portrait of Gandhi on his wall. The web series, expected to release later this year, is an adaptation of historian Ramachandra Guha’s books Gandhi Before India and Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, and will be helmed by actor Pratik Gandhi.

Meanwhile, Mehta has been busy being a showrunner on his son Jai’s directorial debut, Lootere, a hostage drama set against the backdrop of ethnic conflict in Somalia. The filmmaker confesses he would have been equally happy about not being part of the same since he had faith in Jai, who had assisted him on Scam 1992. “I am wary of taking on showrunner responsibilities because you end up seeing work that does not carry your signature or fit the template. And, even though things may not be up to the mark, one has to take ownership,” he says, adding, “In Jai’s case, however, I knew he has the sensibility, ambition and vision that matches mine. He is indeed a chip off the old block. That was the prime reason I came along to guide him when needed.”

Mehta’s cinematic journey has been one of reinvention and resurrection. Having started off with directing food shows, he moved on to making films such as the dark comedy, Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar, (2000) and Woodstock Villa (2008). But then, he decided to take a break and reevaluate.

The objective was, he says, to find his voice as a filmmaker, and he found it in telling real-life stories. He came into his own half-a-decade-later with Shahid (2013), a biopic on human rights lawyer Shahid Azmi, followed by a hard-hitting narrative in Aligarh (2016), the story of a professor who was suspended for being gay. Scam 1992, which looked at the stock market scam and broker Harshad Mehta, was critically acclaimed, as was the 2023-release Scoop, based on Jigna Vora’s book Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison. “I try to tell a personal story through a very public one. These are also stories of our times. If the journey of the character resonates with you, it would compel you to also question the current political-socio and economic fabric. That has been my approach towards choosing the subjects and telling stories the way I do,” he says, adding, “Harshad Mehta’s story is a cautionary tale of greed in the times of liberalisation; Scoop is about ambition and the state of media. Likewise, Lootere is about the people who are on the ship, but also about the microcosms of our times.”

Hansal Mehta
Hansal Mehta

Mehta’s next crime thriller, The Buckingham Murders, which stars Kareena Kapoor Khan, and has premiered at the BFI London Film Festival and the MaMi film festival, is awaiting its theatrical release. “I have worked with Kareena, the actor, and not the star, which is just a bonus. Because she is a director’s actor,” he says.

Given his mega success on the streaming platform, does he prefer digital release to the big screen? “They are different mediums and both have their own challenges. There is this proliferation of box-office numbers, but in the rat race, my films have managed to find their place because they are meant to resonate beyond first-week numbers and shelf life in theaters,” he says, adding, “The long form also allows you to explore characters in depth. So, certain stories lend themselves to that medium. But, Aligarh and Shahid, for instance, were ideal feature films. The story chooses the format.”

The New Indian Express