- Punam Mohandas
- 13 March 2020
‘Humour is a potent tool to shake up the audience’
SWA Exclusive interview with writer-director Hitesh Kewalya
Hitesh Kewalya is still basking in the afterglow of ‘Shubh Mangal Saavdhaan’ (SMS) and now has the recently released his debut feature film ‘Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhaan’ (SMZS) as a writer-director. In an exclusive interview to SWA, Hitesh talks about pushing boundaries with audiences with taboo topics and how humour should work along with empathy to bring relevant issues out into the open.
Given that SMZS explores the topic of homosexuality, I ask Hitesh what difference there was in the treatment meted out to both films. Did you have to be more delicate and sensitive with your actors, especially given that there is a kissing scene between the two male protagonists?
“Since the film pushes the envelope, as far as discussing a sensitive topic is concerned I felt that I needed to say it differently” he says. “Hence, I used farcical treatment at many places to highlight the homophobia prevalent in our society. That’s the basic difference. Humour is a potent tool to shake up the audience and raise relevant questions and that’s what I relied on as a writer. While directing it also, I worked along with the actors to mine homophobia for humour and the over-the-top reactions one notices on a day-to-day basis in society. But the kissing scene did not get any special treatment… it was shot like any other intimate moment between two people in love. That’s how we can normalize the conversations and intimacy in our society – by not giving it any special treatment but considering and accepting it as a completely natural way of being between two human beings. Ayushmaann and Jeetu too didn’t prepare for it any differently than they would for any other scene,” he declares.
I’m curious to know how the idea of ‘Shubh Mangal Zyaada Savdhaan’ came about and so I ask Hitesh what his process was while writing the screenplay.
“The one line idea came up after I had completed writing ‘Shubh Mangal Saavdhan,’ the first film of the franchise. We at Colour Yellow Productions realized that we have something good in our hands and we thought what would be the right story to take the franchise forward, which was largely about difficult conversations around sexuality in our society. Himanshu Sharma came up with this one line and it immediately struck me that it’s a worthy thematic sequel to SMS. I created a world in which the story would play out even before going for the original SMS shoot and once the film released and was appreciated by the audience, I started writing this script.
“As far as the process of writing the screenplay is concerned, I create a broad outline by charting out the beginning, middle and end scenes and then I start writing the dialogue drafts directly. I like to surprise myself and I am keen to explore all the possibilities that every character allows itself in the story. Hence I don’t like to work with log lines. I like to keep my draft open and unpredictable,” he avers.
Did you develop ‘Shubh Mangal Zyaada Savdhaan’ as an Ayushman Khurrana kind of film, knowing well in advance that he will be a part of it? Do you write your characters keeping a certain actor in mind?
“No,” he says, surprisingly. “Even though Ayushmaan had shown keen interest in my work during SMS and I knew that he would be the first one I would narrate (the next story) to, I tried not to keep anyone in mind while writing. I normally don’t keep any actor in mind while writing, so as to give myself and the actor enough space to explore newer ways of portraying a character. Ayushmaan has done a fabulous job as Kartik and has pushed his own boundaries by playing a very new kind of character in this one,” Hitesh says, in all praise for his lead actor.
Where SMS dealt with erectile dysfunction, in ‘Shubh Mangal Zyaada Savdhaan’ you are exploring homosexuality. These topics are still fairly taboo for the Indian audience and yet, the former movie was well received. Do you think the film industry gives the audience less credit than it deserves?
“It works both ways,” Hitesh says honestly. “Unless and until we as filmmakers do not take calculated risks, the audience will never be able to see what power films or stories possess. Of course, sensitivity towards the topic is an important prerequisite, but I also feel that it’s the audience who pushes us always to tell better stories and make relevant films even if they are taboo. The positive reception towards SMS and SMZS at the box office are proof of this.”
What do you think is good comedy? How does one draw the line, especially when one's trying to sensitise the audience towards an issue? And how does one avoid veering off into slapstick?
“One needs to be aware while writing it and it always helps to go back and forth on the material. One should carefully choose their sounding boards too. Empathy is something that humanity needs right now in order to survive meaningfully and I feel it’s our collective responsibility on this planet to constantly work towards a more empathetic and happier world. If one is aware of this aspect… things mostly fall into place,” he says seriously.
Was direction always a part of the plan, or something which just happened?
“I have always looked at myself as a writer-director. It’s just that I have been writing more and have always considered it as my best foot forward. I have directed many short films as a writer-director and have studied Film at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. I have worked in various mediums such as radio, theatre, television and advertising, but I have always considered fiction films as my ‘home’ and where I would like to settle. I just feel at home with stories!”
What is that one significant new thing you learnt while directing a film, which perhaps you hadn’t experienced as a writer?
“Since, I always write thinking or imagining that I will be directing it, there weren’t really any surprises,” he smiles. “I did want to do justice to the writing even while directing it but, next time around, I will give more leeway to my director, so I guess there’d be a bigger tussle between the writer versus the director in me.”
Do you plan to direct all your films from now on? “There are no such rules like that,” he shrugs. “I take each project as it comes but surely, I have some stories which I want to write and direct myself. But I love writing too, so I don’t want to close myself to that option.”
Do you feel more comfortable writing and directing comedies, than hard hitting dramas or thrillers? When will we see a non-comedy movie from Hitesh Kewalya? “Nothing like that,” he says immediately. “Comedy and Tragedy are two sides of the same coin. Whatever comes naturally and whatever the narrative demands, one should just do that. I love making people laugh and saying something relevant… too much laughter can also bring tears and I would love to explore a genre where the line between emotions blur and the story is beyond a genre or type.”
Are short movies more challenging for you (both in terms of writing and direction), in that they have to convey the essence of the story in a much tauter timeframe?
“It’s a completely different ballgame altogether. Both are challenging depending what one is dealing with and what one’s natural voice is. Filmmaking is a craft that needs practice, apart from other prerequisites and it’s true for both short as well as long formats. There should be ‘something’ to say and ‘someone’ to hear… duration doesn’t matter,” Hitesh sums up.