Sudhir Mishra wants to be known beyond Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi
Thirty years ago, the digital space would have been a godsend for Sudhir Mishra, when he was making films like Dharavi, Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin, and Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi. As he makes his web debut with Hostages, he says his best is yet to come
As film debuts go, no one got a better start than Sudhir Mishra. While an apprentice on Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Sazaye Maut in 1981, he met Kundan Shah, a production manager. Distance can determine friendships in Mumbai, and as luck would have it, Shah lived in Sion, Mishra in Sion Koliwada. Shah first become his drinking buddy, then his writing partner, and then his director. Between several bottles of rum and shared rides on BEST, they wrote Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983). "I don't know why anybody would tell a 22-year-old kid to write," Mishra says. "I had not the foggiest notion of writing a script. I had just seen a lot of cinema, vaguely assisted on one film, I knew Hindi and had a background in theatre from Delhi. So, it was just him provoking me. I must have done something because he gave me the credit."
With his silver hair combed into a neat hairstyle, his 6'4 frame stretched on an armchair, while chewing gum and constantly adjusting his crooked glasses over large eyes, Mishra looks like a mad scientist. In a commander's voice, occasionally flashing a blinding smile, he says, "From now on, I'm going to attempt to make another 10 great films. I think I still have a good 15 years left." He hasn't done too bad so far. In the last three decades, he has written and directed Dharavi, Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Khoya Khoya Chand and Yeh Saali Zindagi. Not one of them was a money-spinner, but all of them have a long shelf life. Mishra was making movies for the web, way before the web was born. "I wish it had appeared 20 years ago, because I would have done much more work. The web series world is not dependent on a hit or an immediate recovery. So, you are making a thing that lasts. It's there forever on some web space. It's like a novel on the shelf. Somebody may read A Hundred Years of Solitude today. Some kid will see Breaking Bad many years later, and that's great."
Also Read: Hostages Web Review - Designed to thrill
Ronit Roy in a scene from Hostages, currently on Hotstar
This month, Mishra made his web debut with Hostages, on Hotstar, a thriller with Tisca Chopra and Ronit Roy. An adaptation of an Israeli show, it isn't his best work, but a sort-of Take 1. "I liked the idea of the series and the two main protagonists. I also wanted to get into the web space and understand the grammar, telling a story over 10 episodes. My job was to rewrite and adapt it for the screen here. So, I didn't mimic a shot or how the sound is played. I tried to make it mine in shooting, edit and post. All the adaptation flaws, if any, are mine."
Mishra has fallen for the medium because, "The web series is a kind of longform cinema, with the contours of a novel. Anyway, my films have a novelistic structure. I veer naturally towards the telling of side stories, of minor characters, their beginning and ends, giving them some kind of a life." So, he's currently working on three scripts. Manu Joseph's Serious Men, which he's adapting for Netflix with Nawazuddin Siddiqui as lead, is currently in its 13th draft. For the past year, he's been writing a series called Taang Kiski Hai for Applause Entertainment. "It's a black comedy, [set] in a place that god forgot. It's about four days in the life of a village, where a cut leg is found on the tracks. The town goes a bit haywire." And, for the last three years, along with a team of five writers and a script doctor, he's been shaping a series called The Nawab, The Nautch Girl and the East India Company, a fictional look at "how India was won." He says, "The right stories, you have to allow them to find you. I think this is one that did because I'm interested in history. It's probably the best thing that I've done. After this, they'll remember me as the guy who did [this series]. Till now, they say he's the guy who made Hazaaron."
Also Read: Sudhir Mishra finds digital world exciting
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is set to play Ayyan Mani in Mishra's adaptation of Manu Joseph's Serious Men for Netflix
As the guy who made Hazaaron, Mishra identifies most with Geeta, Chitrangada Singh's character. "I'm not a fixer; I'm not a Naxal. Manu Joseph wrote a piece on me called 'The Collector of Frail Men'. The men in my work are little confused, little weak. They want to die because of their mistakes. I like telling stories about women, because women accept frailty much easier. The struggle inside women, of the necessity of what you have to do, when you are living in a world that doesn't allow you to express yourself. I'm not good at stories that lead you to a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I like to leave stories somewhere in between. Like Hazaaron. At the end of it, you are left holding each other's hand and life continues."
It's a lesson he learnt in his debut film. "In its essence, Jaane Bhi was a deeply pessimistic story. Kundan couldn't give a happy end. The essential message was that innocence is always violated. When people ask, 'Where are you from?' Some people say, 'I'm from a film institute,' but I say, 'I'm from Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro,' because that's where I learned everything. It was a crash course with the best. I sometimes still think about it and say, 'How lucky can you get?'"
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