Haseen Dillruba, starring Taapsee Pannu, Vikrant Massey, and Harshvardhan Rane, turned out to be a major hit upon its direct-to-digital premiere on Netflix last year.
The film, produced by Aanand L Rai, marked the directorial comeback of filmmaker Vinil Mathew after a long gap of seven years.
Eastern Eye recently caught up with Mathew and tried to find out how the success of Haseen Dillruba has changed things for him, why it took him nearly 7 years to direct his second film after Hasee Toh Phasee, his next projects, and much more. The filmmaker also talks about his expectations from 2022.
I would like to begin by asking: what made you fall in love with cinema? If I am not wrong, you dropped out of college to pursue a career in filmmaking.
The first time I toyed with the idea of joining films was when I saw Mani Ratnam’s Roja in high school. It was a film like never before—from its cinematography by Santosh Sivan, the music by A R Rahman, and a human story with a crucial issue at its core by Mani Sir. It was a craft of filmmaking that one had never seen before in India. It was differentiated from the usual escapist fair one saw at that time. I saw the film in a loop. It inspired me to do something with cinema. After finishing my Economics Honours at Delhi University, I was well prepared to pursue a career in Economics. Later, I gave the entrance exam for FTII, Pune, and got selected for the Direction course. It was a tough call, but I decided to go with my heart. And that’s how my journey in filmmaking started!
What has 2021 been like for you? I assume it would have been fantastic as you scored a big hit in the form of Haseen Dillruba.
2021 is the year when my second film, Haseen Dillruba, released on Netflix and went on to become one of their biggest hits. It was the most-watched film in India and topped the charts in 20 countries across the globe. It is something that I am extremely grateful for and happy about because I was able to release my film and find so much love in a challenging Covid-19 year. I consider myself lucky that I got a chance to showcase my work to a wide audience and receive so much love in a year that was bleak and uncertain.
What are your expectations from 2022?
My hope and expectation from 2022 are to find an end to Covid-19. I wish we could return to pre-covid days, to a world that is healthier, safer, and normal. One can enjoy life unmasked and without all the restrictions. I am looking forward to theatres being full again and people coming in, watching, and experiencing movies on the big screens. Personally, I would spend 2022 writing my film. I hope to finish it this year and start casting and shooting for the project.
How has Haseen Dillruba‘s rousing success changed things for you?
When I started working on Haseen Dillruba, I was a bit nervous because it was a different kind of story; for the first time, we were using Hindi pulp fiction in a film. Here we were taking a thriller and a love story and telling it in the form of pulp fiction. It was challenging for me, as a filmmaker, to tell this story because many genres were combined and the characters had steak arches. When we found love from the audience, we were at peace! I am happy that my experiment and pushing the boundaries of cinema were appreciated. It encourages me to try different things next time as well.
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Did you always have a feeling Haseen Dillruba would be successful?
Haseen Dillruba came after a gap of seven years after Hasee Toh Phasee. This long gap was neither planned nor desired. But as a filmmaker, I would rather wait to tell a story that excites me rather than make a film for the sake of making it. It just so happened that there were very few stories that excited me to explore it further. Filmmaking is also about the coming together of a great cast, producers, and good stories. Sometimes all the elements don’t fit together, and they are out of your control. Luckily, Haseen Dillruba happened really quickly. It was the process that I really enjoyed.
Why did it take you nearly 7 years to direct your second film after Hasee Toh Phasee?
From all the love that I have received for Haseen Dillruba, I feel encouraged to keep trying out different edgy stories. I love dealing with human relationships, and I think it is my forte. Haseen Dillruba was so different from Hasee Toh Phasee. But both are quirky and genre-bending stories. That is the path I most enjoy pursuing. I enjoy bringing out different human stories that challenge me as a filmmaker and the audience. Stories that encourage me to take bigger risks, and hopefully, they all find the love they deserve.
Will you be exploring the digital space soon, or do you just want to focus on the big screen?
Personally, I enjoy the big screen experience. The magic of watching a film in a dark room with 200 people and enjoying emotions, humour, and thrills collectively as an audience is unmatched. It is more festive when you watch a film with other people. Even on the technical level, one can shoot a film differently and make it larger-than-life. The idea of sound and experience is more magical on a big screen. Having said that, it also depends on the story that one is writing. Some stories are more personal and intimate. If I am working on such a story, I would rather reach out to people on an OTT platform. So, it depends on the content. I am happy to explore both options.
Do you think it is going to be difficult for filmmakers to bring audiences back to cinemas in a post-Covid world?
It will be a challenge to get the audience back to the theatres. Because of Covid, people have suffered so much loss & there is a lot of anxiety around. I think people are just picking back their lives to some normalcy, and watching a film in a theatre might not be a priority. People who are scared of contracting Covid-19 are reluctant of going back to the theatre and might wait until it is completely safe. We will have an uncertain trajectory till Covid ends unless something compelling comes up, like Spiderman or 83, that it becomes an event. It will be patchy until the pandemic. But in the long term, movie-going is a part of a culture, and it will stay. We enjoy films with friends and family. So, we will have a resounding return to theatres soon.
Do you think that theatres and streaming platforms can co-exist without eating into each other’s markets?
OTT platforms and theatres will happily co-exist in the future. It will depend on the story you want to tell. Like I said before, there are big-screen experiences, the event films, that need the grandeur of a theatrical release. Then there are edgy and risky stories that might demand a more intimate experience, which an OTT platform can serve the best. It is a boon for both the audience and the filmmakers to have an alternative to movie theatres. Many stories that would not have been made in earlier days are finally finding so much love from the audience on the OTT platforms.
What are you working on now?
Currently, I am working on a love story. I don’t think I can tell you more about it at this point. But it will again be something different from what one has seen before. It has an interesting take on human relationships. I am looking forward to completing the draft and starting the casting process. Hopefully, we will commence the shoot soon.