Batla House director Nikkhil Advani, actress Mrunal Thakur on working with John Abraham in cop thriller
Nikkhil Advani talks about why he returns to the director's chair with John Abraham's Batla House, and Mouni Roy shares what it is like to share screen space with John.
The last time director Nikkhil Advani held the baton for a film was in 2015 when he directed the now-forgettable Katti Batti, featuring Kangana Ranaut and Imran Khan. He is back again after four years with Batla House, and is mighty excited and confident. So much so that he has no qualms in requesting audience to watch Mission Mangal – the Akshay Kumar-starrer and the other release scheduled alongside Batla House.
“We will ensure and tell audience to go and see Mission Mangal, and we will request Akshay (Kumar) to tell audience to go and see Batla House. It’s a give and take thing and the winner is not only the audience but also the film industry. Such a clash, and cross-promotion was unthinkable 10 years back. A lot of effort has gone into the making of both the films.”
Batla House is based on the police encounter that happened in Delhi in 2008, which raised much hue and cry among politicians and media alike. A section also dubbed it as fake encounter. The protagonist of that encounter was Mohan Chand Sharma, who later succumbed to bullet injuries and was martyred during the incident. So why is John (Abraham) not playing that character? “Whatever transpired after the Batla House encounter was very important. After the incident people started doubting the veracity of the encounter, if it was fake or a real. The film is more about what happened after the encounter. Opinions became facts, a patriotic policeman was turned into a murderer, and five students became terrorists. Till today, people point finger at the judgement of the court. The film is not about one officer but it deals more with the event,” says Nikkhil.
Nikkhil has only words of praise for Ritesh Shah, the writer of the film, who has films like Pink, Airlift, and Kahaani 2 to his credit. “You actually scratch your head and marvel at the interesting way with which Ritesh has written the film. You won’t be able to figure out what is real and what is unreal the way he has married events in the film, and fictionalised things. The way he has drawn inspiration from real events, and then created a world of its own is fabulous. You take out the real event from the film, and then does it hold purely as a film? Yes, it works,” says the director.
He reveals that more than him opting John Abraham as the lead of the film, it was the other way. He was the first choice for John to direct this film. He recalls that he had approached John with the plot of Batla House when the shooting of Satyameva Jayate was about to get over and there was still some time for the release of Parmanu: The Untold Story of Pokhran.
Nikkhil is also of the opinion that Batla House is primarily a love story. “When I had told John about this before the shooting of the film, he did not believe me but now he does. The film actually opens with the scene of husband and wife, and the wife is telling him that she is thinking of leaving him. The encounter scene comes two minutes after this. When I met Sanjeev Yadav’s wife during the research of the film, I asked her how come she is still with him. She then told me that the day he went out of the house that day, thinking he will become a hero but came out as a murderer, I realised what my worth as a wife is going to be in his life. She also told me that she realised that it was important for her to be with him in such trying times. She was there with him throughout his PTSD phase.”
As part of the research Nikkhil discloses that he read opinions, blogs and articles, met journalists and police officials. The Jamila Milia Islamia Teachers Solidarity Union sent him everything that they had written about the case apart from reams of papers and emails. So did he speak to the students’ families? “No, we were not allowed to speak to them. I am not even allowed to mention their names in the film. The appeal is still going on and the matter is still being dealt with court.”
The film also has actress Mrunal Thakur in a pivotal role. Batla House would be her next release after having just delivered a Rs 100 crore hit with Super 30. She believes that 2019 is turning out to be an exciting year for her. “I had only wished for one thing and God gave me two. The journey has been vastly different for both the films. In Super 30, I had played the role of Hrithik’s (Roshan) girlfriend, who is also a Kathak dancer while in Batla House, I play the role of John’s wife, who is a journalist. Before narrating the script, Nikkhil told me in the entire incident in detail and then later sketched out the chemistry between Sanjeev Yadav and Nandita. I could relate to the character as my uncle has just retired from police force. It’s all very stressful for cops as they hardly get to enjoy their vacation, and often have to forfeit festivals. I have done my bachelors in mass media so I thought that I should make most of the preparations that I had done during my college days for the role of Nandita.”
Mrunal made her Bollywood debut last year with the gritty Love Sonia. She believes that it was a perfect debut that could have happened to her. “I had no clue that the film will have an international cast. It had people like David Womark, Resul Pookutty, Mark Duplass, and Demi Moore. Getting a call for Love Sonia was itself a big opportunity and honour for me. I could not have asked for more. You don’t always get a solo film in your debut film, and I am glad that this happened.”
Was she aware of the Batla House encounter that happened in 2008 in Delhi? “When we live in Mumbai then we get all the information that relate to the 26/11 incident. I think the Batla House encounter was the most talked about case in North India after the Babri Masjid case. It is one of the most controversial encounter cases that have happened in this country. I got to learn more stuff about the encounter during press interaction session for the film, when I met journalists which I otherwise was not aware of when the shooting of the film was on. What I learnt from the case was the fact that had it been a fake encounter, then the series of bomb blasts would not have stopped.”
Mrunal’s background in TV has also given her close friends like Mouni Roy, Kritika Kamra, and Sushant Sigh Rajput. She also remains one of the select few from the TV industry who made a successful crossover to the film industry. Through her repertoire of films, she has actually defied the prevalent stereotyped notion that TV actors are basically loud. “The perception exists only because when you watch those serials, the effects that are added to scenes are jarring ones. The intention is only to grab eyeballs, and ensure high ratings for the show. It's only because of these things that we are perceived by filmmakers as loud actors but they fail to see that the acting is the same. My base is TV, and had I not gone through the grilling process, chances are I would not have managed to work with stars like John and Hrithik,” reveals Mrunal.
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