Mukesh Chhabra says his directorial debut Dil Bechara is dedicated to Sushant Singh Rajput fans: It's not my film anymore
Mukesh Chhabra discusses his filmmaking journey with Sushant Singh Rajput, and why his directorial debut does not feel the same anymore.
Dil Bechara director Mukesh Chhabra gave Sushant Singh Rajput his first break in Kai Po Che!, in the capacity of the casting director. To return the favour, Rajput agreed to launch Chhabra’s career as a director when he agreed to do Dil Bechara.
“Sushant was a committed guy. He made sure that he fulfilled his promise,” says Chhabra, who is struggling to cope with the loss of his lead actor and close friend. He finds it extremely difficult to celebrate the career milestone, with the lead actor no longer around to celebrate their labour of love.
“I don’t know what the happiness for your first film is like. I am not even enjoying the moment,” says the director. Chhabra’s debut directorial with Rajput, an adaptation of the bestselling novel and Hollywood star-crossed romance The Fault In Our Stars, also features newcomer Sanjana Sanghi as a young woman battling cancer.
Chhabra builds on the mixed emotion of happiness and a sense of loss, which also reflects in his film. “Actually, it is a very weird, bittersweet feeling. I don’t know how a director feels for his debut film. I have realised my dream of making a film but I don’t understand whether to laugh or cry. Do you jump with joy and excitement? I really don’t know how to react to the kind of love the trailer got. In my case, everything is so different. I am not even thinking this is my first film. I am still in disbelief, and cannot come to terms with it (Rajput's death).” The last conversation he had with Rajput was on his birthday on 27 May. “We had a normal conversation. Everything was fine. I didn’t know that he had any issues,” says the director.
Rajput and Chhabra met for the first time for the Kai Po Che! audition, and their bond strengthened over the years. “I used to love his energy, his charm, his talent, his intelligence, and that is the reason I selected him for the film. But films were a very small part of his life. He had many other goals, ambitions. His thinking was very different. He used to always tell me that films are not everything, life is bigger than films, and there are so many other things to follow. He was into stars, travelling, NASA. He had so many dreams. Next, I auditioned him for PK (2014), and after that, he didn’t have to audition for his other films. A few years later, I auditioned him for Kedarnath. He used to always share with me the films he was taking up. He was a huge part of my life, my family. He would spend a lot of time in my office, whether he was shooting or not,” says Chhabra.
It was sometime in 2017, Chhabra recalls, Rajput promised him that whenever he made his first film, he would be happy to be part of it. “I also promised him that I will cast him. I like emotional stories, and I also wanted to debut with one, also because people easily connect with emotional stories. Many people wanted to make this film but did not succeed. Finally, when the script came to me in 2018, I called Sushant, and told him that finally, I have a good script, and let’s start work. He didn’t even read the script, and agreed to do it. But even if I had not made Dil Bechara, I would have still cast him in my debut film,” says Chhabra.
Besides Rajput’s acting skills and craft, the director liked the actor’s total dedication towards his role. “If you watch his Byomkesh Bakshi! or Sonchiriya or Dhoni, he was a very intelligent and hardworking actor. He used to work on the look, the character’s mood, and make an emotional graph of each and every character he played. My film is emotionally driven, and he was completely invested in those emotional scenes. He used to write down the emotions required for scenes, and after five scenes or so, he would change the emotion saying, ‘Okay now, I will behave like this. Now I will think and walk like this..’ He used to go into a lot of detailing," says Chhabra. While Sushant could not watch the final product, Chhabra says that the actor saw the entire film during dubbing, “He watched it very minutely, and was very excited. He told me that he loved the title track, which he had shot in a single take, and Taare Ginn. He was also very happy about his performance."
While the Hollywood hit featured teenagers, Dil Bechara has a bit older couple to tell the story, to which the director says, "Once you see the film, you will get all your answers. You will realise why the older couple works for the film. In this film, they are in college. Sushant and Sanjana’s chemistry is looking good. But of course, I have changed the setup. The basic storyline is the same but I have adapted it differently. I had made it very clear to the actors that they have to be as real as they can. Even during the workshop, I told them don’t try to act, and just be emotionally connected to these characters."
Chhabra spotted Sanjana in a school play when she was 13, and cast her in Rockstar. “When I read the script, her face was correct for the part. I love discovering new talent every time. I wanted a fresh talent, a fresh face to play the part of Kizie Basu. Her face is so innocent and fragile as if you want to protect this girl. Her face really worked for me,” said the director, who has set the film in Jamshedpur.
“Jamshedpur has an interesting culture. I wanted a non-metro city that was very cosmopolitan. It is the only place where you meet people from all parts of India. You meet South Indians, Punjabis, Bengalis. Here, Sushant plays a South Indian, and Sanjana is a Bengali girl. I had also heard a lot about Jamshedpur from Imtiaz Ali. Then I loved Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan, and how he had used the landscape of Jamshedpur. I felt it was perfect for my film,” says Chhabra.
Dil Bechara is Rajput’s last film, which makes the film even more special for Chhabra. “Now, it is not my film anymore. It is Sushant’s last film, and the entire country is looking at it very differently.
All are emotionally attached to it, and I am really thankful to them for the kind of love they are giving to him,” says the director.
Rajput's fans and supporters have been vocal for a theatrical release over a digital one. But Chhabra feels releasing the film on an OTT platform is the best decision in the current times. “In fact, Sushant was very happy about the digital release. He said it was the right decision, and a good time to release as people were spending time at home, and many of them will watch it,” says Chhabra, who does not want to mull over the allegations of nepotism against the film industry, that resurfaced after Rajput's demise.
“I just want everyone to celebrate his last film. The kind of love they have given to the trailer, I wish he gets the same kind of love for the film as well. I hope he is watching over me and all of us. I had plans of making more films with him. You always think that if my first film works with this actor then you want to repeat the actor for your next. But all our dreams don’t always get fulfilled,” Chhabra concludes.
All images from Facebook.
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