For a debutant director, Nitya Mehra has an impressive resume. The Amritsar-born filmmaker has assisted Mira Nair in “The Namesake” and Ang Lee in his Oscar-winning “Life of Pi”. She also worked on the Indian version of the TV series “24” and assisted Farhan Akhtar on the crime thriller “Don 2”.
Akhtar and his Excel Entertainment are one of the producers of Mehra’s “Baar Baar Dekho” (Watch Again and Again), a romantic tale involving time travel and has Sidharth Malhotra and Katrina Kaif in lead roles. The film releases in theatres on Friday.
In the middle of a hectic promotion schedule and hours before the first cast and crew screening of her film, Mehra spoke to Reuters about her influences and what a “high-concept” love story means.
Q: Karan Johar, one of the producers of your film, said it is a high-concept love story. What does that mean?
A: I think it’s a high-fiction film. The beauty of this kind of art form is that you don’t have a barrier in terms of the kind of narration one has to follow.
Actually it’s a very simple sweet story about - honestly in Karan’s words - loving your family, about cherishing your relationship. But we have packaged it in a little bit of an extraordinary narrative and in an extraordinary world. And that is where the high concept comes in. The definition probably is that we are not following a very linear story-telling type of narrative. But at its heart, the kind of love story it talks about is very simple and sweet and it’s packaged in a very fantastical, extraordinary world.
Q: You said you are not limited by the narrative style, but does the audience limit you?
A: Well, I don’t think so. I think we are constantly underestimating our audience. Even they are looking for fresh ideas, fresh films. Honestly, if we believe - my producers, me, our actors, if we come together and believe in the product, we can only hope that it finds a place in people’s heart.
The audience today is looking for something different. I am a new film-maker and I would like to do something that is little out there, the first of its kind. I know that there is a huge risk involved. But then there is a risk involved in making all films. And if I am not going take those steps, then I’m just following the herd. David Lynch once said that when it comes to creativity you have to sometimes just put the outcome aside and just enjoy the doing. And in this case, we have really enjoyed the doing.
Q: Did you also shoot differently? Was it shot in a linear format?
A: The film is shot by Ravi K Chandran, who according to me is a maestro and we have shot it so classically. All films get shot in terms of what is convenient and cost-productive, so it was not a linear format. Everyone is thinking that we are making some high-concept film and we would have really done something out there. In fact we have gone back to our roots and shot it very classically.
Q: But you are still selling this concept to a market used to more conventional audience. How do you marry the two? What do you think is outdated in the Indian love story that we need to do away with?
A: I have grown up on a nice dose of Indian love stories. I did not go out there thinking, “Oh I need to break away from the mould”. That’s what my upbringing has been and I am very inspired by world cinema. I don’t think there is anything wrong in clichés. Clichés exist because they connect with people. So I actually enjoy the clichés. Certain things like love and family, these are all universal and they are not going to be dated with time.
The script is your Bible, you lift everything from there and then you obviously bring your aesthetic in, and once you see the film you can think whether you like my aesthetic.
Q: You have assisted so many filmmakers - from Mira Nair to Farhan Akhtar. So what is your aesthetic? What are your influences?
A: I think my big influence in life is my background. I was born in Amritsar. I am a Punjabi. I think my family is a big influencer in my life. My mother used to be and has been a big influencer in my life. She used to make traditional clothes as a designer and that’s a huge influence in my life. I think one of the other huge influencer in my life has been my country - the vibrancy of colours, food, different kind of languages… I am Indian and I am Punjabi so there are going to be Punjabi songs.
I think in terms of films, the names you have mentioned - that was my film school. I didn’t go to actual film school. I was so far away from the film industry that I needed to spend a solid number of years assisting someone and that is what I did.
Q: It’s the night before your film’s release. What are you thinking now?
A: I think I am telling myself that I am very calm. I think I am a bundle of nerves. But every now and then, I have a voice that tells me all of us have put our best effort. And I think that is more than what you can ever ask for.
(Editing by David Lalmalsawma. Follow Shilpa on Twitter at @shilpajay and David @davidlms25)