MUMBAI — We have had some classy suspense thrillers in Hindi cinema, and a few names that have sparkled in this field. We think of B.R. Chopra, Raj Khosla, Ravi Tandon, and in recent times, Abbas-Mustan, Sujoy Ghosh and Sriram Raghavan in particular.
Set to join these legendary names is the talented Naman Nitin Mukesh, who has just released a superb (India-West has watched it) suspense drama in “Bypass Road,” his debut directorial, after learning the ropes under Abbas-Mustan themselves, and Bejoy Nambiar.
And when genes and training combine lethally, you cannot go wrong: Naman’s father Nitin Mukesh, a top singer in his time, was actually assistant to Hrishikesh Mukherjee, before venturing into his father, the late legendary singer Mukesh’s domain. And elder brother Neil, who has been in the field for 12 years, has worked with the cream of directors in Hindi and down South and most of his 25-plus releases have also been thrillers.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: A twisted question as you have made this thriller — did you deliberately assist directors who specialized in that field?
A: Long before that, it was dad who sat me down and made me watch the films of Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt among others. When I started assisting Abbas-Mustan and Bejoy, my brother was already in the industry and I would also go on sets to learn, and most of his films happened to be thrillers. So in my education, I have covered the entire spectrum.
Q: What are your core beliefs as director now?
A: In this case, if we manage to surprise ourselves, then we can surprise the audience. If a viewer comes to guess the suspense before time, then you have not done justice, and so we did nothing half-heartedly. Regardless of genre, it’s all about the connect. A good director puts you in the protagonist’s shoes and conveys his own (the director) vision into your head and makes you feel what your character is feeling. Not everybody can do that.
Q: Since 2017, there has almost been a paradigm shift in films that are working.
What has changed?
A: I think that the filmmakers’ thought processes have changed. We now have new technology, equipment, good budgets, the power to create extensively, and all that gives you that much of a free hand. The audience is open-minded and they just want us to give you that connect.
Q: So are you happy that your film is coming in this era?
A: Of course. Today is so enabling. Now at the end of the day you cannot hope to please all, but the acceptance of a wide kind of cinema gives us confidence.
Q: And yet, there is something lacking in today’s films overall, despite the variety and excellence.
A: I will tell you why that is so — We are taking emotions for granted. That’s a private thought. For example, in a Hollywood film like “Rush” you see a series of murders but there is no question about who, why and where from their audience. But Indians have a different level of expectations, they want those answers, that involvement — that is the connect that they love.
Q: There was this buzz that Neil could have been replaced.
A (Laughs): When my brother thought I was ready to jump into the deep end of the waters and learn to swim, he also told me, “Don’t ever feel obligated to me. A big star might help you more than I can because your first chance will never come again.”
But my casting him was not emotional. You have to be true to what you are doing, and I think there is nobody better than him to do this kind of role. He has played the gamut of roles and I don’t see another actor who could have done that much justice to his character, which he himself has written.
Q: What were the gains for you from his expertise?
A: He said, “Naman, use my education in cinema. Use my intellect.” He was there to support me, to gather me and put me back on track. We made use of use other’s plus points. When he was writing the film, we would be jamming on a couple of scenes, and when we look back, it started off as something, and as it grew, it evolved into a very different film.
Q: Was the casting done mutually?
A (Nods): Of course, but I was allowed the final call. If you see, everyone is a noteworthy actor, perfect for the role, not at all someone who adds to the commercial value of the film. There was no compromise as we wanted to push the envelope of creating.
Q: Last but not the least, you could have gone in for a single music director who would have been involved with the film emotionally, as so many Hindi classics have had great music. And both of you come from a musical lineage.
A: I think a bouquet is better than a single flower! We have a very good amalgamation. And it is the background music that brings in the emotion. How many theme scores do we remember down the years after that wonderful piece in “Karz?” Hear our theme and see how Daniel B. George, who has done the score, is not just a maestro but a magician!