Honey Trehan: Raat Akeli Hai & The Twinkling Starsby Aparajita Krishna November 9 2020, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 32 mins, 19 secs
The stellar cast, fantastic atmospheric visuals, haunting background score, directorial grip on the noir narrative of the film Raat Akeli Hai, have come in for praise, writes Aparajita Krishna
Directed by Honey Trehan, the film that streamed in the Coronavirus times got not just captive eye-balls but a lot of twinkling stars in its critical appraisal and very good media evaluations.
On 27th Oct 2020 when I WhatsApp’d the debutant director that I wanted to do a feature on him, he was most receptive, but good boy Honey also added, “Wow! That sounds special. Sure we can do this. Thanks so much for your gesture though I feel under qualified for this.” So, let us get onto his qualifications. It would most prominently feature names such as Barry John, Ajay Kartik, Vishal Bhardwaj, Gulzar Saab, Meghna Gulzar, Abhishek Chaube and Majid Majidi - Makdee, Maqbool, The Blue Umbrella, Omkara, Kaminey, 7 Khoon Maaf, Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, Dedh Ishqiya, Talvar, Udta Punjab and Beyond the Clouds. It’s a very fine roll call of films that Honey Trehan has been associated with.
This interview article carries informed, noble and aesthetic talk from the subject. And a gallery of photographs that tell of the work and moments of a very promising career.
Vishal Bhardwaj who was in a way mentored by Gulzar Saheb creatively mentored you in films. In work-lineage would one be a creative father and the other a creative grandfather?
Vishal Sir has been my mentor in this industry. He is definitely the one who has nurtured me. Vishal Sir was a young, passionate, first-time filmmaker when I started working with him. I was fortunate to have him as a mentor later. He always had a very unique way of looking at things. His command over language and his ability to express through his dialogues is really special. Vishal Sir considered Gulzar Saheb as his mentor because he must have learnt or been guided by Gulzar Saheb wisely in his life. We definitely look at Vishal Sir with the same respect as we get a similar kind of love and guidance from him. It is not just about filmmaking and literature or poetry, but also about life. Having associations with such masters makes you richer in spirit I believe. I have just been blessed.
Raat Akeli Hai has been plugged in publicity as ‘a taut and gripping murder mystery, a suspense, an unusual premise, enthralling’. The film in fact carries inter-personal, familial, gender-dynamic and social conflict notes. Women emerge in and out of the shadows. It was premiered/digitally streamed amidst the COVID-19 times on Netflix on July 31, 2020. Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte in the lead are strongly supported by a very fine ensemble cast. Did the absence of a theatrical release kind of sadden you? What was the reaction to the film?
I was very fortunate that Smita Singh’s script came into my life. She wrote Raat Akeli Hai as her FTII graduation film. I loved it at a very early stage itself and got Smita on board. She’s a great writer and a fabulous person to work with. It was a privilege to direct such a Noir film and that too as my first film as a director. Yes, the film was always meant for a theatrical release and it’s unfortunate that it couldn’t happen because of the pandemic. There is of course a desire to show your film to people on the biggest screen possible and there is a romanticized notion of having your film release in theatres. But I’m very glad that I could release it on Netflix. The most important thing is that people should watch the film. Releasing it on Netflix meant a worldwide release. Over hundred and fifty countries had access to the film as soon as it released. It is something that rarely happens in theatrical releases. The great thing about digital platforms is that they are helping us reach far and wide with our films. The more people watch it, the better at least for a first time director. So while the lack of a theatrical release is unfortunate, I’m very happy about the Netflix release. And fortunately, the film has been received really well. I cannot thank Ronnie Screwvala enough for making this happen.
Mira Nair on Twitter, ‘Loved #RaatAkeliHai. Mubarakaan@HoneyTrehan for such an assured debut. Your talent for cast has upped the game in so many films; now it’s your own turn, mesmerizing work by @Nawazuddin_S @ilaarun21 @radhika_apte @khalidtyabji.
Vishal Bhardwaj on Instagram, ‘Kal raat, #RaatAkeliHai dekhi, loved it! So beautifully directed, proud of @honeytrehan - Technically excels in all departments. #SmitaSingh (bravo!), @sreekar.prasad, @snekhanwalkar/ @karan.kulkarni/@KJSingh, @swanandkirkire and #PankajKumar is a magician. Congratulations to all actors for their brilliant performances’.
Pritish Nandy on Twitter ‘Loved #RaatAkeliHai: a well-written, sharply directed thriller after a long time. Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte are excellent and Honey Trehan should take a bow. Who said Ronnie Screwvala has quit the entertainment business?’
Sukanya Verma (Rediff.com) ‘It’s like Agatha Christie walked into Roman Polanski’s Chinatown conversing in Vishal Bhardwaj with a smattering of Brian De Palma for razzle-dazzle - the upshot is mesmeric’.
Young 42 year old Honey Trehan’s career trajectory is very creative. It was nurtured with influences of theatre, plays, acting, as assistant on reputed films. All this went into his making as a film maker and a very credible casting- director. The future is young. So, while further addressing the present and the future-forward let us look back on his early life, family and the formative years. It is very rooted.
Honey informs, “I was born in Sagar (Madhya Pradesh) and lived there all of 4 days. I practically grew up in Tarn Taran (Punjab) till I was in class 6. After that we moved to Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh). My father was into a small time construction business and my mother was a schoolteacher. I am a Mona Punjabi. I have a younger brother Kapil, who lives in Mumbai and is a complete film buff. He is into a business of providing electronic securities to banks and firms.”
Tell us in brief about some of the memories imprinted in you of your childhood and youth.
Growing up in Tarn Taran (Punjab) in the 1980s was not a very normal childhood. It was a very volatile decade in Punjab (because of militancy) and I remember seeing a lot of things around me that I didn’t understand as a kid. I remember we got a TV in 1984. We used to watch TV shows like Ramayan and Mahabharata on very low volume so nobody outside could hear what we were watching. This was the case with a lot of children my age. We were in Tarn Taran till 1990/1991. Living in Punjab at that time was quite intense.
There is a photograph herein of you as a small boy with long hair tied in a small turban.
I would tie a turban till I left Tarn Taran. My paternal side is Sardars and maternal side Mona. My paternal grandmother who practically brought me up belongs to Guru Ghar. So for a few years I kept long hair on her request. Also the Mona’s in our side of Punjab were in constant threat during that period of time. I had to understand and honor her feelings.
Where did you do your schooling and college? Also what was the seeding to your affinity towards the creative?
Till class 6 I studied in Tarn Taran at Arya Model School. Then it was at Allahabad’s Colonel-Gunj-Inter-College that I finished my schooling. It was at Allahabad that I cut my hair. I also started doing theatre in Allahabad with Sachin Tiwari. He was the head of the English department at Allahabad University.
Following that I was also attending theatre rehearsals with my friend Abhishek Pandey. One such theatre workshop kind of changed my life. Vageesh Kumar Singh, an NSD professor, conducted it. I’m not sure what he saw in me but he recommended that I should go to Delhi and get into serious theatre there. He gave me his number and asked me to call him when I am in Delhi. After 4 days I rang him from Delhi. He being a generous soul came all the way from Mayur Vihar to meet me at Sriram Center at Mandi House. He showed me the world of Delhi theatre. Finally, it was he who introduced me to Barry John. It was the best thing that happened to me at that age and time. So, right after my 12th standard I came to Delhi for theatre and I did my graduation from Allahabad University in correspondence as I was actively involved in theatre and was directing plays.
You later enrolled in Barry John’s Acting Studio in Delhi. Here you learnt the valuable lesson from your mentor who told you: “Your mind works more in the direction of putting things together.” True?
Absolutely. I started working with Barry John in his acting school in Noida. We would have these one-hour workshops where at the end we would perform a little play. In my group of 7 people I would always end up writing the play first and then direct my batch-mates. I would never end up acting in it because I would direct it instead. That was coming to me naturally. I think in the beginning this would irritate Barry a bit because it was an acting school after all. At some point Barry thought that I’ve got more of a director in me than an actor. After the acting course was done I had all the time at hand and nothing to do. I felt I was missing a right guidance. After a few days I gathered all my questions and went to meet Barry. Barry wouldn’t just answer questions; he would instead ask me questions in return, till eventually I’d arrive at my own answers. I think that’s what great teachers do. They don’t make things easier for you. They teach you how to deal with adversities on your own. That was the meeting that I believe got me into direction. I started spending all my time at the National School of Drama (NSD) library. It was courtesy Piyush Mishra aka Piyush Bhai. Eventually I started my own theatre group Aarambh, and directed my first play at Sriram Centre. It was a musical called Kafan. I remember I paid Rs 750 and got only one invitation printed. And that was for Barry. As it turned out, his play was being performed on a different stage at the exact same time my play was being performed. So he couldn’t make it.
Do recall the first film you watched. One learns that Shekhar Kapur’s Phoolan Devi biopic Bandit Queen, starring Seema Biswas and Nirmal Pandey that released in 1994 had a lasting effect on you. You were then very young.
The first film I watched in the theatre was Amitabh Bachchan’s Hum in Allahabad’s Vishwamitra Talkies. When I watched Bandit Queen, I was blown away. It felt too real. It didn’t feel like a movie. The actors were mostly unknown at that time so you didn’t recognize anyone either. In terms of direction and writing I learnt that a film could be this real as well. All the performances were just fantastic and haunting. I was really moved by Bandit Queen.
The other film that left a deep impression on you was Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya (1998). The acclaimed gangster drama catapulted to fame a host of theatre actors who were then unknown to the cine-audience: Manoj Bajpayee, Saurabh Shukla and Shefali Shah. What was the effect of the film on you?
The realism I was introduced to by Bandit Queen was followed by another film I vividly remember watching - Drohkaal (1994) - by Govind Nihalani, starring Om Puri and Ashish Vidyarthi. By the time Satya came out I had already developed an interest in films and theatre, so I was able to appreciate how good Satya was. I remember I had done badly in the exams and I was extremely upset. I didn’t want to meet anyone. So I just decided to go to a theatre, buy a ticket for whichever film was running and just brood by myself. Satya was going on. I knew nothing about it and I bought a ticket for the 12pm-3pm show and sat inside, not knowing what I was in for. And then as I watched it, I was blown away! So blown that right after the show I bought another ticket for the 3 pm to 6 pm show and watched it again immediately. Satya is the only film I’ve ever watched in the theatre back to back. It had a big impact on me.
In 1998 you directed your first play Kafan. More stage productions followed, including a few with Piyush Mishra (NSD graduate actor, singer, music director, scriptwriter). Do mention some plays you were associated with.
I directed Kafan in 1999 at Sriram Centre, Delhi. The great Robin Das (actor-professor) was the first audience of Kafan. Piyush Mishra had also watched Kafan. After that we together did the play, Life and Times of Galileo. It was Piyush Mishra’s comeback into theatre after a 6-7 years gap. We performed at IIT Delhi. The play was extremely well received. After the play Piyush Bhai was kind enough to call me on stage and share his applause. IIT Delhi had given us Rs.25000 for performing. Out of this around 21000 was distributed to actors and technicians who worked in the play. I took the remaining 4000 and came to Bombay.
In 2002 you moved to Bombay/Mumbai. Now for years you have been a Mumbaikar. What had then prompted you? Working for films?
I came to Bombay with the intention of staying for a few weeks only. Mintoo Bakshi, a friend of mine from Delhi, had given me his house key to go stay in his Bombay flat. He was for a month going to stay put at Delhi. My train, August Kranti, reached Mumbai Central station and I got down to touch base with this city. I had no idea whether to turn left or right. I somehow reached my friend’s flat at Dindoshi Goregaon. My instinctive reaction was one of disbelief. Is this the nazara of the mega city Bombay where live all the actors/directors/producers? Slums surrounded me and at that time this was the only building amidst it all. In my shock I did not step out of the house for two days. I had come to the city along with my theatre mate Sandeep Chatterji. One evening we went to Juhu beach and for the first time saw the sea and its expanse. Now we finally believed that yes, we are indeed in Bombay. We then hired an auto to drive us down to the houses of all the important actors. The auto parked at Pratiksha, Mr Amitabh Bachchan’s house. I went up to the watchman to confirm the address, lest the auto driver was lying and really taking us for a ride. Those days we really had no work on hand. One night in boredom, we switched on the television and watched an episode of serial Tejaswini. It was a big prime time show and had great actors and good performances. We watched the whole episode. At the end the credit title revealed that the serial was written-produced-directed by Ajay Kartik. I was surprised and wondered, ‘Wah! The person is the producer, director and writer?’ I then grabbed the copy of Film India that was kept right on top of the TV. It was its own kind of a Holy Book to be found in every struggler’s home. I actually found the book staring at me. I located Ajay Kartik’s number in it. In the morning I called up the number. Ajay Kartik had picked up the phone. I ascertained if it was he and he said, ‘Yes speaking. Who is it?’ I hurriedly disconnected. A producer, director was himself on-line? He is the same one directing Renuka Shahane, Sudhir Pande. Wow! I was in a state of wonder. Then I mustered up the courage and dialed the number one more time. Ajay Kartik again picked up the phone. I managed to introduce myself in deplorable English. Not that my English is word-perfect even now but at that time it was a language from another planet. Ajay Kartik sensed my plight and asked me to speak in Hindi. So, now in Hindi I introduced myself and communicated my background in theatre and mentioned Barry John, Piyush Mishra, Robin Das and Ankurji. I also spoke about my plays like Kafan, Galileo etc. Now I was speaking with confidence. I also believed that this Bollywood producer would not know much about theatre. Actually I was ignorant about the credentials of Ajay Kartik. I still get embarrassed at my ignorance. Imagine here was the writer of such iconic shows like Ye Jo Hai Zindagi, Wagle Ki Duniya, Faasle and of the children’s film Karamati Coat which had won the award at the Locarno Film Festival. And he was a theatre veteran with a gold medal from the NSD! He heard me out, appreciated my background and remarked that my Hindi was good. ‘So, why were you talking to me in English when you were not confident of that language? Apna hathiyar chodd kar dosre ke hathiyaar se ladoge toh jeetoge kaise?’ (If you let go of your own weapon and take up someone else’s to fight, how will you win?). This was the first lesson I learnt here. What a beautiful advice he gave!
He agreed to meet me and invited me over. But the story does not end here. I reached his Geetanjali building. His chief assistant director, Sanjay Verma, opened the door. I introduced myself in Hindi. I was then guided to his room. There were two people in there. I said ‘Namaste’. They started to interview me. I informed about my theater at Allahabad with Sachin Tiwari. They knew of him. Finally after half an hour of interview I was told to report on the set from the next day. They added, ‘For 2-3 days let us work, mutually to check how things work and then take a call.’
I got the shooting location address and left. But who among the two was Ajay Kartik? I did not know. Anyway, I would soon learn that the other person was Amitabh Srivastava (Bobby Bhai). We would later in life get to work closely on many films. The next day I reached the sets at Dhan Krishna Bungalow, Madh Island. After two days I had a job, a salary and everyday a lift in Ajayji’s car till Uncle’s Kitchen at Malad. Ajayji was subsequently happy with my work and in that same room of our first meeting, on the same television set, I got to watch my name figure in the credits as an assistant director for Tejaswini. It was a great experience. He was my first teacher in Bombay who gave me my first job and first learning. And I did not have to return back to Delhi.
Your first film boss was Vishal Bhardwaj on a movie titled Barf, which didn’t get completed. True?
One day Piyush Mishra called me and said that there’s this director friend of his who is looking for an AD and I should go meet him. So I thought why not. As fate would have it, that person turned out to be Vishal Bhardwaj. I met Vishal Sir and Vikram Motwane (who was his associate at the time on Barf). At the end of the meeting, Vishal Sir said, “Okay, we’ll let you know.” Now, when I came to Bombay, I had heard that when someone tells you they’ll let you know, it means they will probably never call you. Later I realized this was happening to most of the actors. So when Vishal Sir said that, I thought that’s that. I’m never going to get a call. So I decided not to cancel my ticket for Delhi yet. But then, a couple of days later our landline rang. It was Vishal Sir. I was making tea at the time. I clearly remember this because he asked me ‘Kya kar rahe ho?’ I said ‘Sir chai bana raha hoon.’ He asked me to finish my tea and come to his office. The first film script I ever read in Bombay was Vishal Bhardwaj’s Barf. Barf eventually never got made. It was one of my favorite scripts of VB’s. I started working as his assistant director on Barf. It got shelved. Our first film together was Makdee (2002). Vishal Sir was happy to know that I had worked with Ajay Kartik. He had seen Karamati Coat at some film festival and had loved it a lot.
Your association with Vishal Bhardwaj as assistant director is very marked and steadfast.
I assisted Vishal Sir in Makdee, Maqbool, Blue Umbrella, Omkara, Kaminey, 7 Khoon Maaf, Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola - I’ve obviously learnt a lot from him. I learnt my filmmaking by watching him make films. How sensitively he directs or communicates with his actors and technicians! He’s a brilliant writer too. He has immense understanding about life, emotions. His silences are so strong. When you need to say what and how to say it cinematically! He is a master of his craft. He creates such a believable world. Having worked closely with him for so long I’ve actually got a better understanding about life. It’s certainly a priceless experience. He is a brilliant writer, producer, director, singer, poet and a great music director. I think I have been blessed with great teachers mentoring me whether its Barry John or VB. And I feel it’s a great responsibility to live up to what I have learnt from them.
You were assistant director on Talvar (2015) directed by Meghana Gulzar - a very feted and appreciated film. Do share your work assessment.
Talvar is a very special film for all of us in many ways. It is definitely one of the masterpieces written by Vishal Bhardwaj and one of the best screenplays in recent times. And Meghna as a director did a fantastic job to bring Vishal Sir’s writing on screen. I was the Creative Producer on Talvar. Talvar is especially memorable for me because it was my first film in the capacity of a Creative Producer and it gave me confidence and helped me to start my journey as a producer.
You also assisted director Abhishek Chaubey.
I was the Second Unit Director on two of Abhishek’s films - Dedh Ishqiya (2014) and Udta Punjab (2016). Abhishek and I had worked together on most of Vishal Sir’s films. When Abhishek turned director, he gave me the opportunity and made me his Second Unit Director. I learnt a lot from him. The first time I got the confidence to say ‘action’ and ‘cut’ was while working on his films.
Your trajectory as a casting director is fascinating and is a whole chapter in your career till now. So I am allotting it one specific segment. In India unlike abroad this concept became professional very late. When you started as a casting director in Mumbai did you see it as a profession? You are quoted saying, “Casting wasn’t on my mind, it just happened to me. It was a way to survive.” Do elaborate.
Casting is something I realized I was good at. I would always think in terms of performances and characters. During those years working as an AD wouldn’t make you enough money to survive - and one had to live in Mumbai somehow. Also ‘casting’ was getting more and more noticed at that time in India. Thanks to Shekhar Kapur, a ‘casting director’ was becoming a thing in India. I had no idea about it at the time. Vishal Sir kind of liked my suggestions on casting and also pushed me into taking on the role of casting director. Abhishek made sure I got the separate credit for that. That gave me confidence and then I kept doing it. Even now I really enjoy doing casting and love to see the written characters come alive first in front of me and then to the rest of the world. Once you get it right it’s a great high.
Was Makdee (2002) your first film as a casting director? Did Shabana Azmi’s bravura casting happen easily? Which casting are you most proud of?
Yes, Makdee was my first. As for which casting I’m most proud of, it’s impossible to pick any one. More than any particular character, it’s about creating the entire world. Off the top of my head, a few that come to mind are Omkara, 7 khoon Maaf, Byomkesh Bakshi, Delhi Belly, Kaminey and Talvar. One of the most challenging films was Majid Majidi’s Beyond the Clouds and Abhishek’s Udta Punjab.
Your entry and growth as a casting director was well timed. Post 2000 a different Hindi cinema was again evolving. New actors from theatre were making their presence felt. Right faces, different faces were finding their place in that cinema.
Besides Shekhar Kapur it was also Ram Gopal Varma, Govind Nihalani and the films made by Shyam Benegal in the past that have always been inspiring to casting directors. These guys came along and started making serious cinema. If I’m not mistaken Tigmanshu Dhulia was the first person in the Hindi film industry to get a ‘casting director’ credit for Bandit Queen and he filled the film with these faces from theatre. That’s how the others realized that there’s this untapped pool of talent. Casting started being considered a serious job within filmmaking. I don’t think we’ve been able to match the genius of the casting in films like Bandit Queen and Satya. I would definitely want to do something like that one day.
Interestingly you are also quoted saying “I’m very bad with faces.” (Scroll.in.). You have a problem remembering what people look like. So how does the perfect casting materialize? You have of course found your own process. Tell us about the process.
Yes, I’m really bad with faces and sometimes I find this funny as well. But in casting it is never about the faces for me. It is mostly about the characteristics or the personality of that written character. I hate doing auditions at times. I prefer meeting my characters first, I like to interact with them, understand them and then do a test if required. If a character has been written in a script that means somewhere he is out there (in life). So at first you are looking for those characteristics in a person, not just the face. Sometimes it has to do with instinct. At other times you just have to read the script enough times and get to know what the script demands and why? That’s the prime reason that I don’t like hearing a narration of the script at first. I prefer reading it. I can use my imagination. I really want the script to reveal its own secrets to me first. After that I sit with the director and learn the director’s vision.
Sometimes a director’s perspective also helps in auditions. For example, for Majid Majidi’s (internationally feted Iranian film maker) Beyond the Clouds, we didn’t audition a single person inside an audition studio. The film was set in the slums and so we auditioned everyone free-style in the slums itself, including Ishaan Khatter, whom we auditioned by following him around the slums all night while he was in character. One of the reasons for this was that Majid Majidi comes from a different culture than us and he was trying to make a film steeped in Indianness. So it helps the credibility of an actor’s performance if we audition in real spaces and real locations. The director gets to see his character surrounded by the world of that character, instead of in a bland studio against a grey background.
As a casting director you have also molded and re-cast established stars away from their image. Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool (2003) is your second credit as casting director after Makdee (2002) and is a very important film in Irrfan Khan’s career. He was earlier seen in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Haasil. One learns that Irrfan wasn’t the first choice for the gangster who kills his boss and takes over his enterprise and his boss’s partner, Nimmi (Tabu). So how did the casting of Irrfan and Tabu strike and materialize?
Vishal Sir started giving me casting director credit along with assistant director practically from the beginning. After Makdee, Maqbool was my second film as a casting/assistant director. Till date it is one of my favorite films. Vishal Sir always had Tabu in his mind for Nimmi and there was never any doubt among us. Once we saw Irrfan in Haasil, Vishal Sir was convinced that he’s found his Maqbool.
There is a line-up of interesting and unusual casting that Honey Trehan helped cast. To name some: Deepak Dobriyal in an important role in Omkara (2006), Shahid Kapoor’s twin roles in Kaminey (2009) with Priyanka Chopra as the girlfriend of one of the twins, Amole Gupte as Bhope, the crooked politician brother of Priyanka Chopra’s character in Kaminey, Gurdas Maan as father-Sirajuddin in Nandita Das’s Manto (2018), Scriptwriter and lyricist Javed Akhtar in Manto as a Pakistani college principal who testifies on Manto’s behalf when the writer is accused of obscenity, Annu Kapoor who played one of Susanna’s many husbands in Bhardwaj’s 7 Khoon Maaf (2011) and singer Usha Uthup as a protective housemaid in the movie. Shahid Kapoor is said to have suggested Alia Bhatt’s name for Udta Punjab (2016).
The casting director informs us, “Trust me when I say that the Directors of these films are the ones who deserve all the applause and I say this with all honesty. In Khol Do (story in film Manto) Sirajuddin’s eyes were the most striking about the character. And I was only looking for those eyes not any actor till Gurdas Maan ji came to my mind. So Nandita Das (director) and I went to Maan Saab’s house for breakfast. We met him and Nandita was immediately convinced that she’s found her Sirajuddin and that too two days before the shoot. That was really too much of a last minute casting, but Nandita stood by me. When Nandita Das took her first shot she sent me his picture saying ‘Only for your eyes’. That was really sweet of her. So there were specific reasons like this for casting each character not only in Manto, in all my films. No casting director can ever make a difference to any film unless they have a visionary director who is investing his/her faith in them. Luckily enough I have got such directors always and I am very thankful to all of them for believing in me. Delhi Belly was my first film as a casting director outside of Vishal Bhardwaj’s films.”
Bollywood still remains a slave to the star system. Most so the huge budgeted mainstream films. It is not so in one’s face in Hollywood. So, do you see things change? Of course now in the corona times a new world order has also taken over our film dynamics.
I don’t think it is a slave to the star system as such. India has an aspirational movie audience and stars symbolize that aspiration. Also, like anything else, films are also a business, which needs returns to sustain itself. I do think it’s changing. It started changing in 2000s with the advent of people like Irrfan Khan, Manoj Bajpayee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and makers like Ram Gopal Verma, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Vishal Bhardwaj and it’s changing now with the advent of digital streaming platforms. Nobody has to pay 1000 bucks to watch a film right now. They don’t feel they need to watch a huge budget spectacle film to get their money’s worth. Also thanks to digital the content is the only thing that matters now. Even a small film releasing on Netflix means it’s being released in over 150 countries, which is the kind of exposure they could never have got if it weren’t for digital. So I definitely think that in terms of visibility and content, digital is a good thing. One can most certainly thank digital for removing the reservation from a filmmaker’s life. But then again, one can’t help but romanticize the cinema hall experience, watching it on the big screen with hundreds of other people.
In 2015 you and Abhishek Chaubey set up production company MacGuffin Pictures. Your productions include Konkana Sen Sharma’s debut A Death in the Gunj (2017) and Chaubey’s Sonchiriya (2019), which was co-produced with Ronnie Screwvala’s company RSVP. Tell us of the experience with both these films.
Abhishek and I go back a long way. We’ve worked together for so long, it made sense for us to turn producer together. It was a natural progression. So we decided to start MacGuffin Pictures and decided to produce Konkona’s A Death In The Gunj as our first film followed by Abhishek’s Sonchiriya with Ronnie Sir. Both the films are really special for us in so many ways.
It is said that you were actually set to make your directorial debut a couple of years ago with Sapna Didi, an adaptation of a chapter from S Hussain Zaidi’s crime book Mafia Queens of Mumbai. The compilation included the story of a small-time gangster’s wife who plots to kill the underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. Vishal Bhardwaj wrote the screen adaptation but the project didn’t take off. You are quoted saying, “We had differing visions for the film – I felt I was directing Vishal’s film and not making my own.” After you exited the production, Vishal Bhardwaj stepped in as director. The cast included Deepika Padukone and Irrfan Khan. But when unfortunately Irrfan was diagnosed with cancer in 2019 Sapna Didi was put on the backburner. Now with his demise there is no indication that the film will ever be resurrected. Do clarify the points.
Yes, I was supposed to make Sapna Didi’s adaptation as my first film. It was a great story and Vishal Sir was kind enough to produce and write it for me. And yes, over time, we both realized that we had two differing visions for the film, which is very natural. And given that Vishal Sir was the producer and the writer of the film, we mutually decided that he should be directing this film. We felt that the most important thing is the film should get made with one vision. It’s very unfortunate that the film has still not been made, but the day it does, it will be a very special one I am sure.
In August 2020 Honey Trehan had shared on his Facebook that he had tested COVID positive and that the BMC and other authorities had been informed. He and his family members are now fully recovered. In his personal life Honey Trehan shares marriage, companionship and creative bonding with Priyanka Setia, a very fine actor.
What lesson did the Coronavirus teach?
This pandemic was a great learning in many ways. One learns about the unpredictability of life. A Corona emerges to remind the human race that nothing is worth achieving if one has not learnt to value what one has. No amount of success, money or fame can be a substitute for a healthy life! In a meaningless race and rush of life we forget the basics. I could now discover a new bonding and relationship with my parents, family and friends. I have learnt lessons and hope to keep up with this learning. I do feel a change in me for good.
Share with us what you want to share about your marriage
I have great faith in marriage. It is bliss when you marry your best friend. Priyanka is one of the purest souls and a most honest person. Her wisdom and approach towards her work and in her day-to-day life is what makes her so special. She is a brilliant writer, an advertising-filmmaker and a marvelous actor. She is my strength, my critic and my support. She has her own voice, her own logical opinions. I am blessed to have her in my life.
With Raat Akeli Hai having got the company of not just the Indian, but the world audience, Honey Trehan can look forward to realizing many of his creative dreams. “Few weeks ago Barry John wrote a mail to me after watching my debut feature Raat Akeli Hai and that mail is really special to me.”