Mohit Suri is cool, calm and soft-spoken as always — clearly that undercurrent of intensity so patently visible in his eyes is reserved mainly for his films.
His latest film Crook is about racial discrimination in Australia and has been inspired by the recent spurt of such attacks Down Under. But Mohit is very clear about two aspects: one, he is not targeting Aussies or any other country and is also not offering any solution. “When Gandhiji or Nelson Mandela could not completely erase apartheid, how can we? Yes, I have put the spotlight on the problem and made it identifiable, just the way I had dealt with narcotics in Kalyug. I have also shown that racial dogmas and prejudices are built into many of us, and it is highly prevalent in India too. It is all about individual human mindsets.”
Interestingly, the inspiration to make this subject also came from the thought that someone who battles the oppressor often becomes an oppressor in his own way too. Says Mohit, “I had already decided on the subject and was in Australia where 20 incidents had happened over 30 days. But a storyline was not formed. I was standing outside a 24-hour store in Melbourne where one of the most brutal attacks had taken place. I felt outraged, but as I left the store, my eyes fell on the advertisement on the window that went ‘Accomodation available for Indian students - for Gujarati boys only!’ That’s when I realised that my story had to have the dimension of racial prejudices being more about human beings than about specific nations.”
Ironically for someone who did not brand an entire country or race, the film’s unit did face problems during their schedule. “Permissions were not given in several places and even our online Australian producer had his doubts. One day, we were stopped from entering a club by an Indian bouncer who allowed other foreigners in! Then there was the incident where Emraan Hashmi asked an Aussie to click a picture of all of us at a beach. He agreed, and then tossed the camera far into the air and walked away!”
One curious query: If the issue was racism, why did his hero have to be a crook? “I think that a paragon of virtue going through what my hero does would not have made for impact or identification,” stresses the director. “My hero is gray and the film is the story of his transformation as a human being thanks to his experiences, for he is in Australia because he is on the run from the law in India.”
Issues as bases for films are not new to Mohit and his films. If Zeher explored the drug racket as a base for a crime thriller, Awarapan dealt with the psyche of a criminal and Woh Lamhe… narrated the story of a film star who turns neurotic. Kalyug as well as Raaz – The Mystery Continues also had something to talk about — Kalyug explored the flesh trade and Raaz’s sequel, easily Suri’s most ingenious script to date, had a denouement based around the vital issue of multinationals exploiting developing countries like India.
And in most such cases, Suri’s protagonists have rarely been paragons. Suri smiles when I mention that he does have a yen for the darker and gray shades, but he lets you know that Crook is the least dark of all his films to date.
Musically too, Mohit has stepped out of his past norms and for the first time, he has a single composer working on his film. Admits Mohit, “I have proper lip-sync songs too except one. As for the news and pictures of Emraan turning into a vampire, they were actually taken while we were shooting at a costume store for a situational song,” reveals the director. “I needed a musical mix of British, hip-hop and Punjabi music and Pritam was the ideal choice. In fact, Chhalla, the lead track is inspired by a Punjabi song that is sung with local lyrics in Melbourne.”
What does he think of his track-record? “I still don’t know how a film should be made!” he answers. “I never know exactly what I am going to shoot even today, and it’s like my career’s first shot every day,” says the director. “At the same time, there are no butterflies in my stomach when I go on the sets or when my film is ready for release. All I feel is excitement but I am never anxious.”
So will he ever make a film outside the Vishesh Films banner? “I am planning to,” he says. “But when you go outside your own home, you have to ensure that you have the same freedom in every sense, and that your content is allowed to be strong.”