BOI: How did the journey of Mirzya begin for both of you?
Harshvadhan Kapoor (HK): I met (Rakeysh Omprakash) Mehra in 2008, on the set of Delhi 6, and he immediately noticed the way I looked and thought my face could fit into the world of Mirza Sahiban. He noticed my eyes. He is a very instinctive person and it felt like he wanted to make me act.
But I was very young and still in college. I came back in 2011, in the summer break. That’s the first time he offered me the film. But I told him, ‘I don’t think I am ready.’ I am the kind of person who needs to feel it within. I spent more than a year doing various things, including acting workshops, and I did a small stint with Anurag Kashyap in Bombay Velvet. After that, I reached out to Mehra and told him I was finally ready.
Saiyami Kher (SK): For me, it was very different. I went through the rigmarole of auditioning. This took six to seven months. I did around 10 to 12 screen tests for sir. After that, he said it was between me and another girl. He said he had not completely written the character and wanted both of us to be trained in Delhi, where we would both learn horse riding. Those were life-changing three months. When I came back, sir auditioned us a few more times and that’s how I landed the part.
BOI: The launch film of an actor’s son is usually a show reel that includes song, dance… everything. But this doesn’t seem like a typical launch film.
SK: There are, but not the clichéd ones.
HK: There are action scenes, and if you don’t train for a year-and-a-half, you won’t be able to do them. If you put it in perspective, really, I am at the Box Office India office, so talking about numbers… newcomers’ films generally don’t get openings. Traditionally, they are word-of-mouth films. Speaking of word-of-mouth films, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag had day one collections of `8 crore and lifetime collections of `108 crore. No one thought this would happen.
The complexities and emotional sacrifices in the film are things you have to be sensitive to and requires application of mind. For me, I approach it as an actor and this is the kind of a film I want to do. So, it is very difficult to go on the sets excited about the potential of what might happen on Friday. You can’t. You have to only think about what you can achieve every day.
BOI: What was it about the film and the characters that hooked you?
HK: Basically, the way Gulzar saab has written the script transports us into two different worlds simultaneously. I could play a period character and a contemporary character, and after reading 10 pages, I was sure it suited my personality. It’s a very visual-musical kind of film and that’s the kind of film
I love watching. I am a big fan of David Lean and Terrence Malick, basically visual filmmakers.
In terms of Mirzya, I worked for it whereas Aadil is a boy on his way to becoming a man. It was a challenge to play both these character at 23 years of age. Also, Gulzar saab had written a script after 17 years and Mehra is my favourite director in India. So it was a dream.
SK: I didn’t go beyond the first page of the script. It had Gulzar saab’s name and Rakeysh Omprakash’s name. Which aspiring actor would turn a page after that? When sir narrated the script and the two characters to me I realised there were very few debutantes, who would get the opportunity to play characters like this.
The two characters I play in the film are Sahiban and Suchitra. Sir said we would approach it as if they were two separate films. He said the reason he wanted to make the Mirza Sahiban was to find out Sahiban ne teer kyun tode. Why did she do that and why did she sacrifice her love?
As far as the contemporary character Suchi is concerned, he narrated a poem Gulzar saab had written… ‘Ek nadi thi do kinari dono thaam ke baithi thi ek nadi thi.’ He said, ‘You are the nadi (river) and you have two banks and the conflict.’ There was so much to do in the first film that it was a dream.
BOI: Of both the characters you play, which one was more emotionally demanding and which one was physically challenging?
HK: The character Aadil was emotionally demanding and Miryza was physically demanding.
SK: Similarly for me, except for physically, Sir wanted me too to be a little different in both the looks. But the content of Suchi’s character is actually very difficult to play. She is a complex character.
BOI: The campaign began pretty early and now three songs have released with visuals. What are you hearing from family, friends, strangers?
HK: Let’s talk about the biggest-ever newcomer film. I believe Student Of The Year took a pretty big start. And there have been songs like ‘Radha’ and ‘Ishq wala love’ and they were commercial songs. I don’t think our songs are going to be everywhere instantly but I promise you that they will not leave your playlist for a very long time. And that’s the beauty of Mehra, Gulzar and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. It’s longevity.
That’s why, as actors, we work, we want people to talk about our film 10 years later. I still talk about Parinda, I don’t talk about Beta. Parinda is still showing on television and it holds your attention even if it didn’t set the box office on fire at the time. But look at the recall value.
Mirzya is in the latter category, and I want to do more films like that. But, you know, films can surprise you, the way Barfi did. At the end of the day, you have to do what suits you. You have to believe in your strengths and that’s what one should do initially. Later, when you have established yourself and you are comfortable, maybe you can attempt things outside your comfort zone. I am yet to get there.
SK: Thanks to Harsh’s lineage, the industry has come out in support but they have gone a few steps further because of the content, which I think has appealed to a lot of people. The response to the trailer was great but now that the music is out, it’s really nice to hear people talk about the songs. Friends from school and college, who were not in touch with me, have been messaging about the music, saying it’s the kind of music you play on loop. And since both of us have been with the music for almost three years, I can guarantee you that like ‘Rang De Basanti’, you will still listen to it.
HK: There are 15 tracks in the album.
SK: Yes, and there’s a variety of songs. Like ‘Chakora’ is a kind of EDM song, while the title track is more traditional. Then there is Rajasthani folk, so it’s a mix of a lot of things.
HK: The songs have been received very positively whereas the trailer received a mixed response, not because of the visual landscape or the actors or the music. In our trailers, we are used to telling people the entire story. But with this kind of film, you can’t do that and you will understand why only after you have watched the movie.
The second trailer, which will be out soon, will reveal more and we want to save something for the film. I think that with films like Rustom or Sultan, because you have seen those actors so many times before and the stories are told in a relatively simple manner, it’s okay to put it all out there. The rise of the hero, the fall of the hero… this is not one of those films. You have to be a little patient. There is an element of surprise.
BOI: The film looks very intense and your characters look equally intense. Was it difficult to get out of your characters once the shoot was over?
HK: I had no choice but to snap out of it because of Bhavesh Joshi. I started Bhavesh Joshi as soon as I came back from Ladakh. This was August 2015. And a month before, probably on September 4 or 5, I realised I had a film coming out in a month and I had to start promoting it. That’s how I snapped back into this world.
SK: Rakeysh sir and I keep joking that Harsh ne humko chhod diya hai, he has moved on to another film. But I am a very nostalgic person. So we finished shooting, I guess, 14 months ago.
Now we are 20 days from the release, and we have been with this film for about three years. I just don’t want it to end. I am still in that space. The bond we developed with Rakeysh sir will stay with me forever.
BOI: Would you agree that it’s a much better time to be an actor than when your father was an actor?
HK: Ten thousand times! At that time, people were doing multiple films, almost three to four films at a time, and didn’t have the time for preparation. Also, things were not organised. I don’t think I would have survived; those guys are incredible, yaar. And they deserve the fan following they have.
Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan have a fan following from 15 years ago and it’s kept increasing with their recent work. The kind of box-office collections they get is due to that. I don’t think any of us can ever expect consistent Fridays. For us, it’s about going from film to film and more about content. Every Friday will define us and it’s about our choices. I don’t think we can rely on anything else. So it’s a much better time to be an actor.
BOI: Are you tracking your films?
SK: Yes, he knows everything. He has been giving me tuitions for last two years.
HK: The thing is, I am so artistically inclined in terms of my choices that I am even more aware of numbers because I don’t want to get delusional and lost. I am therefore very aware of how much my films cost, how much we need to do, how much can the break even point be. I don’t want anyone to lose any money and I am an industry kid.
BOI: Harsh, given that you are so familiar with budgeting, do you look at the recovery of the films you choose?
HK: First, the idea is to like the director and the script because filmmaking is a director’s medium. You are brought into the vision of the director and then obviously you look at recovery. So the two films I am doing are very content-based and I think they have got a decent chance. My guesses are as good as anybody else’s.
BOI: You sound very well prepared on collections and how films work. Is it because you hail from a film family or are you interested in these things because it is your career?
HK: It is family business but I am inherently interested as well. I am very inclined towards business. For example, Mirzya is positive in terms of the trade. It gives you an opportunity to green-light other films and as an actor, it gives you leverage to push the envelope. I think it is important to not get carried away.
My second film Bhavesh Joshi is very reasonably crafted in terms of cost. According to me, we are shooting that film at a cost that is 30 per cent less than it requires. When you do that, you suffer as an actor on the sets because sometimes you do three scenes in a day because you are trying to cut down on the number of days to save costs.
You are trying to shoot certain things for less money so you can pump in more money for your action and still end up with that budget. It is a very Indian story but it is a very urban film. So, yes, I am very aware of these things.
BOI: Saiyami, what are your expectations?
SK: First, I am very excited because we are going to do a screening at the British Film Festival on October 6. For both of us to walk the red carpet at such a prestigious festival is very exciting.
Second, I haven’t watched the film and will be watching it for the first time there. So I am excited to see how the film has shaped up and how the audience reacts to it. I am really excited as its Gulzar saab’s comeback to screenplay after so long. So hoping to see lots more of Gulzar saab.
HK: I would also like to say that it is a highly experimental film but at the end of the day my whole idea as an actor is to tell Indian stories.
The Mirza Sahiban is as Indian a story as it can potentially get. It’s a folklore that has been around for so long, it’s rooted in Punjab and Bhavesh Joshi is also such an Indian story.
Anybody will feel the conflicts of the story in that film because we all go through it on a daily basis. So the whole idea is to tell stories in a way that the audience has not experienced because you have to give them something new, you have to respect their intelligence.
You have to grow together and form a bond and I think this is the first step towards that, so be prepared for something different. Don’t come with any preconceived notions and just give us a fair chance. Don’t expect it to be like films by other newcomer.
That’s all. I think they will be happy with some elements of the film and hopefully then the whole film will come together.