Dil Bechara director Mukesh Chhabra: Sushant encouraged me to make my first film
The filmmaker pays tribute to his late friend as he talks about Dil Bechara, the Indian adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, which premiered on Disney+ Hotstar last week
On June 14, soon after the news of Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide broke, Dil Bechara director Mukesh Chhabra was flooded with calls. In a firmly-worded tweet, he urged the media to let him be, adding that the loss had left him numb and distraught. “Mind is a tyrant,” he tweeted a day later.
It’s been over a month since Sushant’s passing. In the interim, Mukesh returned to promote his debut directorial, which premiered on Disney+ Hotstar on July 24. An adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, Dil Bechara marks Sushant’s final release, a bittersweet tale of love and loss tinged by the actor’s untimely demise at 34.
In this interview, Mukesh speaks about preserving Sushant’s legacy, his memories of working with him over the years, the Dil Bechara soundtrack composed by AR Rahman and the need to prioritise mental health in turbulent times.
Excerpts from the interview:
Sushant’s suicide has left everyone shaken. What is your state of mind right now?
I’m doing okay. Things are still sinking in. It’s been a two-year-long journey with the film and I don’t know which side to lean on. He was like my brother and always supported and helped me. We’ve always been there for each other. Dil Bechara was a dream that we envisioned together.
How did this project start?
I’d known Sushant since Kai Po Che! He was always aware I wanted to direct my own film. In 2017, he encouraged me to make the jump and promised to work with me. I got the script of Dil Bechara from Rucha Pathak at Fox Star Studios. When I told Sushant this is the film I wanted to make, he immediately said ‘yes’ without even reading it.
I was the casting director on his first film and ended up directing him on his last one. When I see the film now, its meaning for me has completely changed. With every film, he always gave a beautiful message. With Dil Bechara, too, he’d want people to enjoy every moment of life.
The film’s album has been widely appreciated, including the title track video featuring Sushant.
As a first-time filmmaker, I was extremely lucky to have Rahman sir on board. I went to Chennai and narrated the story to him. For the title track, I wanted a simple song in the college campus setting that people could hum. Like magic, he went to his room and created the tune. And then Amitabh (Bhattacharya) wrote the lyrics.
When it came to shoot, Sushant always wanted a single-shot song. He’d seen Gallan Goodiyaan from Dil Dhadakne Do (2015) and wanted to do something similar. Finally, (choreographer) Farah (Khan) designed the song and didn’t charge any money for the film. We prepped for two days and Sushant nailed it in one take.
What is your fondest memory of the actor?
I will deeply miss his charm. He was an intelligent, supportive, fun-loving person. He’d always be smiling and indulging you in a conversation. We shot the film in Jamshedpur and Paris. During breaks, we used to go around town and ride bikes. We never realised when we completed the film, it was such a fun journey throughout.
There’s been a lot of debate and name-calling after his suicide. What’s your perspective on all this?
Honestly, I have stayed away from social media all this while. I don’t want to think about it right now. My responsibility right now is to complete the film and make it reach his fans. Having said that, I feel discussions on mental health are important. Not just actors, but everyone should take care of their mental well-being. Even in my workshops, I tell people to learn to control their mind. In today’s world, almost everyone is going through some kind of mental-illness. It’s imperative that we prioritise mental health in all aspects of life.
The film also stars Sanjana Sanghi as the female lead. How did you choose her?
I’ve known Sanjana since she was 13. I’d seen her in a few ads and later in Rockstar (2014). I wanted Kizie to be a fresh face and felt she was correct for the film. It was important the audience felt an instant connection with her character. Sanjana is an amazing actor. She has done a wonderful job in a difficult part.