In a freewheeling chat with Priya Adivarekar, Emraan Hashmi talks about his debut production venture, Why Cheat India, and why discipline at shoot, respect for workers and experiments with film genres top his agenda as a producer
Emraan Hashmi is flying high! He kick-started 2019 with his debut venture as a producer, Why Cheat India (released on January 18), a film about the corruption in the Indian education system. He has begun work on his first Netflix original production, Bard of Blood, a series on global terrorism produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s production house. He is also working on Father’s Day, a biopic of Indian detective Suryakant Bhande Patil. Needless to say, we are going to see a lot of the actor this year. Here are the excerpts from an exclusive, candid conversation with the actor-turned-producer about his films and future ventures.
This year seems to be shaping up really well for you…
Things are coming together in 2019. Tigers, a film by Bosnian director Danis Tanovic, which took about 12 years to see the light of day, was finally premiered on a streaming platform on November 21, 2018, and it has received much critical acclaim. Why Cheat India has also been well received. It’s an important film. When Soumik (Soumik Sen, the film’s director) came to me a year ago with the idea, I knew right away that it is one of a kind. We haven’t seen a film that focusses on the education system through this perspective. It’s really difficult to make an interesting film, which also manages to address a serious issue. I am proud we have been able to make such a movie.
Tell us a little bit about Rakesh Singh aka Rocky. This character is unlike anything you have portrayed on screen till now.
In Why Cheat India, I play Rakesh Singh, a conman who runs an entrance examination racket in Lucknow. He has more shades of grey than any other character I have played before. He is a very ‘wolf in sheep clothing’ kind of person. Someone who is okay with praying in the morning and immediately after, cheating people. His ethics are flexible and he is unapologetic. Even so, there are principles he believes in and will stand for, so there is much in him that the audience has appreciated as well. That’s how the image of the anti-hero is changing in Bollywood.
What has been your biggest take away from this film?
Before I started this venture, I wasn’t quite aware about how fractured our education system is. One hears about all the scams but none of them really hit home. Students are forced into a fake sense of discipline where they learn things by rote. They don’t enjoy the process of learning and they can’t voice their opinions. Only when you are out of the system and can get a bird’s-eye view of the situation do you realise how bad it is. Education is an important part of the infrastructure of our country and we need to wake up to its reality. Sadly, we aren’t doing much to improve the situation. You can’t quantify education and many people take advantage of this to create a criminal nexus around the industry. That is what the film is about.
As a parent, what are your thoughts on the competitiveness in the Indian education sector?
The idea of competitiveness is extremely flawed. My son is studying in an IB (International Baccalaureate) school and I like that they don’t promote unnecessary competitiveness. I feel that giving ranks and cramming data is stressful for children. My son’s school gives importance to hobbies and there is very little homework. Education cannot be just about mugging up and examinations. We need to encourage creative and analytical thinking.
Why Cheat India is your first foray into production with Emraan Hashmi Films. Was this something you always wanted to explore?
I have been planning this for three years. The reason I wanted to become a producer is because actors are involved in a film only passively. You are part of the promotions, dubbing and sometimes discussions with the director, but you are not there from the beginning. For this film, I have been a part of the ideation, the script, the shoot and post-production. Having said that, I would not like to produce all my films! Sometimes, producers collaborate and offer you a film and you don’t have much choice. But I like the freedom of creating and developing ideas and ultimately putting it perfectly together for the audience.
What will be the focus areas of your production house, Emraan Hashmi Films?
We will focus more on discipline during shoots. We need to respect everyone in the industry much more than we do now. Small measures like ensuring payments are made on time to even the labourer on a film set can make a lot of difference. As a producer, I would definitely like to address such issues. Also, writers have somehow not received the same importance and acknowledgement in the industry, which they deserve. I want to change that. Writers put in the most amount of work, probably more than the actors, so their names should be up there with the director’s. However, somehow, they are a neglected lot in Bollywood.
You’ve got Bard of Blood coming up on Netflix, which has generated a lot of curiosity. Tell us more about that.
A 45-second video cut from Bard of Blood’s shooting schedule in Leh was screened at the Netflix conference in Singapore and the streaming platform is very excited about the material we have shot so far. Netflix even asked us if we have shot some portions on the moon! We are excited about the look and overall tone of the series, which is a spy thriller, based on a book by Bilal Siddiqi of the same name. We are trying to hit a sweet spot so that it appeals to the Indian audience as well as the 190 other countries that we are pitching it to. We have the masala elements for the Indian audience (smiles), but also some thrills for the international audience.
You’ve got your hands full with a lot of interesting projects in 2019. Tell us something about the others in the lineup.
There is Father’s Day, a film with Kunal Deshmukh and another project in the pipeline, which will be announced shortly. I’ll be starting work on these projects very soon. There is also Body, a horror-thriller inspired by the Spanish movie El Cuerpo, which is complete and will release sometime this year. Then, there is Bard of Blood on Netflix. I feel grateful to have more than my hands full.