Mathew on set
Mathew on set

Vinil Mathew | Smile-high club

The director of 'Hasee Toh Phasee' on his transition from advertising films to features

Out of the 250 ad films Vinil Mathew has made in his career as a director, several have been for cellular providers, including his own service provider. On one occasion, when his network was giving him some trouble, Mathew went to the store and tried to have it fixed. Frustrated by the delays, he weakened and said: “I am a director. I make advertising films, including for your company." The person attending to him replied, “Whatever you are, you are not Madhur Bhandarkar!"

This, says Mathew, was “the final straw. I knew I had to make a feature film because I wanted to be taken seriously as a film-maker." His debut feature Hasee Toh Phasee is a romance. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What drew you to film-making?

I wanted to be an economist and then, when I was in the 10th standard, I saw Roja and read an interview with Mani Ratnam in which he said it was time educated people came into cinema and changed it. I was easily impressed then. During college I worked with Bharat Bala and Santosh Sivan and finally applied to the FTII (the Film and Television Institute of India), where I got into the direction course. My parents were very hurt as I had cleared the Delhi School of Economics entrance exam but opted for the FTII.

After being so successful in advertising, why the transition to a mainstream Bollywood movie?

Film-makers are storytellers and every film-maker wants to make a long-format film. You need legitimacy as a director, which you only get from a 2-hour-long feature-length film that does not come with the baggage of demands from a client or an agency. Ad film-making is like playing a T20 match while feature films are like a Test match. The latter needs a lot of persistence and patience.

Why ‘Hasee Toh Phasee’ as your debut film as director?

A still from ‘Hasee Toh Phasee’

How would you describe the film?

It’s a quirky love story and a family film. Romance is a tough genre because there are only two possible outcomes: Either the couple falls in love or they don’t. Therefore it’s important that the audience enjoys the ride and I hope I have brought a freshness to the film.

How much of a say did you have in the casting of the lead actors?

Parineeti Chopra was always on top of my wishlist. We knew we needed her energy to pull this off, but it took a lot to convince her, especially as this is her first film outside of the Yash Raj (Films) banner. Karan Johar (co-producer) suggested Sidharth Malhotra. I had seen Student of the Year and my initial reaction was that he would not fit the character of an ordinary, middle-class boy. But once I met him I saw he had an earnestness that would work for the character. I think the fact that they are both so different is what makes for great on-screen chemistry.

Is this the genre you prefer?

I do like emotional, relationship stories, films that occupy the middle territory, which are in the commercial space but have an easy-going storytelling, a deftness of touch and gentle intelligence. Going forward I would like to explore any genre. However, I am waiting to see how this film is received so I can determine what risks I can take in the future.

Advertising directors remain invisible while feature directors are expected to participate in frantic publicity and promotional activities. Are you enjoying this new experience?

I am waiting for my turn! It has started in bits and pieces. I was at a press conference recently with Karan, Sidharth and Parineeti, and I noticed that no one was interested in the director. It’s a new experience and I am loving it.

Hasee Toh Phasee releases in theatres on 7 February.

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