‘Shubh Mangal’ Is All About What Mardaangi Is Not: Hitesh Kewalya
If the ‘baal tod’ dialogue from the Shubh Mangal Saavdhan trailer had you chuckling, the film’s screenplay and dialogue writer Hitesh Kewalya promises that the Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar starrer has a lot more humour and substance in store for its audiences. He considers his very first Bollywood experience to be destiny at work and he couldn’t be more excited. In an exclusive chat, Hitesh tells The Quint about why Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is all about defining what mardaangi is not, and a lot more.
Q: Were you apprehensive about a taboo subject like Erectile Dysfunction being the crux of your very first Bollywood film?
Hitesh Kewalya: Actually no. When Prasanna gave me a quick ten minute narration, I felt this was right up my alley and that’s what I told him immediately. Also Erectile Dysfunction is just one of the pivots of the film. But through this topic, how can you reach out to the larger theme of the film, was my primary reason for excitement. Aisi kahaaniyan roz roz nahin aati hain. Like, how boys are raised in our society... how we don’t talk about certain things and we expect boys and even girls, to just understand them when they come of a certain age. And that happens too. But in our kind of society, sources of information can be quite dubious. So how do we bring about a certain maturity to these topics? The fact that by 18 we’re ready to vote for our government, but not ready to speak, watch or talk about certain things, is the reality. Are we creating the right society by being prudish about certain things?
At the end of the day, it is a humorous film at its core. So it was a challenge to make it funny but at the same time talk about difficult topics. Humaare maa baap humaare dushman toh hote nahin hain. We still believe in the family structure. That’s why a lot of us still go for arranged marriages. Not everyone falls in love. How will you write something that’s light, funny but relevant, without allowing it to sound cheesy or vulgar? That was the real challenge.
Q: What kind of a reaction did you get from your own family?
Hitesh Kewalya: I told them the film’s one-liner, that there is a guy who is about to get married and suddenly a few weeks before the marriage, they all realise that there is a problem, which is that the guy is unable to get it up in bed. Obviously, there were smiles and sniggers. But at the age of 37, I was hoping that my parents would understand. Luckily they didn’t disown me after hearing the concept (laughs). Baaki film dekhne par ho jaayega.
Q: What’s your perception of the Indian middle class?
Hitesh Kewalya: The society I’ve been a part of all my life, is the Indian middle class. So it wasn’t difficult to imagine. Humaare baat karne ka tareeka shayad alag hoga... someone raised in a metro as compared to someone from a small town might speak differently. But our issues are the same. Love ko aap kisi bhi package mein daal do, pyaar toh pyaar hi hota hai. The first look, the first kiss, all those things play out in a very similar manner. That’s why you will relate to a foreign story, made in a foreign language, if it speaks to your heart. Titanic was the biggest hit of my generation. No one ever felt that it was an alien story, because it had a certain honesty.
Q: Was there any scene that you really struggled with?
Hitesh Kewalya: All the scenes were difficult to write. Because after some time you lose objectivity. At the same time you have to push the bar. I must say Himanshu Sharma, the film’s co-producer, really helped in keeping my tuning wala knob in the right place. He was the first person I would narrate any scene to. Then we would discuss and thrash things out. He would tell me if he thought a scene was really working, or for that matter, really not working. So over a period of time I got the pulse, hopefully I’ve got the pulse (laughs). He was really a great mentor and sounding board for the script.
Q: What in your opinion is mardaangi?
Hitesh Kewalya: The answer to that is the film to be honest. But rather than discussing what mardaangi is, let’s talk about what it isn’t.
My focus was also to show how we’ve defined mardaangi till now. Is expressing your anger manly? Or holding your tears back? Why is it considered manly to not express your emotions? Or is there mardaangi in the fact that you want to keep a tab on the opposite sex? We have defined certain roles and behaviours that allow us to put both the sexes in these boxes. All those little definitions that we’ve created throughout our popular culture and daily living, are what I was focusing more on. I’ll let the audience define mardaangi for itself.
I just wanted to attack certain clear obvious things, which are definitely not the definition of being a man, for me.
Q: Which was the most challenging character to create and write dialogues for?
Hitesh Kewalya: Going by the ideas of a conventional hero, it was challenging to make a guy with an erectile dysfunction look like the hero. Mudit would be the obvious choice for being the most challenging character to write. But Sugandha was equally challenging to write, because no one has ever been in her place. When we talk about mardaangi, we limit ourselves to the man in question. The woman, who is equally stuck in the situation, we’ve never spoken about her or her feelings. And now that we’re doing it, how will we talk about her? Yes, that was difficult indeed.
Q: What makes Bhumi and Ayushmann the perfect Sugandha and Mudit?
Hitesh KewalyI think it’s the fact that their honesty and vulnerability comes through on screen. With actors like them, the deviation from script to screen can be controlled. Interestingly, we had hordes of Ayushmann fans crowding the sets while we were shooting in Paharganj. It was getting difficult, we were shooting on someone’s terrace. So Ayushmann quickly spoke to them and offered to sing a song for them, if they behaved themselves. I was amazed to see how quickly they turned into fanboys and they got the treat that was promised.
Q: Bhumi and Ayushmann didn’t watch the Tamil original Kalyana Samayal Sadham before filming. Did you?
Hitesh Kewalya: I hadn’t either. It was great on Prasanna’s part. But for someone to take the decision that his actors and writers shouldn’t see his original, that was great. He told me, “you just write.” It reflects a kind of thinking that is rare. See the Tamil audience is very very different from a Hindi speaking audience. So the film will not work if you just translate it verbatim. Prasanna, Aanand and Himanshu decided that let’s not allow a bias to creep in, because we’re changing their world. So let’s see how this new world and the people in it come about.
Q: What’s exceptional about Shubh Mangal Saavdhan for you?
Hitesh Kewalya: I am really thankful for a person like Aanand L Rai, who went ahead with a writer like me. The fact that he gave me full freedom to work around the concept... I’m grateful to Prasanna for it too. It’s really quite rare. Prasanna had already made this film earlier and to give your baby to someone else to nurture, is an exceptional thing. That’s why I believe that destiny also has a role to play here.
I think we have a fabulous reaction to the trailer and my gut feeling is all good. So fingers crossed and legs too!
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