Through his debut feature film Gulmohar, director Rahul V Chittella says he aimed to explore different points of view across three generations of a family as they navigate change.
The Delhi-set series traces the dynamics of the Batras, who are set to move out of their 34-year-old home named Gulmohar, which draws its title from the ornamental tree with orange-red flowers.
Gulmohar is a human drama that explores the meaning of family and home - the only two things that have mattered, more so today than ever. It speaks of change and acceptance.
"With time and as we grow, our thoughts, personalities and emotions are constantly changing and evolving. It was most exciting to have these characters spread across generations as we could explore varied points of view over the same topics," Chittella, who previously helmed the short movie Azaad, told PTI in an interview.
The director said he and the film's co-writer Arpita Mukherjee were toying with the idea to weave a story around family and home. Interestingly, the narrative further flowered after one of Chittella's visits to his filmmaker friend Mira Nair's house in Vasant Vihar, an upscale neighbourhood in Delhi. "Mira Nair was living in that house for over 20 years, I used to stay there whenever I would be in Delhi. We cast all of Mira's films from that house," said Chittella, who has collaborated with Nair as a creative and producing partner on projects such as The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Queen of Katwe, and A Suitable Boy.
When Nair was compelled to sell the house to a builder who wanted to build a high-rise building itself, it was "emotional" for all of them."When the packers came, all the beautiful paintings and photographs were removed, that's where I got the idea that we could set our backdrop around this family who is selling their family home. Like, how all secrets come out and we explore the interpersonal relationship between all these characters," he explained.
Cinema veteran Tagore was Chittella's first choice to play Kusum, the graceful matriarch of the Batra family. Gulmohar marks the return of the 78-year-old actor to film acting after 12 years. "We wanted this character to define her own life and rules, yet be rooted in tradition. The only name that came to my mind was Sharmila ji. She comes with a lot of power and grace. "So, it was a bigger responsibility for us to have a script that is good so that we can go to her. She was kind enough to meet and read the script and agreed to come on board," he recalled.
Chittella said he cherished the long-reading sessions between him and Tagore. "We had to tweak words in the dialogues to what sounds good when she speaks. This kind of diligence and respect for the script comes with completely surrendering to one's work and not taking it for granted," he said, adding, the veteran actor takes down notes in the script in her mother tongue Bengali.
The team later approached Manoj Bajpayee, who plays Arun, Kusum's son. The director said he feels blessed that the "The Family Man" star too instantly said yes to his film. "I remember Manoj and I would keep joking that he will do my first film and I would be like, He is a star, where will he have the time?' But when I approached him, he read the script and immediately came on board," he said.
Directing both Tagore and Bajpayee in his first feature film was a "beautiful and ecstatic" experience as the duo surrendered to his vision, the director said.
"It's commendable that despite being veterans and the most experienced, they came with no sense of superiority. They surrendered to the idea of this film being an ensemble piece and set the tone of no-hierarchy, which was most important for me. The younger actors and crew members saw how professional they were," he added.
The title Gulmohar is relevant to Delhi, just like the story of the series, added Chittella. "It evokes nostalgia and at the same time has some mystery to it. We were certain we would like to base our story on Delhi and Gulmohar blooms beautifully there. "As you drive through the roads and see trees on either side, you smile. It blended in well with what we were trying to achieve with our home. We decided to name the house Gulmohar and therefore the title," Chittella added.
Gulmohar also featuring Amol Palekar, Suraj Sharma, Simran, and Kaveri Seth, among others, is produced by Star Studios in association with Chalkboard Entertainment and Autonomous Works. It will start streaming on Disney Hotstar on Friday.
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