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Sushant Singh Rajput and Sanjana Sanghi in 'Dil Bechara' Image Credit: Disney+ Hotstar

Casting director Mukesh Chhabra, who makes his directing debut with ‘Dil Bechara’, is feeling mighty ‘vulnerable’.

But can you blame him? How do you celebrate a significant milestone in your career when you are still seeking closure from an irrevocable tragedy that struck his first film before its premiere.

His lead hero Sushant Singh Rajput, who was on the driver’s seat of ‘Dil Bechara’, is no longer around to celebrate their labour of love, out on July 24 on Disney+ Hotstar in India.

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Sushant Singh Rajput in 'Dil Bechara' Image Credit: Disney+ Hotstar

’Dil Bechara’ is Rajput’s last film in his career and the onus is on Chhabra to showcase the 34-year-old actor impeccably. In a shocking turn of events, Rajput died by suicide in his Mumbai residence on June 14, leaving a wake of grieving fans and heated debates on how nepotism and powerful producers yield debilitating and destructive powers over actors with no industry connections.

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“I am going to be very vulnerable as I watch ‘Dil Bechara’. There are so many emotions running through my heart and mind. I think the film is beyond reviews now, everyone is so emotionally connected to it so I’m just going to go with what people think now,” said Chhabra over an e-mail interview with Gulf News.

Close bond

Sushant Singh Rajput with Mukesh Chhabra
Sushant Singh Rajput with Mukesh Chhabra Image Credit:

Film folklore has it that Chhabra and Rajput were close buddies. The director confirms it by regaling us with an anecdote that Rajput agreed to play the lead even before hearing a script narration.

Apparently, there was a tacit bro-code pact between them that Rajput would play the hero of his first directorial — no matter what the genre or subject. Rajput — one of the most promising Bollywood stars at the time — stuck to his word.

“But I am still coming to terms with the fact that Sushant is no more … I don’t know how to feel happy about my first film,” said Chhabra.

While the director skirts question about nepotism and whether industry insiders prompted that actor to commit suicide, there’s no denying the bittersweet turn in his life.

“I just want to celebrate his life,” said Chhabra.

‘Dil Bechara’, an adaptation of the Hollywood star-crossed romance ‘A Fault In Our Stars’, also features newcomer Sanjana Sanghi as a cancer-stricken young woman.

Excerpts from our interview with Chhabra …

Your directorial debut is such a bittersweet milestone in your life as its lead star Sushant Singh Rajput is no more. What are your thoughts at this moment in time?

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Sanjana Sanghi and Sushant Singh Rajput in 'Dil Bechara' Image Credit: Disney+ Hotstar

I am actually still coming to terms with the fact that Sushant is no more. Honestly, I have no idea how to react to this film anymore. It’s a bittersweet feeling right now and I’m still coping. This feeling is new to me and I’ll probably never get over it. I don’t know how to feel happy about my first film because the circumstances are very different now.

What’s your most memorable scene of shooting with Rajput and how do you want his fans to view this film?

Every scene with Sushant is now a memory etched in my heart. This is his last film and every scene, every moment is like a treasure. Also, since this is my first film I have fond memories of everything. All his fans have showered so much love on the trailer, I just want them to celebrate his life with this film.

How did you manage to rope in Susant Singh Rajput and Sanjana Sanghi for the lead roles and why did you choose them?

Dil Bechara poster
Still from Dil Bechara Image Credit: Disney+ Hotstar

Sushant Singh Rajput had promised me in 2017 that if I ever made a film, he would be the hero of my first film. In 2018, when [producer] Rucha Pathak approached me, I called Sushant and he said “obviously bhai [bro]” and without even reading the script he said ‘yes’ to my film.

If I hadn’t made ‘Dil Bechara’ and made some other film, Sushant would be the lead of that film too.

I met Sanjana during my casting for ‘Rockstar’ and, as she grew older, she developed an interest in acting. When I read the script I just immediately knew. Her face is so fragile and innocent. I definitely wanted a fresh face and she was correct for Kizie Basu. Sanjana and Sushant were always my first choices for ‘Dil Bechara’.

What were your briefs to Rajput and Sanghi? How did you want them to play the roles of cancer-stricken lovers?

I just wanted them to be as real and as honest with each other and that was the most important thing throughout the film. And once you watch this film, you will probably get all your answers.

How are you coping with Rajput’s sudden demise and do you suspect nepotism or gangism as one of the driving forces behind his suicide?

I am still in disbelief and cannot come to terms with it.

As a director, what did you observe about Rajput and is there a lot of pressure and expectations on your shoulders now to showcase his swan song beautifully?

Sushant has grown immensely in his journey from ‘Kai Po Che’ to ‘Dil Bechara’ and his talents have improved so much. We worked on every single detail of his character and he was always so focused which was the best part about him.

I feel a lot of pressure naturally, because it’s not just my debut as a director, it’s Sushant’s last film. I just want everyone to feel proud of me and more than anything, be proud of Sushant.

How close is ‘Dil Bechara’ to 'A Fault In Our Stars'? And why did you choose a lot more older couple than the Hollywood hit which featured teenagers?

Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley in 'A Fault In Our Stars' Image Credit: AP

‘Dil Bechara’ is very different and we adapted it very differently. The basic storyline is the same but we have made quite a few changes. About choosing an older couple to play the lead, I’ll just leave that up to the film to explain itself.

What’s your idea of a perfect romance and how did you ensure that this film was not manipulating audiences towards feeling sympathetic towards cancer-riddled lovers?

We focused more on the magnitude of love rather than empathy to a great extent.

There’s a lot of interest in ‘Dil Bechara’ due to the tragedy that struck after Rajput’s demise. What are your thoughts on how things have turned out?

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A still from Dil Bechara Image Credit: Disney+ Hotstar

I am overwhelmed with the love that I am receiving. This is Sushant’s blessing to me.

What was the most challenging part about filming and making this film as a director?

As a casting director, I was handling only a part of the filmmaking process. But as a director I am involved in every step of decision making, I am the captain of the ship. It was a challenge in itself.

Do you think Sushant Singh Rajput is watching over you from the skies above?

Yes, every day, every moment, every second.

How do you want Rajput’s fans to remember the actor through your debut film?

I think Sushant has left a legacy behind through all his films. In my film, you will definitely remember his charm for the rest of your life.

You placed your faith on Rajput and a newcomer and therefore you are an antidote to the nepotism debate that’s raging in Bollywood now. Do you think nepotism should be weeded out in Bollywood? As an insider with a ring-side view on casting, what have you observed about it in the film industry.

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Dil Bechara Image Credit: Supplied

I only support genuine and pure talent, I’ve been doing this for the past 15 years.

What are the three qualities that you loved about Rajput ... Would you be able to watch this film without tearing up and emotionally breaking down?

His honesty, sincerity and purity. While watching the film I’ll be completely taken over by emotions for sure.


Did you know?

Actor Sushant Singh Rajput's final film 'Dil Bechara' is one of the most anticipated Bollywood movies of 2020, but UAE movie fans will have to wait a little bit longer for it to release here.

In this region, OSN has acquired the rights to screen Disney+ content. However, a representative told Gulf News that the film will not release in the region at the same time as in India on July 24. Watch this space for more.

'Dil Bechara', the Bollywood romance adapted from Hollywood drama 'A Fault In Our Stars', features Rajput in the lead role. His suicide on June 14 has turned all eyes to this film, making it a much-anticipated release.

Directed by Mukesh Chhabra and featuring newbie Sanjana Sanghi as Rajput's co-star, 'Dil Bechara''s release is being closely watched by Bollywood movie fans all over.