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Interview Hindi

Vijit Sharma: Important for all filmmakers to be good storytellers first

The first-time director of Mirror Game speaks about the challenges of creating a well-rounded story, shooting on an 18-day schedule, and filming in the US.

Sonal Pandya

The upcoming psychological thriller, Mirror Game: Ab Khel Shuru, stars Parvin Dabas, Omi Vaidya and Pooja Batra and is set in the United States. Dabas plays a professor of psychology who gets entangled in a web of deceit when his wife disappears. Writer-director Vijit Sharma titled the film after an exercise in acting coach Viola Spolin’s book, Improvisation for the Theater, where two people improvize the same motion together.

The filmmaker, who resides in New Jersey, where the film is shot, spoke to Cinestaan.com during promotions for Mirror Game about his journey from script to finished project. Vijit Sharma said the scripting phase, for him, took the longest time.

"The first draft, I wrote in 15 days," he said. "Then I went back and did 14 or 15 revisions. Because the story I was trying to write, I wanted it to be very layered. I wanted to throw in a lot of hooks to the story, but at the same time I wanted to answer all open questions by the end of the story. A lot of times what happens is that directors, even scriptwriters, in the rush to write a well-rounded story, forget to close all the loopholes that are there."

Sharma's inspiration to write the screenplay came from wanting to challenge himself as a storyteller and writer. He said emphatically that "it is important for all filmmakers to be good storytellers first". He also felt that writing a comedy or a love story might not provide the challenges that writing a psychological thriller would provide.

"It is the most challenging genre to write in. Unless you write a good story, in a psychological thriller, it’s not going to work, people are going to see through it. You have to add plotlines and hooks, and you have to use science well," he said. "You have to stay true to the factual elements in psychology. You have to get your human psyche right. Because if you don’t, people will be like, kya bakwaas [what rubbish]. There are so many considerations when you write a story in this genre."

Sharma also stressed that Mirror Game is not a story that tries to put out a message about mental illness; it only uses it as one of many themes. "Mental illness is just one element that has been used. It’s a layered story and mental illness is a layer on this story. Having said that, I think mental illness plays an important role in the sense that it is as important as the characters in the film. It does have an impact on how the story unfolds."

Sharma has stayed away from adding any topical elements of the immigrant experience in the film because his lead character is a regular Indian guy. "I haven’t gotten into the whole immigrant experience, diaspora and all those things; he is just a character. He is doing his job and he is living in the US, just like anybody else," he said.

Mirror Games was filmed on a short schedule of 18 days that left room for error. However, the director said it was a conscious choice owing to his vision for the film. "I wanted to capture the character graph in the shortest time possible. I could have done a three-month schedule where Parvin’s character Jay may have had a different emotion at the start of the schedule and a different emotion at the end. I didn’t want that disconnect. The timeframe of the film is only about nine days and we wanted to mirror that in the actual shooting," he disclosed.

The crew, largely from the US, had many memorable experiences on set. One such incident, when he was shooting the interior portions of the film in a house in Livingston, New Jersey, has stayed with Sharma. "The next-door neighbour didn’t know what was going on. They were seeing four-five trucks parked outside and all these people going in and out of the house. So he called the police," he recounted.

The police showed up and saw that the film crew's paperwork was in place. Incidentally, that day, Sharma needed to fill the role of a police officer, since the main actor had not showed up. "When these guys were walking off, an idea struck me," he said. "I [asked] him if he would like to play a role in the film [and he said yes]. You won’t believe it, we have shot that scene in his own uniform, with his own service gun. He did an amazing job. We fired the other actor and we got him again. I even told him, ‘Forget all this and take up acting’. He is that good in the film."

Mirror Game: Ab Khel Shuru is due to be released on 2 June.

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