Hansal Mehta's next offering in the long storytelling format is "Scoop", a series he describes as a tale from the past which is "a cautionary tale for the future".
The director has often referred to himself as a "chronicler of our times", courtesy social dramas set in contemporary history such as "Shahid" and "Aligarh" and "Scoop", his next web series after the superhit "Scam 1992: A Harshad Mehta Story", is another such story.
"There is no right or wrong time to tell a story. The time for telling a story is when you're compelled to tell it. When a filmmaker is compelled to tell a story is the right time. And, I felt compelled," said Mehta when asked why he wanted to release this series now.
"Scoop" follows Jagruti Pathak, a star crime reporter at a Mumbai newspaper, played by Karishma Tanna, who makes headlines after she is accused of her rival Jaideb Sen's (Prosenjit Chatterjee) murder.
"Through this (series), we are talking about our times and it's also a cautionary tale. When the reporter becomes the reported, you never know when that will happen. In many ways, this tale from the past is a cautionary tale for the future," Mehta told PTI in an interview here.
The upcoming Netflix show is inspired by Jigna Vora's biographical book "Behind the Bars In Byculla: My Days in Prison". It is co-created by Mehta and Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul (writer of "Thappad").
Mehta said Matchbox Shots' producer Sarita Patil called him and told him about Vora's book. After reading the first two chapters of "Behind the Bars In Byculla: My Days in Prison", the filmmaker was ready to embark on the project.
"I saw this opportunity for something larger. I just had two conditions: One, we have to go beyond the book. The book was basically a prison chronicle. I didn't want to make an 'Orange is the New Black' kind of a show.
"Two, I said I want Mrunmayee, who had just done 'Thappad'. I was really in awe of the film. The way it was written and the way it explored the nuances of human emotions," he said.
Once both the conditions were met, work on "Scoop" began in March 2020. And, it wasn't long till "Scam 1992" took the digital scene by storm right around the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic.
"We started working on it and 'Scam 1992' released. Life changed for us. Sarita asked me, 'You still want to make this?' I said 'All the more... I want to make it as my next show'. Then Netflix came in," he added.
Media has always been a part of Mehta's stories, be it his early films such as "Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar" or his second innings with "Aligarh", "Scam 1992" and now "Scoop", slated to premiere on June 2.
The filmmaker admitted he had a "fascination" with the media.
"The gap between the polity and the public is filled in by the media and the judiciary. They are the moral, ethical pillars of our society. They keep both the public and the politicians in check. Whenever that balance is lost, you will see there will be either anarchy or widespread corruption. That's why media fascinates me and I find it so important."
As filmmakers, the National Award winner said, they can only "talk", whereas the media has the "power" to bring about change.
"We, as filmmakers, have the power to talk. Media has the power to bring about change. (Media) They were powerful people. They've unfortunately got muddled up. They are not supposed to be bedfellows (with the government)," he observed.
Calling journalists "a breed that is worth telling tales about", Mehta said through "Scoop" he hopes audiences appreciate the work the media does.
"You have to inspire people with such characters. Why is Jagruti so fascinating? Because she's an ordinary girl who lives in a congested apartment in Ghatkopar (a suburb of Mumbai).
"She's putting herself out there for an interview with a gangster. For what? A byline? I think it's far beyond that. As a filmmaker, I want to appreciate that and I want the public to appreciate it. The moment the public appreciates this, we will have more responsible and sensible reporters full of value," he added.
Casting Tanna, best known for soap operas "Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi" and "Naagin 3", was about being honest with Jagruti's character, said Mehta.
"Sometimes greed overcomes your casting choices. There is nothing wrong with that because it depends on why you're telling a story. Whether it was when I cast Rajkummar in 'Shahid', Pratik in 'Scam', or Karishma in 'Scoop', the opportunity was given to me, because it's not my money ultimately.
"People invest in my vision. I'm thankful I get this opportunity to cast these people. The only difference is that I use it well. I saw her audition and there was something about Karishma that I instantly felt Jagruti would be."
Some even questioned his decision of taking Tanna to headline "Scoop" owing to her television background. For the director, "an actor is an actor" regardless of the medium.
"A lot of people questioned me saying that 'Yaar, she's from TV.' That was all the more reason I wanted to do that," Mehta added.
The filmmaker also revealed that "Scoop" is a franchise which will focus on "the media and its various aspects". "There will be different characters and stories connected to the media (in the series)," he added.
Mehta will next start shooting for his much-anticipated series "Gandhi", headlined by "Scam 1992" star Pratik Gandhi.
After 'Scoop' is released, the next in line for release is 'Scam 1993', a series based on the 2003 stamp paper fraud by Abdul Karim Telgi.