Mr & Mrs Mahi director reveals what influenced his film: Navjot Singh Sidhu, Vodafone pug, and a lost Janhvi Kapoor | Bollywood

Sharan Sharma’s sophomore directorial, Mr & Mrs Mahi, is spiritually similar to its chart-topping romantic track, Dekha Tenu. Music composer Jaani takes a popular line from Aadesh Shrivastava’s Say “Shava Shava” from Karan Johar’s 2001 blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and expands it into a completely fresh song. Similarly, Sharan has clubbed all the influences behind his cricket-based relationship drama to make a distinctly original film.

Janhvi Kapoor has starred in both of Sharan Sharma's directorials
Janhvi Kapoor has starred in both of Sharan Sharma’s directorials

(Also Read: After Mr and Mrs Mahi, watch these 9 movies on the power of women athletes)

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In an exclusive interview, Sharan speaks to us about the various influences that helped him and co-writer Nikhil Mehrotra shape Mr & Mrs Mahi:

Mahima’s character

Sharan’s 2020 directorial debut, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, released on Netflix India, revolved around one of the first women Indian Air Force pilots (Janhvi Kapoor) to fly in the combat zone during the Kargil War. While her brother (Angad Bedi), a Lieutenant Colonel, didn’t expect her to make the cut, her father (Pankaj Tripathi) gave her wings to fly. During the making of Gunjan Saxena, Sharan came up with the idea of a completely different woman whose wings are clipped by her family after marriage.

“There are so many women who get married and their dreams are put to an end. But we thought what if a girl is married into a family where her husband gives her wings and stands by her? And would it be more interesting, if instead of celebrating the achiever, we see what vested interest or agenda its support system has,” says Sharan. He modelled the character of Mahima (Janhvi) on the famous Vodafone pug dog. “I wanted Mahima to be sweet, a little innocent and naïve. There’s that famous Vodafone ad where this sweet little dog follows a kid. We wanted Mahima to be that lost dog, who is following but isn’t aware that she’s a follower,” adds Sharan.

Sharan Sharma wrote Mahima keeping in mind Janhvi Kapoor's 'lost' state of mind a few years ago
Sharan Sharma wrote Mahima keeping in mind Janhvi Kapoor’s ‘lost’ state of mind a few years ago

Sharan admits he took a lot from his interpretation and observation of Janhvi’s state of mind back then while scripting Mahima. “Of course, a lot of it has been fictionalised, but I’d take stuff from her that I’d expand and stretch upon,” he says, adding, “Janhvi was a little lost, very sweet, innocent, and naïve (back then), constantly listening to everyone around her. I found that energy really endearing and interesting to try for Mahima.” However, he disagrees with Janhvi’s confession that her evolution by the time they were filming adversely affected her portrayal.

Janhvi claimed in an interview that while she was a pushover during the initial stages of Mr & Mrs Mahi, she’d evolved into a woman of her own by the time the film went on floors after her cricket training and multiple injuries. She said Sharan had a tough time bringing her back to depict the Janhvi she was a couple of years before. “I didn’t have to do too much, to be honest. It was just about taking her into a certain zone. I think she had her own reference points in her head, in terms of certain beats and moments. The advantage of having worked with her closely and having that equation is that I can press some buttons to take her to a certain zone, if she’s not going there herself. There’s that comfort, that ease when I work with her,” says Sharan.

He shares that the struggle of getting Janhvi back into the zone was probably her own. “I didn’t face anything too much on that front of her not being able to find that energy. I think it was an internal battle that she was dealing with, which is absolutely fair. I thought she was on point in terms of knowing what the scene needed and what kind of energy she needed to bring to Mahima,” he adds. Interestingly, both of Sharan’s films reflect Janhvi’s personal journey – proving her naysayers wrong with Gunjan Saxena and finding her voice with Mr & Mrs Mahi.

Janhvi Kapoor trained extensively in cricket for Sharan Sharma's Mr & Mrs Mahi
Janhvi Kapoor trained extensively in cricket for Sharan Sharma’s Mr & Mrs Mahi

The cricket

Cricket happens to be to Mr & Mrs Mahi what history was to Bawaal. In both films, Janhvi starts as a naïve, suppressed woman hopeful of making her marriage work. And in both movies, she and her husband share a passion that takes them on a journey of reconciliation. For Sharan Sharma, having cricket as the oxygen to their marriage was a no-brainer. He has been a massive cricket buff, which then informed many of his creative choices in Mr & Mrs Mahi.

“I remember seeing a random clip of Jemimah Rodrigues batting. I found that very interesting in terms of having a cricketer who has this very soft and sweet demeanour, but she’s this really aggressive and attacking batter,” says Sharan, explaining how cricket lent itself well to Mahima’s character. She was always more Jemimah Rodrigues than Sakshi Dhoni. While Sharan has clarified that Mr & Mrs Mahi isn’t based on MS Dhoni and Sakshi Dhoni’s love story, the word Mahi perennially runs through his head owing to his admiration for Dhoni as a cricketer and leader.

Like many past successful movies – Aparna Sen’s Mr and Mrs Iyer (2002) and Doug Liman’s Mr. & Mrs Smith – Sharan’s movie title could’ve been named after their last name. But the reason he was more interested in the couple’s common nickname than their shared last name also has a cricket connection. “As a kid growing up, I was fascinated by the fact that a cricketer named Navjot Singh Sidhu’s wife is also called Navjot. I found that idea very cute and endearing,” Sharan says. It also makes sense then that Mahendra (Rajkummar Rao) and Mahima didn’t chance upon each other at a cricket stadium. They began as strangers in an arranged marriage who then found their connection in cricket.

When Mahendra fails to make it big as a cricketer, he’s relegated to assisting his father’s (Kumud Mishra) business – a sports store. Having bats, balls, stumps, and gloves all around him would naturally remind Mahendra of his failure and make him a bitter man. Sharan’s reasoning behind the nature of their family business also stems from his own memory of visiting an Andheri sports store in childhood. “I’d see a father running that store making his best sale pitches to kids like me. And there was a son in his 20s looking disinterested and probably unwilling to do what he was being told. That visual was stuck in my head ever since,” recalls Sharan.

Sharan Sharma's Mr & Mrs Mahi features Janhvi Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao as a cricket-loving couple
Sharan Sharma’s Mr & Mrs Mahi features Janhvi Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao as a cricket-loving couple

Mahendra’s character

Mahendra’s character of an insecure husband is not new to Indian cinema. Amitabh Bachchan arguably set a benchmark with his nuanced depiction in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s 1973 romantic musical Abhimaan, cast opposite his real-life wife Jaya Bachchan. But despite the comparison, Sharan insists Abhimaan wasn’t a direct influence on Mr & Mrs Mahi. In fact, he watched it for the first time after a friend who read his script recommended him. “More than just the idea of ego and jealousy, what we were trying to play with was this transactional nature of how the world works,” clarifies Sharan.

He didn’t have a tough time finding his Mahendra in Rajkummar Rao, who he feels is one of the most secure actors out there. Like Sharan, Rajkummar was never concerned with making Mahendra appear more endearing, as expected of a Bollywood male lead. “We didn’t think too much about how he’ll be perceived. I think there’s a Mahendra energy in all of us. We’re all grappling with the world, are burdened by our insecurities, and are constantly chasing different kinds of validation. It’s a constant battle between what we need and what we want,” says Sharan.

For Sharan, Mr & Mrs Mahi was as much a father-son story as a husband-wife tale. “We were very clear that we wanted Mahendra’s father to be representative of the world we live in today. It labels people as successes and failures. For me, films like Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, and Wake Up Sid inspired the complex father-son dynamic in our film. Even a film like Pixar’s Soul inspired deeper layers in our film,” adds Sharan. For every supportive father like Pankaj Tripathi in Gunjan Saxena out there, there’s also another father dumping his securities on his children, like Kumud Mishra in Mr & Mrs Mahi.

At a personal level, for Sharan, Mr & Mrs Mahi has consolidated the very reason he became a filmmaker. After his first film was forced to take the streaming route owing to the Covid lockdown, watching Mr & Mrs Mahi open to packed theatres on National Cinema Day was a massive high. “We don’t make the film only for the high of a Friday. Making the film is the prize. Of course, the box office is a very important currency in the ecosystem of filmmaking. But the small joys of getting that take right, when that edit is right, when the BGM works, when a song works – these are why any filmmaker wants to create.” It seems like Sharan Sharma has had a Mahendra epiphany of his own – of being unswayed by the outcome (OTT or theatres) and deriving a thrill from the process.

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