After serving as a screenwriter in the Hindi film industry for more than 15 years, Tushar Hiranandani is soaking in the accolades coming his way for directing the SonyLIV series Scam 2003: The Telgi Story. Having written comedies such as Sunday, Double Dhamaal, Dishoom, and the Housefull and Masti franchises, Hiranandani made his directorial debut with Saand Ki Aankh (2019) starring Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar. In a freewheeling chat, Hiranandani talks about Scam 2003, showrunner Hansal Mehta, his interest in true stories and his next film Sri with Rajkummar Rao.
What is the most precious piece of feedback you got on Scam 2003: The Telgi Story?
Tushar Hiranandani: To be honest, when the show was going to release, there was a lot of pressure because of what Season 1 had done. I turned my phone off because I was so scared of what the feedback was going to be like. I put my phone off at 12 midnight but could not sleep, so I switched it on at 2.30am, and the first call I got was from Hansal Mehta sir.
He was flying back from London to come to a party to celebrate the show. He said, ‘We’re having a party tomorrow. Congratulations, the show is getting great reactions. You have arrived.’ That is the first and the most precious message that I got. Coming from my boss mattered the most to me. I only asked him, ‘Are you happy?’ and he said, ‘I’m very happy.’
The next call was from Jai Mehta (co-director of Scam 1992) who called me at 4.30am and said that he had watched all five episodes in one go and it was fantastic. I was very happy to get these two calls.
How did you mentally prepare to direct Scam 2003 considering that Scam 1992 was a massive hit?
Tushar Hiranandani: First of all, I was very happy that I got to direct this show. Hansal Mehta told me not to feel any pressure. While making the show, all I wanted was to enjoy myself. For two years, all of us were sitting at home. We didn’t do anything. I had a lot of fun with my cameraman and writer while making it. And Hansal sir would guide me whenever needed because it was my first show. He told me to treat the show the way I wanted to.
After three days of shooting, Hansal sir saw the rushes and said, ‘You do what you’re doing. You’re doing a good job.’ After that, I just flew from there.
How difficult was it to find the right actor to play Abdul Karim Telgi? And how did you find Gagan Dev Riar?
Tushar Hiranandani: That credit goes to Hansal Mehta and casting director Mukesh Chhabra. They do this unconventional casting — from Pratik Gandhi in Scam 1992 to Karishma Tanna and Harman Baweja in Scoop. They gave me Gagan. The only thing I did was that I made him put on some weight for Telgi’s part.
In fact, Hansal sir got Gagan a year before Scam started. He told him not to sign anything else or work anywhere else. So, he didn’t do any other work. Gagan was on board way before I came on board.
You have mostly written comedies but you chose Saand Ki Aankh, a drama, for your directorial debut. Did you want to break the mould with that?
Tushar Hiranandani: I didn’t choose the story, the story chose me. I was doing very well and my wife was in a good position at a reputed production company. And to be honest, I wanted to quit the industry and retire at the age of 45. I wanted to go out of Bombay to Lonavala. I always wanted to become a director but I never got a chance. I always got work as a writer. I tried but I was not convinced with the stories.
Then I got to know about the story of the women in Saand Ki Aankh from Aamir Khan’s TV show Satyamev Jayate. They started their life at 60. When I discussed it with my wife, she said that this was the film that I should make. I asked who would produce the film. She said she would. That’s how it all started.
All three of your directorial ventures are based on the lives of real people. What fascinates you about telling such stories?
Tushar Hiranandani: I love telling these stories. Of my next films, one is a biopic and the other is based on true events. There’s so much in life that needs to be talked about, and I think people are interested in these stories. I enjoy this kind of cinema. Luckily, my wife is a producer and she loves this kind of cinema too, so we are in the same boat.
As a writer, you were writing for someone else’s vision and now as a director, you’re adapting material written by someone else. What changes with the role and what remains the same, if any?
Tushar Hiranandani: When I became a director, I tried writing the first draft. When I was trying to become a director, I would write my scripts but would not like them. The writer in me used to like it but the director in me was not happy. Then I told my wife that we should hire writers.
To be honest, I need writers because the world has changed since the time I used to write. And the faster we understand it, the better it is. The credit for a show’s success should go to the writers equally. Writing is where all of it begins.
What are your all-time favourite comedies and dramas?
Tushar Hiranandani: My all-time favourite comedy is Rajkumar Santoshi’s Andaz Apna Apna. I love that film and I can keep on watching it. My favourite drama and, for that matter all-time favourite film, is Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand. Rajesh Khanna’s ‘Babumoshai’ in the climax always makes me cry.
What can you tell us about your next biopic, Sri, at this moment?
Tushar Hiranandani: The film will release next year. The shoot is over and post-production is going on; the editing is almost locked. It was great to work with Rajkummar Rao, Jyothika and Alaya F. We shot at many locations and had fun. The film has got everything.
When Saand Ki Aankh came out, there were all sorts of things being said, like why elderly actors were not cast instead of Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar. But both of them won awards. I was happy and felt like a proud parent. I hope the same thing happens with Rajkummar.
What are you writing, directing or producing next?
Tushar Hiranandani: Production is my wife’s department and she is willing to launch a lot of talented people.
I am looking out for a show that I would like to direct next. I really want to do a show fast because I really enjoyed it very much.