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Director Mridul Mahendra on his film 'Toolsidas Junior'

"It’s become a little rare these days to have a clean film which the entire family can watch together"

Priyanka Roy  | Published 14.06.22, 07:46 AM
Sanjay Dutt with Varun Buddhadev in 'Toolsidas Junior'

Sanjay Dutt with Varun Buddhadev in 'Toolsidas Junior'

Mridul Mahendra — who was born and brought up in the city and identifies as “a true-blue Kolkatan” — is earning praise for his film Toolsidas Junior that’s now streaming on Netflix. Set in the Kolkata of the ’90s and starring Sanjay Dutt and Rajeev Kapoor, but truly shouldered by its 13-year-old protagonist played by Varun Buddhadev, Toolsidas Junior focuses on snooker and imparts important life lessons, all the while stressing on the importance of family. The Telegraph chatted with Mridul on the idea and making of the film and his early years in Kolkata.

Congratulations for Toolsidas Junior! What have the reactions been like so far?

We are receiving lots of love and appreciation. I want to particularly point out that children are liking it. This is a generation that is used to Instagram and the patience levels are low. So to hear that children between the ages of five and 15 are really immersed in the film is heartening. Engaged viewing is happening. I am ensuring that I talk to every child who is reaching out to me to speak about the film. I had always hoped that this film would appeal to children of all ages and I am happy that they are getting inspired by the film. They are realising the importance of doing things for their family. The idea that family comes first has been ingrained in children through this film. Which, I feel, is a big winner.

Also, the life lessons that Salaam bhai (played by Sanjay Dutt) is imparting in the film have had an impact.

A parent sent me a picture of how their kid was getting rattled before an exam and so she just went, put a rumaal on her face and switched off for 10 minutes! (Like Midi/ Toolsidas Junior does in the film) And then she got up, gave the exam and did well. I have been told that this film is making some children realise the importance of not wasting food. I am getting lovely feedback from parents about how children are consuming the film, which is very heartening.

Normally, a Hindi film doesn’t trend among children on streaming platforms. But Toolsidas Junior has been in the Top 10 on Netflix for the third week running.

Even senior citizens are connecting with the film. It’s become a little rare these days to have a clean film which the entire family can watch together. Getting to cater to these two segments of the audience has been a big high. Normally, these segments are neglected by film-makers because they don’t get in the numbers. But we have got in the love (smiles). The film has the dialogue, “Naam bada ya paisa?” And we have the naam. So what the protagonist set out to do, the film is also doing.

 Mridul Mahendra

Mridul Mahendra

Sourced by the correspondent

Which is exactly what my next question is. Every film-maker dreams of a big-screen release. But has the love and appreciation compensated for that?

I think it totally makes up for it. You are right when you say that every film-maker dreams of a theatrical release. Like all families now, my wife, my children and I watch content on different devices at home. There is a lot of isolation that has happened as a result. What is beautiful about Toolsidas Junior is that the whole family is sitting together to watch the film and hence spending time together. Collective viewing is happening. Word of mouth has put the film right out there. I can’t ask for more.

What was the genesis of this film?

I am very closely connected to children. I am a tutor who teaches math. I still teach because it keeps me grounded and connected to children. I was always keen on having a child protagonist. I have done my CA and MBA, and haven’t had time for film school or film appreciation courses.

The life we led in Kolkata back in the ’80s and ’90s was so wholesome in terms of experiences. I have had a very interesting childhood and I like to draw from my life experiences. I got introduced to films by my father. As a kid, he would take me to Menoka and Priya to catch the first day-first show of Hindi films. Toolsidas Junior is an ode to my father. He was a very intelligent man but for various circumstances he couldn’t really make it in the real sense. So even as a kid, I wanted to bring him glory. I have made this film for my father. He passed away last year.

This took some time to make. What were the challenges?

The biggest challenge was to find a producer. When you step out into the industry and narrate a film based on snooker, which is not a very popular sport, and the subject matter is not action oriented, but is more about the mind and about dedication, with a 13-year-old boy as protagonist, then you are already up against many odds.

But when I narrated it to Ashu sir (producer-director Ashutosh Gowariker), he told me straightaway that he was going to make the film. From that point, life was much easier.

In terms of making the film, the biggest challenge was to get the cast right, especially the two boys. We auditioned some 150-200 children and then auditioned in combination. We found Varun Buddhadev (who plays Midi) and the energy this boy had was unbelievable. He had to be on set for all 40 days. The way he pulled it off is unbelievable. He trained for two months with Yasin Merchant, who was our snooker consultant in the film. He picked up the game so well. He worked really hard. We have a lot of snooker aficionados who have asked me, ‘Wow, is this kid a player and did you turn him into an actor?’ (Laughs)

Can you talk about your years in Kolkata?

I was born and brought up in Kolkata and spent the first 20 years of my life there. I studied in La Martiniere for Boys and I lived on Hungerford Street, which is also mentioned in the film (smiles). And I had the club life, which I have also shown in the film. Be it Calcutta Swimming Club, Saturday Club... the whole club culture was huge and we used to live our lives between school and club. I am a true-blue Calcutta boy. I can read and write in Bengali. I visit whenever I can.

What’s next for you?

It’s a great time for film-makers, writers, actors.... The power of OTT platforms is immense. It’s also so democratic. You can make a film from your heart and it finds its place. Toolsidas Junior has taken a lot of time, and in the meantime I have written a lot of scripts and have had a lot of ideas. I am still riding the Toolsidas wave. This film, helped by the OTT wave, has shown that a film can stay relevant if it’s well made.

Last updated on 14.06.22, 09:58 AM

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