Renuka Vyavahare (BOMBAY TIMES; May 13, 2017)

Filmmaker Mohit Suri may have the heart of a wanderer, but it doesn't overpower the quiet certainty of his mind. His confidence in desi stories and his craft doesn't necessarily roar, but he knows its worth. In many ways, he exudes the vulnerable and headstrong side of Madhav Jha, the lead character of his upcoming film Half Girlfriend (HG), which is based on Chetan Bhagat's bestseller. Mohit lets BT in on his innate vagabond sensibility that subconsciously inspires his intense emotional dramas...

It's common to bash Chetan Bhagat's books, but they continue to sell and inspire filmmakers...
There are not just literature students who write books, there are also storytellers who tell stories. For example, Buddha didn't speak in a divine language. He spoke Pali, which was the common man's tongue. It's not as if Chetan doesn't know what he is doing. I have read almost all his books and I could relate to them. Half our literary experts are inspired by foreign literature, so their stories are rarely about us. Even Indian filmmakers are inspired by Hollywood. We often aspire to be someone we are not, but Chetan has no such pretences. You can agree or disagree with his story, but you can't ignore it.

What made you adapt this book into a film?
I wanted to make a movie on Five Point Someone, but Chetan had already sold the rights to Rajkumar Hirani (3 Idiots, 2009). After Aashiqui 2 (2013), he suggested that we work together, and he felt that HG was the kind of story that I'll be able to do justice to.

HG is relevant to our times when English language has become a yardstick that defines class...
Even in Bollywood, actors who cannot speak Hindi are popular, but those who cannot speak English are considered low grade. You readily accept an NRI or a foreigner just because they are pretty, even if you need to dub their voice. If a French person speaks bad English with a French accent, you don't mind, but an Indian speaking English with a Hindi accent is unacceptable. We are still suffering from a colonial hangover. English is not just a language in India. It's amazing to see how people who have lived here all along flaunt American accent just because they've studied in the US for four years.

After 2 States, this is the second film based on Chetan Bhagat's book starring Arjun Kapoor. What made you choose him?
I have an emotional connect with Arjun. I don't look at him as the son of a popular Bollywood producer, but as someone who has been brought up by an independent single mother. I have seen his hardships - his battle to lose weight and doing things that people said he could never do. Madhav Jha, his character in the film, is a lot like that, too. Speak to Arjun about his past relationships and he'll say, 'Dude, do you see how I used to look? Do you think I got any girls, ever?' He doesn't say it with bitterness, but humour. All these things added up to who Madhav is. Also, I cast Shraddha in Aashiqui 2 because I remember seeing her with oil in her hair, talking to her bai in Marathi. I like people who are not Bollywoodised.

Your films are deeply emotional and often have an underlying tragedy...
I wonder how some people are always so happy. As much as happiness is a part of life, love is not just about being with someone at happy times. You love a person for his/her imperfections too and that's what Aashiqui 2 was for me. Awarapan (2007) was me questioning the existence of God. I let my thoughts reflect in my films.

So, you find them therapeutic?
Yes. However, in the case of Aashiqui 2, the film turned out to be a huge success, but I lost my father around that time. The one person I wanted to share my success with was not there, so it didn't matter to me anymore. I felt incomplete. So, even if I make a thriller now, it will be about a man in search of something.

Have Udita (wife) and your daughter changed your outlook towards life?
After having a daughter, I started respecting and valuing women more. Not that I didn't respect women before, but I couldn't express in words their contribution in my life. Madhav's character helped me change that. My real self bleeds into my films and I find closure after that. I lost my mother when I was really young. To see what Udita does for our child makes me fall in love with her all over again. It's heartwrenching to see what a mother does for her child and a daughter's love for her father.

Were you commitment phobic? Did you have any half girlfriends before marriage?
I was never commitment phobic, my problem was different. I was always in a relationship, I always had a woman in my life. Maybe it was my way of trying to compensate for not having a mother.

What do you like the most about Udita?
Udita lets me be. I am not an easy person to live with. I am obsessive about my work. The reason we have sustained this far is because of her. I have always felt that she is my soulmate despite the two of us having nothing in common. She is not passionate about films the way I am. While she is extremely family oriented, I am not since I didn't grow up with one. I didn't know what it's like to be surrounded by people with whom you are supposed to share a bond. My father was 35 and I was eight when my mother died; we were more like roommates. There were times when he had a girlfriend and I was also in love with someone and we'd share stories. There was a bond, but not the father-son kind. And, I used to work with my other family members (uncles Mahesh Bhatt and Mukesh Bhatt). So, that was also a professional relationship.

Did the failure of Hamari Adhuri Kahani (2015) affect you a lot?
Failure affects me a lot, but I cannot be the person I am today without it. I don't mull over what went wrong. I blame myself as a director if a film doesn't do well. While I don't share my success with anyone, I don't share my failure either. Success doesn't feel really great, but lows feel really low. That's why I run away to the US for a month after my film's release. I live with my best friend in Chicago, as school friends don't let failure bog you down or success go to your head. Sometimes, if people love your film, they talk to you assuming that you are a good person (smiles). They judge you by your work, my friends don't.