Before Honey Trehan made his debut with Raat Akeli Hai, a film that was originally planned as a theatrical release but then made its way to Netflix, the Allahabad native had already made a name for himself as a casting director.
He started off as an assistant director on Vishal Bhardwaj’s Makdee and followed it up as a casting director on several Bhardwaj films such as Maqbool, Omkara and Kaminey. In 2016, Trehan turned producer with Abhishek Chaubey. The duo produced Konkona Sen Sharma’s A Death in the Gunj, which opened at the Mumbai Film Festival.
Trehan’s journey towards direction has been a long one, and his career could be described as a slow burn in itself.
But the payoff has been rewarding. Raat Akeli Hai opened to rave reviews. I had mixed feelings initially but enjoyed the film a lot more the second time around. It’s the kind of movie where knowing the ending makes the journey there more exciting as you can spot and appreciate the red herrings and easter eggs.
Raat Akeli Hai has been compared to Knives Out, although the Indian film was shot before the 2019 hit released in theatres. Written by Smita Singh (Sacred Games) as her graduation project for FTII, the film’s script reached Trehan, who brought his own inputs to the writing while having Singh onboard as a collaborator.
It was shot on location over a period of 46 days, going exactly as per schedule. Trehan repeatedly points out how grateful he was to have Ronnie Screwvala (of RSVP Movies) as his producer, someone who didn’t just stand with him till the very end but also gave him the ‘freedom to fail.’
Over a two-hour long Zoom call, Trehan unpacks some of the broader ideas and the intimate details of Raat Akeli Hai, his long relationship with Vishal Bhardwaj and their unfulfilled dream of making Sapna Didi.
It’s been a few days since Raat Akeli Hai released on Netflix. In the words of a TV reporter, I want to ask you, aap ko kaisa lag raha hai?
Honestly, I really wanted this film to be seen in a theatre. But would people step out and shell 2,000 bucks to watch a film starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte? I’m not sure. Unless you get great reviews and great word-of-mouth, then perhaps. Given the lockdown, I’m glad it released on Netflix because a lot more people have now seen the film. You know, the streaming players have killed the monopoly of stars over audiences. It’s become a democratic set-up.
In the absence of a box office and with Netflix not sharing numbers, how do you personally gauge the success of your movie? Not that box office is the right barometer but it still tells you something.
You scan the internet and get a sense of what the audience is feeling. And then you read the reviews of people you respect. I read your stuff closely, I like Baradwaj Rangan, Shubhra Gupta, Namrata Joshi, Saibal Chatterjee—many of them I’ve not met but it’s almost like I know them through their work. Like they know me through mine. You get a sense that your film is being read well, irrespective of the review being good or bad.
There’s so much happening in the film. On one end, it’s a whodunnit in the classic, Chinatown sense of the term. And yet, it’s also about power, masculinity and the oppression of women. What was the story you wanted to tell?
Patriarchy. The omnipresence of it. When the script came to me, it didn’t have any noir in it. It didn’t have so many night scenes. Smita is from Bundelkhand. I am from Allahabad. Why do I want to tell this story? Jatil Yadav probably had many cases before this. Why this case and why not something else? Our social system is plagued by patriarchy.
It’s a curse that affects everyone, men and women and is passed on through generations. I wanted to explore this. Which is why I was very impressed by the way Smita handled the mother and son track. She″s a progressive mother but her son doesn’t seem to have inherited any of those values. When he first sees Radha on a train, she’s trying to run away…