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Director Tarun Sharma on making Mirg: ‘The whole journey started with Satish Kaushik’

Starring Satish Kaushik, Raj Babbar, Anup Soni and Shwetaabh Singh, Mirg was released in cinemas on February 9

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Satish Kaushik in Mirg and director Tarun Sharma

In a candid conversation with Cine Blitz, director Tarun Sharma who has also written and produced his debut feature film Mirg opens up about how the film’s journey started with actor Satish Kaushik and the challenges of making the film and releasing it in theatres.

What is Mirg? And why did you decide on this title for the film?

Tarun Sharma: Mirg is a mountain leopard. In Himachal Pradesh and some parts of Uttarakhand, people call leopards by the name of Mirg. I’m from Himachal and I’ve been hearing folklore stories about Mirg since I was a kid. My house is in the middle of a jungle. There are not many houses around. So, when we were kids, the elders used to tell us, “Baahar mat nikalna, mirg aa jayega.” I hadn’t seen a snow leopard back then and it intrigued me.

Folklore would say that a mirg is a very clever hunter. It can hide even behind a leaf. Its tale is longer than its body and things like that. Even as a kid, we knew that these were exaggerated descriptions of the animal. It’s a leopard, after all. It can’t hide behind a leaf.

But while listening to those stories, I had an image in mind. So, when I was writing this script, I thought, why not explore the characters through the character of Mirg? Also, Mirg was a very interesting title because it’s one word and it’s catchy. It has some intrigue attached to it.

When I was doing theatre, we had an exercise of choosing one animal and acting according to its characteristics. So, I thought of approaching a script like that. If I give the characteristics of a mirg to the character of Anil (Shwetaabh Singh), how does he become that character? So, the film traces the journey of one character’s experiences and how he does or does not become a mirg. It’s the journey of a character growing up listening to and following three distinct people he comes in contact with. He can become like any of those three but how he chooses his path is what Mirg is all about.

And are these three distinct people played by Satish Kaushik, Raj Babbar, and Anup Soni?

Tarun Sharma: Yes. I was blessed to have these actors agreeing to do the film. The whole journey started with Satish Kaushik. I had a different kind of character and actor in mind. But the moment Satish sir’s name came up, I thought, he would bring to the character what probably every other actor that I was thinking of would not be able to in terms of just the personality and feel of it.

I approached Satish sir out of the blue and he was very responsive. He asked me to send the script to him. I was imagining things like if he wanted to do the film he would probably reply in a couple of weeks and if he didn’t want to do it then he wouldn’t even respond. But to my surprise, after sending the script, he called me back after 2 hours and said, “I want to do this film.”

I said, “But sir, we haven’t discussed where we are going to shoot the film, budgets and all.” He said, “Don’t worry about it. We will figure that out. I want to do this film.” Once he was onboard, it gave me the confidence and belief that maybe we were not doing something completely radical.

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Satish Kaushik and Shwetaabh Singh in Mirg

Similarly, with Anup sir and Raj sir, I did not want them to do what I had seen them doing. Because the film is also something that you might say you’ve seen, but not in the way that I’m showing it. So, it had to be something new. All three actors were really into it because of the character that I was offering them.

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Raj Babbar in Mirg

What about casting Shwetaabh Singh?

Tarun Sharma: It’s his debut feature film. In fact, we never thought of casting Shwetaabh in that particular role of Anil. But he’s been associated with me for quite a long time. He studied acting at FTII. I’ve seen him act in college plays then. So, I asked him, “Why don’t you audition for this role?” We tried him out and he brought to the character an intrigue that I wanted. So, I cast him.

Where have you shot Mirg and was there anything in particular that was challenging during the shoot?

Tarun Sharma: We shot the entire film in Himachal Pradesh. It was a conscious decision on my part to shoot it and show places in Himachal that probably you’ve not seen before. I didn’t want to shoot in Shimla, Manali, or Kullu. The film was shot where I grew up. When I was writing the script, I had the locations in mind because I’ve seen those locations since I was a kid. I wanted to explore that area of the lower regions of Himachal, which has a lake, jungles, high mountains, and low valleys.

Most of our shoots happened at outdoor locations. I didn’t want to go to Himachal and shoot indoors. The shoot was very challenging given the locations because we were not shooting in a place like Shimla or Manali where they have infrastructure for a lot of things. We had to work hard to get the film executed because we were shooting in deep parts of jungles. We were shooting in lakes where probably even YouTubers haven’t shot a video. It was challenging but at the end of the day, I think it all looked worthwhile after we’ve seen the product.

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Anup Soni in Mirg

Post-pandemic, when mostly the big tentpole films are seeing Box-Office success in theatres, why did you decide to release Mirg in theatres?

Tarun Sharma: Well, the challenges that you’re saying are there. I wouldn’t deny that. But I think at the end of the day, we wanted the film to be released in theatres for a reason. If you release a film on OTT, as a filmmaker, I feel if ten people are watching the film, they’re all watching a different film. Because mobile, laptop, or TV sets, each has a different viewing experience because of its settings.

We wanted to put our best step forward and show the film that we visualized and wanted you to see. The rest is up to the audience to accept or reject the film. Of course, there’s a risk. But in my film, the characters repeat saying, “Risk toh lena hai.”

We took the risk because we believed in the project. Without taking that risk, you’ll never be able to break boundaries or create something new. We are eagerly waiting to see how the audience reacts to it.

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Director Tarun Sharma

What were the learnings from making your first feature film?

Tarun Sharma: Earlier, I used to assist directors. I knew only a small segment of filmmaking. So, now after having written, directed, and produced the film and having seen the entire process holistically, I do feel that they all come with their own set of challenges, and they are very different from each other. As a producer, I have a different anxiety. And the same is true for me as a director and writer. But it’s good because I’ve always wanted to be a part of filmmaking. And this gave me a really good holistic point of view of how the whole scenario works.

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