When Simran went on floors, none of the three parties — writer Apurva Asrani, actor Kangana Ranaut and director Hansal Mehta — imagined that a lighthearted comedy about a Gujarati immigrant in the US would permanently change the interpersonal dynamics between all of them — to the point that the three would vow never to work with each other in the future.
Anyone who is familiar with the filmmaking process can attest to the fact that the making of a film, a tentpole blockbuster or an indie gem, entails a seemingly endless series of creative conflicts.
Differences cropped up between Nikkhil Advani and Karan Johar too, on the sets of the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer, Kal Ho Na Ho. In his book, An Unsuitable Boy, Karan wrote, "Things were turbulent because there was an inherent conflict between the writer of the film who was on set and the director who was executing it."
The disagreements could be between writer-director, actor-director, actor-actors, or as has been the case with the most controversial film of the year — between the writer, actor, and director of Simran over the film's writing credits.
Text messages between the three, accessed by HuffPost India, indicate that till 21 August, 2016, days before Mehta and the crew flew off to Atlanta, Georgia, to film Simran, the director was pleased with the draft Asrani had submitted.
One message indicated that Mehta was elated about the script and he conveyed that to Asrani.
According to Asrani, who HuffPostIndia spoke to, until August 2016, Ranaut had only given "suggestions" that were "excellent", which, he says, he willingly incorporated into the script.
According to Asrani, who HuffPost India spoke to, until August 2016, Ranaut had only given "suggestions" that were "excellent", which, he says, he willingly incorporated into the script.
Now here's where the actual grey area lies: while Ranaut, in an interview with HuffPostIndia, said that the divorced housekeeper angle and her character's conflict with her father in the film were introduced by her, Asrani entirely counters this, saying those were his inputs.
He told HuffPost, "The divorce angle comes from my sister. Making her Gujju is my idea. Her family drama comes from my life. Yes, Hansal named her, but her profession — he and I came up with together."
MEHTA AND ASRANI'S FALLOUT
However, Asrani says that he began expressing his concerns to Mehta, a few days before they flew to Atlanta, as he had found out Mehta was editing the script and wasn't sure if his version would be the film's final draft.
This was, reportedly, the beginning of the fallout between the duo who had collaborated on films such as Shahid and Aligarh. Trust issues had begun creeping in as, according to Asrani, Mehta wasn't keeping him in the loop about the changes. This was confirmed to HuffPostIndia by Kangana in an interview, where she said that Mehta told her he'll "deal with" Asrani once they return from Atlanta despite Ranaut's insistence that he clear the matter out before it's too late.
"I am very concerned that you may be on a plane to shoot a script that I don't recognize."
"I am very concerned that you may be on a plane to shoot a script that I don't recognise. Please understand what this is doing to me," Asrani wrote to Mehta who responded by saying that his fears were 'unfounded' and that he'll clarify once he finds the time. He said he was caught up in 'too many last-minute crisis.'
On 5 September 2016, when Mehta and crew were already in Atlanta. In an email correspondence to Asrani (which was shared with HuffPost), Mehta wrote about his conversation with Ranaut about the script. "Let's not touch the screenplay. It's perfect."
He proceeded to write about the minor changes Ranaut and he had discussed.
After October 2016, Asrani insists, there was little to no communication between him and Mehta.
HANSAL AND KANGANA'S ATLANTA FALLOUT
Within days of the shoot, Mehta and Ranaut are believed to have had serious disagreements, sources told HuffPost. It's a fact that none of them have yet addressed. On the contrary, the two of them have projected an image of calm, something that leads one to believe they have had a healthy collaboration. In fact, in an interview to The Indian Express,Mehta called Ranaut 'amazing' to work with, while she gushed over the director.
Back in Atlanta, shooting was reportedly suspended due to their constant arguments. Mehta's son Jai was flown in to take charge of the situation, as he and Ranaut couldn't see eye-to-eye on several aspects of the film. Sources who worked on the film told HuffPost, Mehta was fed up with Ranaut taking charge on set. Apparently, at one point Ranaut even ended up directing other actors in a scene — a fact confirmed to this writer by two different sources associated with the film.
After a point, Mehta stopped coming on the sets altogether.
Messages accessed by this writer indicate that Ranaut was fed up of the "drama" and even called her director a "coward," who abandoned his film's set, in her conversations with Asrani.
On March 8, Kangana wrote to Apurva: "I am done with a clueless and a spineless director. I am done with his selfish team. Skilled director left the film sighting gender bias issues, according to him he can't handle a woman calling the shots, he was always told he'll have to collaborate, on the other hand he encouraged me calling himself a feminist, then what happened to a feminist director?"
The messages, an exchange between Asrani and Ranaut, indicate the fractured relationship between Mehta and Ranaut — she felt Mehta backtracked on his promise. She even said that Mehta should have been upfront, like Aditya Chopra and should not have signed her up, instead of promising her the freedom to collaborate. Ranaut was referring to her exchange with YRF, where Chopra didn't sign her for Sultan after she made it clear that she'd like to be involved closely in the filmmaking process.
Ranaut further told Asrani that if Mehta had a 'name to save' he wouldn't have abandoned his crew on a Rs 30 cr. set. "Truth is money came on my name. I proudly took the charge and directed the film with my head injury. Didn't say let's go back because the director has ran away," she allegedly wrote.
The above exchange was in context of the writing credits that the two were fighting over. "If a woman can singlehandedly take charge of a film where a coward director has ran away and his AD has refused to work with me, I don't need to ask for my credit from someone like you," Ranaut said.
"If a woman can singlehandedly take charge of a film where a coward director has ran away and his AD has refused to work with me, I don't need to ask for my credit from someone like you," Ranaut said.
She also wrote that she came on-board on the condition that she'll involved in 'every single detail' as she is not here to make films for '10 people' and that she has to justify the '30 cr. budget'.
Asrani countered this by saying, "If we wanted to make that film we would have chosen a story like Aligarh or Shahid. I wrote an entertainer, with no tragic elements."
After Mehta and Ranaut's fallout, it isn't entirely clear how the film was completed but several sources say that the duo tried putting their differences aside and managed to finish the Atlanta schedule by December 2016.
According to Asrani, Mehta simply 'submitted' to Ranaut's "whims and fancies" as he didn't have a choice and the fact that he was mounting a Rs 30 cr. film for the first time already had him anxious.
In a previous interview with this writer, Ranaut countered that claim. When asked if Mehta was under pressure to listen to her diktats, she had said: "To say that he couldn't tell the distinction of what he wanted to make is discrediting one of the best filmmakers of our times. To say that he was so enamoured by my charms and my stardom and got swayed by that is discrediting and underestimating a great filmmaker. I don't think that ever happened."
Around December, when Asrani was presented the film for editing, he says he was happy with what he saw. "After they returned from the shoot, I saw the rushes. I saw the additions and subtractions within scenes. But the screenplay was pretty much the same," Asrani told HuffPost. "The material was enjoyable and I was rooting for her changes. They didn't rattle me. In fact, I enjoy it when actors bring something new to my characters."
"After they returned from the shoot, I saw the rushes. I saw the additions and subtractions within scenes. But the screenplay was pretty much the same," Asrani told HuffPost.
However, by this point, sources say that Mehta and Ranaut had stopped talking altogether. And Ranaut was determined in her resolve to secure the co-writer's credit. According to Asrani, Mehta returned from the US looking like a "defeated man".
Asrani alleges that Ranaut and her producer friend, Shailendra Singh, even tried to give him "extra money" so that he signs off papers that'd allow the makers to credit Kangana as the co-writer.
Asrani says he considered the offer but finally refused.
In March 2017, there was some patchwork that was left to be shot, something that Asrani had drafted.
According to him, Ranaut refused to shoot the Mumbai bit until the credits were in place. Since Asrani didn't agree on the actor's co-writer demand, they finally, grudgingly, agreed on an 'additional story' credit.
A new person was brought in. Kangana confirmed this in the HuffPost interview, saying she wanted Asrani 'out.'
As of today, Asrani says he has no regrets. He hasn't seen the film. Neither does he know how it has turned out.
He told HuffPost, "I have fought to retain my credit because it's my story. What Ranaut did, irrespective of her claims, is what all good artists do. She added value to what I had already written. But the way she's played this narrative of dismissing my work and questioning my credibility as a writer is nothing short of character assassination. It has hurt me and my reputation. All I want to say is that people shouldn't take her at face value — they should question her. She shouldn't just be treated as a beacon of feminism. There is a lot of duplicity, lot of lies, lots of false allegations. I want people to see her for what she is, not what she projects herself to be," he says.
"But the way she's played this narrative of dismissing my work and questioning my credibility as a writer is nothing short of character assassination."
On his feelings about Mehta, Asrani says: "I can't say how I'm feeling. It's a mix of hurt, love and understanding. I had thought he'd have my back when I stood upto her. Wish he had stood upto the bully too. Maybe I will understand better when I'm in his shoes, I don't know. But we have finally moved on to newer partnerships and I think that is healthy. I wish him the best."
And what does he feel about the film? "I sincerely hope it does well."
HuffPost reached out to both, Kangana and Hansal, but they declined to comment.
Also see on HuffPost: