Shool and Dum director Eshwar Niwas hasn’t made a film since 2014. He is back, but with a web series: SonyLIV’s first original production, Your Honor.
Adapted from the Israeli series Kvodo, Your Honor tells the story of how Bishan Khosla (Jimmy Sheirgill), a conscientious circuit court judge in Ludhiana, attempts to cover up a hit-and-run involving his son (Pulkit Makol). The accident victim happens to be the son of a dreaded gangster (Mahaveer Bhullar).
“What drew me to the series was the contradiction of how the central character is a noble judge with a great track record who would never bypass the Constitution,” Niwas told Scroll.in. “But then he is caught between his conscience and his emotional obligation as a father.”
The series will be streamed from June 18. Its cast includes Mita Vashisht, Yashpal Sharma, Varun Badola, Parul Gulati and Suhasini Malay.
Badola, who appeared alongside Sheirgill in Haasil (2003) and Charas (2004), plays a Central Reserve Police Force officer and Bishan’s loyal friend who helps him with the cover-up. Vashisht plays an investigative officer. Sharma is cast as a gangster and Gulati is Bishan’s intern.
Your Honor has been shot across Ludhiana and Chandigarh. Principal photography was wrapped up by April 2019. For Niwas, a Telugu-speaking native of Hyderabad who has been working in Mumbai for close to three decades, shooting in a Punjabi milieu wasn’t difficult.
“My first film itself was set in Bihar,” Niwas said. “In these cases, we go to the spot, and right from the location scouting through pre-production, we observe and make notes and go through script readings with the actors to capture the finer nuances of the area.” Niwas’s last film, Total Siyapaa (2014), revolved around Punjabis settled in London.
Niwas had a glorious start to his career. His directorial debut Shool (1999), made when he was 23, was released to rave reviews and box office success. The film starred Manoj Bajpayee as a lone-wolf policeman who takes on a corrupt politician-criminal nexus. It won the National Film Award in the Hindi language category.
Shool was produced by Ram Gopal Varma, whom Niwas had been assisting since the director’s 1992 bilingual film Antham/Drohi. “Ram Gopal Varma taught me the ABCD of filmmaking,” Niwas said. “I started off by becoming his 12th assistant, graduating to associate director, then chief assistant director. He’s my boss.”
Niwas followed it up with a series of well-received films: the Fargo-inspired Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega (2001), the angry-young-man drama Dum (2003), which was a remake of the Vikram-starrer Tamil superhit Dhill, and the vigilante-themed Bardaasht (2004). Bardaasht flopped, and Niwas’s next three films, released between 2008 and 2014, turned out to be duds too.
“After so many hits, when your first film flops, you don’t mind it, but after the first flop, there’s a second flop, then a third, then you start questioning yourself,” Niwas observed. “You wonder, where am I going wrong, because I am putting in the same hard work in my flop film as I did with my hit film. And when your film flops, people’s perspectives change. They announce, this guy is finished, but you keep fighting so you don’t lose your mojo.”
When his films did not work, Niwas concentrated on directing advertising films. He reached a point where “making one more film” was no longer difficult, he said, but he realised: “if you have to make something, to which you are devoting a year or year and a half, the subject should speak to you and should be worth it. I think that’s where I was going wrong.”
Among his fims, Niwas is most proud of Shool and Dum.
“Shool, obviously, but I choose Dum, because my first two films were produced by Ram Gopal Varma sir, so I was within a camp which was like a family. Making Dum was like moving out of your house and doing something,” he said.
Would he make something in Telugu any time soon? “I enjoy working in the Hindi industry, reaching out to a larger audience, and I have become accustomed here, but yes, I’d want to make something in my mother tongue, but only if I get the correct script,” Niwas said.