Relationships: Better late than never
Hansal Mehta might just be the poster boy of procrastination. He will leave you on ‘seen’ for a whole week before sending a short reply, only to disappear again. But, you can rest assured your job will eventually get done. After all, the man took 17 years to finally say ‘I do’ to his partner, Safeena Husain!
“So, after 17 years, two children, watching our sons growing up and chasing our respective dreams, we decided to get hitched. As always in life, this was also impromptu and unplanned,” Mehta wrote in a post on May 25, making his surprise wedding Insta-official.
The duo got married in an intimate ceremony in San Francisco. To call it just ‘unplanned’ would be an understatement. Even his sons had no clue what their dad was up to!
“It was an innocuous post! We had been telling our friends that we might do this, but when we posted it, even they were surprised,” laughs Hansal, who has two sons with Sunita—his former wife—Jay and Pallava. “It suddenly became a big thing! My son called up; he was very upset that I had not informed him and that he could not be present at the wedding.”
“It is like your parents eloping and getting married,” quips Safeena.
But they did have their daughters, Kimaya (who doubled up as the wedding photographer) and Rehana by their side.
“They were constantly amused by the goings-on. They would have wanted a bit more fanfare though,” says Hansal.
The teenagers ensured their dad didn’t pull a Chandler Bing on their mom right before the wedding. He had had cold feet the night before!
“My daughters told me he was having second thoughts! He was hyperventilating,” reveals Safeena.
“I got very anxious the night before. It was this sudden realisation that, oh s**t… this is actually happening! Also, we were fighting a lot before that, so I told my daughters that I was having second thoughts about the wedding,” Hansal chuckles.
For all this rom-com build-up, the actual ceremony was rather lachrymose. “It became a very emotional moment for both of us. It was a unique situation. You usually take these vows before starting a life together and here we were, having already spent half of our lives together. It was like looking back and looking forward,” reminisces Hansal.
“It made us reflect on the life we have built together. It makes it so special when you take vows after spending 17 years together. You realise the depth of your love for and commitment towards the other person. Both of us cried during the vows! It was an overwhelming moment,” adds Safeena.
“I think after going through it, we realised how much it really meant to us,” says Hansal.
Love at first quip
Hansal and Safeena first met at a small get together in Mumbai and it was love at first sight. Well, almost!
“We met in 2005. Daisy Rockwell, who has just won the 2022 International Booker Prize with Geetanjali Shree, is a close friend. She was running the South Asia Studies department in the University of California Berkeley and wanted me to help her with a Bollywood internship programme. That is how I met Hansal. Daisy introduced us,” says Safeena.
Safeena, daughter of the late actor Yusuf Husain, became a social worker after studying at the London School of Economics and founded the non-profit organisation Educate Girls. When she threw a party for Daisy at her house, Hansal turned up along with a friend.
“I had actually gone there for a free dinner,” chortles Hansal, a National Award-winning director known for his films Shahid, City lights, Aligarh and Omerta, and the stupendously successful web series Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story. His latest release, Baai, which is part of Amazon Prime Video’s Modern Love: Mumbai anthology, is a poignant tale of love and acceptance and is being hailed for its sensitive portrayal of the LGBTQIA+ community and same sex romance.
Safeena was a huge fan of Hansal’s work and could not believe that her favourite director had turned up at her party.
“I was a super fan girl of Hansal! I had rented a DVD of Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar! and had been blown away by the film. In one scene, they show Hansal leaning against a railing. I didn’t know he was the director, but his face got imprinted on me. I absolutely loved his work. So, when I finally met him, it didn’t take me long to fall for him. He was just so fantastic!” says Safeena.
Hansal also knew he had met his match and that day itself he told his friend that he could see himself spending his life with Safeena.
“I found her very attractive and she has a good sense of humour. In fact, she got my jokes, which usually people don’t! But when I told my friend that I thought she was ‘the one’, he totally dismissed the idea,” says Hansal.
That didn’t dissuade him, although Hansal insists it was Safeena who pursued him. Safeena interjects: “No. I took a student of mine to one of his shoots and there I told him how much I loved Dil Pe Mat Le…”
“And then she invited me to a friend’s wedding. So, she pursued me!” Hansal grins.
“Well he invited me home and gave me a DVD of his first movie, Jayate, and came to my house to collect it four times,” she retorts.
“Arrey, I thought she has come from the US and would have money and maybe she can finance my next film,” quips Hansal putting in zero effort to even sound convincing!
Not the marrying kind
So what took them so long to finally get married? “He was already in his 40s and I was in my mid-30s so we didn’t really think of getting married. We met and fell in love and had children, and then it became a tad embarrassing to get married after having babies! Also, I was starting my organisation and he was busy with his work, so it just didn’t happen,” says Safeena.
“Just before our first daughter was born, we moved in together. Our careers took off after our younger daughter was born and life went in a different direction. For the last 14 years, we have been super busy working on our respective projects. We never had the time to get married,” says Hansal.
In any case, Hansal has never believed in the institution of marriage. “I had always referred to Safeena as my wife anyway, because in India, a partner means a business partner! A formal wedding wasn’t something either of us wanted. We would have taken some vows in the spirit of it, but a formal certification of our relationship by a government is rather oppressive in my opinion. I consider it regressive,” says Hansal. “I can understand one needing a licence to drive, but why would two people who love each other need certification? How can a government decide that these two people can now live together?”
Safeena had a very different reason for not wanting to tie the knot. “My stepfather was an alcoholic. I grew up in very tough circumstances amid a lot of poverty and violence until I moved in with my own father. I hadn’t seen happy marriages while growing up and didn’t believe in the institution as a means for happiness. When you have gone through a lot of trauma—and mine was right inside my home—you grow up hyper-vigilant. I always wanted the door open so I could leave at anytime,” she reveals.
But, in the last 17 years, she has never felt the need to walk through that open door. “It is our love and respect for each other and not anything else that has kept us together,” she says. And that is the beauty of their relationship.
Just do it
It is not easy for couples to stay together while not being married. “We have such outdated paperwork and processes in place—from a child’s admission to their Aadhaar card or passport—you need that marriage certificate. We manoeuvred through most of these hurdles; we had to file an affidavit saying that our daughters were born out of wedlock to get them their passports. But we recently lost two of our parents in quick succession and that made us realise that the way the world functions, the bureaucracy, the red-tape, it would put our children in a spot after we are gone if we don’t have a marriage certificate. We needed a piece of paper to legalise our bond to make the lives of our future generations easier,” says Hansal.
“My mother was in the US; we were visiting and our daughters were with us. In the US, unlike in India, you don’t require elaborate planning to get married. It is simple and easy. So we were like, chalo kar lete hai [let’s do it]!” says Safeena.
Now that the deed is done, the happily married couple is planning to throw a reception for their friends and family.
“I don’t believe in rituals. But we will do a reception. I try to avoid going to weddings especially because of the dress codes that you have these days. But we went to Raj [Rajkummar Rao] and Patralekha’s wedding and it was great fun. It was then that we thought that maybe we should also get married,” says Hansal who is more than happy that he eventually tied the knot with Safeena.
But the duo insists that nothing has changed since the legal tag, apart from having a wedding anniversary to celebrate. “I am still not cleaning his cupboard or packing for him,” says Safeena.
“And I am still the master of the kitchen!” quips Hansal.
From HT Brunch, June 25, 2022
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