Zahan Kapoor on Debuting With Hansal Mehta, Anubhav Sinha’s BFI London Film Festival Title ‘Faraaz’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Zahan Kapoor debuts as the lead in “Faraaz,” which has its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival’s Thrill strand.

The film is based on based on an incident in July 2016, where armed gunmen held up customers at the Holey Artisan Bakery, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, for 12 hours, before killing 20 of them and two of the bakery staff. Two police officers and five of the gunmen died in a shootout.

“Faraaz” is directed by Hansal Mehta (“Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story”) and produced by T-Series, part of its 100-film slate, Anubhav Sinha’s Benaras Mediaworks (“Article 15”) and Mahana Films.

“It means the world to me to have the backing of stalwart filmmakers for my very first film – it has been nothing short of a privilege working alongside them and the rest of the crew. I think everyone really believed in Hansal Mehta’s vision and gave it their all to bring this story to the screen,” Kapoor told Variety.

Mehta told Variety: “Through that attack, it’s a look at our world and also a deep dive into what religion means to different people. It is a deep dive into the minds of young people. When I read the story of the people who attacked the bakery, and the people were trapped, I found it incredible – it’s a story of youth and a story of our times.”

Kapoor added: “I think the subject of the film speaks for itself, it’s about faith and youth and how the same ideas can be interpreted in drastically different ways. The writers [Raghav Kakkar, Kashyap Kapoor, Ritesh Shah] have done a great job at finding nuances and variety even within such a constrained narrative timeline.”

While the film is set in Dhaka, “Faraaz” is in the Hindi and English languages rather than Bengali, in order to appeal to a larger audience, says Mehta. The Holey Artisan Bakery incident has been made into a film before by Bangladeshi auteur Mostofa Sarwar Farooki as “Saturday Afternoon” (2019). Mehta hasn’t watched that film and sees “Faraaz” as a companion piece to his own films “Shahid” (2012) and “Omerta” (2017).

“These three films are like a trilogy of films that explore the Muslim in modern times and the conflict within that world in today’s polarized times,” says Mehta.

“Faraaz” introduces six new actors, some of whom are from an acting lineage. Aditya Rawal, who plays a key role in the film, is the son of actors Paresh and Swaroop Rawal. And Kapoor’s parents are actor Kunal Kapoor and photographer Sheena Sippy. His paternal grandparents are actors Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal and his maternal grandfather is filmmaker Ramesh Sippy.

“For my lineage, I can only be grateful for it, my family has given me the gift of exposing me to the arts and myriad cultures,” says Kapoor. “Theater and cinema are in my blood but thankfully I was encouraged to discover my love for this world on my own, I was never pushed into it.”

For Sinha and Mehta, working together was something that was always on the cards and it fructified with anthology film “Be Positive,” produced by Benaras Mediaworks. The film has segments directed by Mehta, Sinha and Sudhir Mishra, all of which are complete, with a fourth, by Ketan Mehta, in the works.

“I want to release ‘Faraaz’ with a lot of pride early next year. Films like these need theatrical patronage and patience. These are not films that open big on Friday. They run and people talk about it, like ‘Article 15.’ My Monday [revenue] was bigger than Friday. But thankfully, the exhibition sector allowed that to happen,” Sinha told Variety. “I’m hoping we find a window like that where that enables them to back a film like ‘Faraaz’ theatrically, with all newcomers and not a very popular theme but still is a very engaging, very good, very important and necessary film.”

“Faraaz” premieres at the BFI London Film Festival on Oct. 15.