Meet Vinil Mathew, the Malayali director of Bollywood thriller Haseen Dilruba

Haseen Dilruba starring Tapsee Pannu and Vikrant Massey in the lead roles has topped the trending list ever since its release on the popular OTT platform Netflix.

Not just in India, the movie became an instant hit in many foreign countries too. Bollywood actor Tapsee Pannu, who had proved her mettle in the critically acclaimed Thappad has once again declared that she has the potential to carry a movie entirely on her shoulders.

Meanwhile, the movie’s director Vinil Mathew who hails from Thripunithura in Kerala is elated that his film is garnering rave reviews from all corners. Vinil who studied film making from the famed Film and Television Institute in Pune and in Germany is a veteran in directing ad-films. His clients include international brands like Cadbury and Nestle.

Vinil speaks to Onmanorama about Haseen Dilruba and what inspired him to become a film maker.

It was in 2014 that you directed the super hit romantic comedy Hasee Toh Phasee. There was a gap of 7 years between your debut movie and your second film Hassen Dilruba that was recently released on Netflix. Why did a director who had created a hit wait for such a long time to make his second film?

I am basically an adfilm maker. That is how I earn my living and I enjoy doing it. I took a break of around 2 or three years from adfilms to direct Hasee Toh Phasee. I was always interested in making feature films. I did Hasee Toh Phasee along with a friend. Cinema is a big responsibility. It takes years of hard work to write and direct a film. The post production too is time consuming. After that movie, I returned to the world of advertisements. Most importantly, a good story is required to make a movie. Besides, Bollywood follows a star system. You need to secure the dates of the actors and look for a producer. It is not necessary that everything falls in place just as you wish. I hope there won’t be a long gap until my third film.

Casting is a big challenge in Bollywood. Unlike Malayalam cinema, it takes lots of time to rope in actors. Sanu John Varghese, the director of Arkariyaam is my close friend. I am friends with Rajeev Ravi and Parvathy too. They have told me about how quickly a movie could be made in Malayalam. Around 60% of my movie was shot before the lockdown. Sanu was in Kerala during that time. While I was working on the rest of my film, Sanu completed his film and released it. That is the major difference between both the industries. Moreover, in Bollywood, stories have to be chosen catering to the interests of a pan Indian audience.

Your characters cannot be termed good or bad. Neither do they possess the stereotypical traits of a Bollywood hero. How did you help Parineeti – Sidharth and Tapsee – Vikrant become one with their respective characters?

I mostly work according to the style of work of my actors. In both the films, the characters aren’t either good or bad; all of them have shades of grey. So, the movies too have multiple layers. That is what attracted me to these stories. Haseen Dilruba is a thriller and at the same time it is a love story and family drama, and there is comedy too. In my mind, the movie was primarily a love story. The rest of it were developed keeping the love story as the base. That must be the reason why the audience enjoyed the love angle in the movie, even though it is a thriller.

Parineeti’s character in Hasee Toh Phasee too is unlike regular characters. She is not a drug addict; nor is she an alcoholic or mentally unstable person. However, there are elements of all these in that character. We couldn’t find a reference character for that role. So, it was a bit difficult filming her portions. Takes in which she acts in milder tones and does the same thing in an over dramatic fashion were simultaneously filmed. While editing, we chose the right ones that suited the sequence. The filming of that movie was pretty complex. For the movie, we actually made Sidharth look plain. It was quite a task making him achieve a ‘normal’ look. Similarly, Tapsee and Vikrant’s characters too are unique. We were worried, until the last moment, about how these characters would be received.

Your first film was a theatrical hit while the second movie had an OTT release. What were the struggles that you had faced as a director?

Lockdown was announced when 60% of Haseen Dilruba was completed. We began it as a movie meant for theater. However, filming got stalled for five months. We could resume the shooting only in October last year. We had theatrical release in mind even during the editing. However, it was later decided that an OTT release would be best for the film. People would watch the movie in their laptops. So, sound qualities were changed to suit this medium. Had we planned it as an OTT release in the beginning itself, we would have filmed it a bit differently. The movie started trending in the ‘Top 10’ list within 24 hours.

What do you think about Malayalam movies?

I watch lots of Malayalam movies. I am interested in directing one too. However, I would direct only if I get a good story. I won’t make a movie for a star. My style is to choose the actors who fit the roles and the story. I really enjoy the movies that had Mohanlal – Sreenivasan combination. Dileesh Pothen is my favorite director. I like the movies that are penned by Syam Pushkaran. Moreover, I am a big fan of Mahesh Narayanan’s films too.

What is your next project?

I have a few stories in mind. It was quite unexpectedly that the story of Haseen Dilruba came to me. Kanila Dhillon told me the story while we met during an event. I decided to do it as I liked the story. I didn’t do it by planning everything in advance. The pandemic and the lockdown have taught us that nothing is in our hands.


I was born in Kerala. My father PJ Mathew who hails from Thripunithura worked as a deputy secretary at the Ministry of Defense. My mother Mercy Mathew is a native of Cheranalloor. Meanwhile, my wife Swetha’s native place is Thrissur. I grew up and completed my school education at Delhi. I then studied direction at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune. After that, I did a course on film making in Germany too. Currently, my parents stay at Thripunithura.

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