In a world where everything and everyone moves at warp speed, it’s always reassuring to know that there are some that take their time, to ruminate, craft and create things that are often more than the sum of their parts.
Indian filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra is one such individual – a fine craftsman who refuses to follow the tides.
And the proof is indeed in the pudding. Or puddings in his case.
Since 2001, Mehra has written, directed or produced a grand total of five films – a positively sloth-like pace at which to make movies in a business where the norm is often five films a year.
And perhaps because he likes to take his time on his creations, those creations are uniformly spectacular. ‘Rang De Basanti’, Mehra’s 2006 magnum opus, is arguably one of the finest films ever to come out of India, as was ‘Bhaag
Milka Bhaag’, his critical and commercial phenomenon from 2013.
And those films also often tackle issues that much of Indian cinema shies away from – be it politics (Rang De Basanti) or forgotten heroes (Bhaag Milka Bhaag).
Now, Mehra is back with his latest, ‘Mirzya’, a film inspired by the popular Punjabi folk tale of love and betrayal ‘Mirza-Sahiban’. Written by the unequalled Gulzar, ‘Mirzya’ is directed by Mehra and stars newcomers Harvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher in the central roles, alongside veteran actor Om Puri and British-Pakistani stalwart Art Malik.
I caught up with the filmmaker to find out more.
Ruchi Raj. The tale of ‘Mirza Sahiban’ is one of four hugely popular romantic folktales from the Punjab. Why this one in particular?
Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra: I had seen the play during my college days and the story stayed with me. It is in the likeness of Romeo and Juliet, Reshma and Shera, Laila and Majnu – all these legendary tragic love stories. For me, Mirza and Sahibaan was a very important link in the chain and most importantly it had a very important female protagonist in the film. And after that I always used to wonder and I wondered for a very long time that you know why is it that the things that we love the most that destroy us. So one had to go out and find it out for oneself. And I had to make this movie then.
RR: What was the journey like for you?
ROM: Every movie, every story whether it gets made or it just can’t get made, everything you do here in the business of movies in creating them is always a journey. And it’s such a beautiful journey. It’s complete with ups and downs, it’s a roller coaster journey but you can’t be complaining. I think I am blessed, I am fortunate to be a part of this whole ecosystem, this whole universe which tells stories.
RR: Given that you worked with stalwarts like Amitabhji and Aamir Khan and so many others, how was it working with newcomers like Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami?
ROM: Absolutely fantastic. It was a requirement of the script. Deep down I felt that if I have to make this movie, I will need new faces. I will need fresh faces, fresh blood, a new attitude, a new way of acting, because the whole idea in which way we were telling the story I wanted to share that with the audience and that would have only happened with a feeling of debutants. Having said that, I was lucky enough to have not just Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher , also Anuj Chaudhari, a brilliant actor from Delhi also making his debut, and Anjali Patil from Nasik who has done a Marathi film earlier. All four of them were a great mix and there was so much energy on the shooting floor. I had them for a year with me so we had all kinds of workshops. We hung around a lot. We spoke a lot. And then, going on to the set was just a technical thing and an exercise in improvisation.
RR: With super hit movies like Rang De Basanti and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag behind you, do you feel the audience expectations will be higher this time?
ROM: I don’t know how to answer that question. I have been asked that so many times. The biggest challenge is the person you look into the mirror every day. You have to expect more and more out of yourself. And yes, it is very important for me not to disappoint the people who come and pay ticket prices to watch my movies. More than expectations, there is so much love I have got from the audience to come and watch a film by my name. This in itself I feel blessed about. You definitely have to live upto that.
RR: What should the audience especially look forward to in this movie?
ROM: ‘Never fall in love again or to be in love all the time!’ I just want them to go in there and forget themselves. Just lose themselves to the film. When they come out, if they are with their loved ones, she should hold his hand and watch the movie, if they are not with their loved one they should go out and make the first call to their loved ones and if they don’t have one they should find one.
RR: It sounds like it is a journey of love.
ROM: It is and I have never understood the concept of love myself. I know the definition and I know what the perception of love is but it’s such a crazy feeling and it’s so illogical that it’s very difficult to define it. The only way to understand love is to be in love. How can I share that with the people who are watching the movie? That experiential feeling is what I wanted to share.
RR: From the initial teasers, it’s evident that the visual element of the film is unique and clearly very important for you?
ROM: I feel movies are stories told in pictures. They are not essentially spoken. Just like a novel unravels in your mind space and a play unfolds in front of you on the stage, a movie is a story which you consume with pictures. I believe a lot in silent cinema. Even Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was a long movie, it was a 3 hour movie and an hour and twenty mins was silent. Here also you will see a lot of silence.