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#Iconic: Meet the young filmmaker paying homage to ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’

Natasha Rathore Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge Aditya Chopra Yash Raj Films

 Natasha Rathore Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge Aditya Chopra Yash Raj Films

Few Indian films merit “iconic” status than Aditya Chopra’s unforgettable 1995 romance ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ – the Bollywood romance that redefined the Bollywood romance genre.

The film, which starred Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, is now set to be the subject of a documentary by Natashja Rathore, a young filmmaker from London, who was a mere toddler at the time of the film’s release and is testament to the enduring, cross-generational appeal of ‘DDLJ’.

A graduate of the London Film School, Rathore decided to turn her attentions to DDLJ having worked on and directed several short films and commercials.

Rathore aims to rediscover the magic of 'Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge' through poignant visual poetry, encounters with real life characters and intimate interviews with the men and women behind the epic romance.

The as-yet-untitled film will explore the ‘DDLJ’ legacy – not least the film’s 1000-week run at cinemas – and delves into how it catapulted its stars into superstardom. 

Rathore also intends to explore the film’s iconic locations – including London, India and Switzerland.  The young filmmaker has already enlisted the support of Yash Raj Films, the studio behind ‘DDLJ’.

YRF spokesman, Rafiq Gangjee said: “Ms Rathore came to YRF for a meeting in January this year and over the following couple of weeks we communicated and evaluated her previous work and found it promising and interesting.

“However, more than anything else, it was her persistence and dogged passion for the subject that prompted us to support her.  As a student of the renowned London Film School, it certainly made it easier for us to put our faith in her as a deserving graduating student.”

Rathore aims to begin filming later this summer and complete the shoot in two months – taking in Switzerland, London before moving on to India.

The documentary is set to be released this October.

I caught up with Natashja to find out more.

Sana Nooruddin: What drew you to this film and inspired you to make a documentary on it?

Natashja Rathore: There are a lot of issues in our society and culture that need to be addressed at the moment and it needs to be done in a way that is entertaining.  ‘DDLJ’ is a film that not only entertained generations but was also one of the first films to cross the boundaries to connect with NRI audience.  It was something that united Desis across the globe irrespective of caste, class or religion.  Whether they loved it or hated it didn’t matter - nobody could avoid it.  I saw this subject as a stepping-stone to delve into something that is much deeper and what better occasion than the film’s 20th Anniversary?

SN: The documentary genre is a tricky one isn’t it?

NR: There is this notion that documentaries are informative and boring.  It is true to a large extent because many documentaries are just a series of events.  For me, a good documentary needs to entertain and more importantly – it needs to be dramatic.  India has still not seen a documentary that is truly cinematic and that’s one of the reasons for the lack of awareness.  The only documentaries people watch are the ones made for television.  It’s time someone made something dramatic and cinematic for the silver screen. 

SN: It must be a real boon for you to have the support of Aditya Chopra and YRF films.

NR: I obviously needed permission and rights from Aditya Chopra and YRF to make this film so I approached them.  But if you’re truly passionate and genuinely devoted to something – the universe will do everything in its power to make it happen.

SN: How are you funding this film?

NR: YRF isn’t funding it because it is a London Film School production and we wanted to have full creative autonomy.  To their great credit, they didn’t want this to be a self-indulgent YRF production.  So we thought we’d get the fans to fund it through a crowd-funding campaign.  We’ve raised about £2000 from 58 contributors out of which only 3 are fans.  The other 55 consist of people who hate ‘DDLJ’ or who haven’t even watched the film or who have absolutely nothing to do with Bollywood. They trust our artistic vision and believe in us.  So even though we are far away from the £33,000 that we require, the kind of people who have come forward to support us have really given us a lot of motivation.

SN: What should one expect from the documentary and what do you hope to achieve?

NR: It’s going to be a Road-trip of discovery from the migrant desi community in London, to the multitudes of Raj & Simrans who flock to Switzerland every summer, to immersing ourselves in the vibrant splendour of Mumbai and exploring Bollywood.  Like any filmmakers, we want this film to be successful.  In keeping with London film school tradition, we plan to have the major premieres at film festivals around the world.  We aren’t just making this for the Bollywood audience; we’re also making this film for people who have absolutely no clue about Bollywood. Ultimately, Yash Raj Films holds the rights to distribution so our fate for any commercial success rests in their hands.  If at all YRF decides to distribute it, the London Film School have pledged all its revenue from this film to commence a Scholarship.  Private film school education is very expensive and as students, we have struggled a lot to arrive where we have.  As filmmakers transitioning into the industry, we understand the struggle, ambition, and passion it takes and we want to make it easier for the next generation of talented individuals who want to pursue a career in film; who otherwise don't have the means for a formal education.

SN: Tell us more about your experiences in the film industry?

NR: I worked in Bollywood once as a Camera Assistant on a feature film and a couple of commercials but I would never count that as ‘work experience’ because at that time I didn’t know anything and neither did I learn anything from it other than the fact that Bollywood can be chaotic.  My real work experience has been during the 6 years of my film school education, in Singapore and then in London – they have been the most enriching years of my life and as a result I’ve also been able to build this wonderful network of talented individuals that spans across the globe.  For instance, we have people from 8 countries at the moment working on this project.

SN: What appeals to you about the documentary genre?

NR: I have directed a bunch of short fiction films but the Documentary has always been a passion.  I think it is because it’s a more organic process. The process of making the film is discovering what the film is.  What I like about it is that you are constantly faced with the unexpected.   Even life would be boring if you knew the future – so I like to maintain the suspense and let it unravel.  That said, I’d love to make a feature film someday too – that has its own flavor and I’d love to explore that realm.

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#…ComesAround: ‘World Before Her’ filmmaker slams Times of India Group after Emmy nomination

The Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker behind 'The World Before Her' has criticized the giant Times of India Group, which had refused to promote the film, for undermining freedom of expression in India.

Writing in Dear Cinema, Nisha Pahuja described the Times Groups' snub of her acclaimed documentary as a key factor in the film's success and said it was a "lost opportunity" for India's largest mass media company.

"I feel they did a disservice not just to the film, but also themselves. They lost an opportunity to really stand for the ideals and values of a free press - so, so critical now", Pahuja wrote.

"Institutions and systems that form the pillars of any democracy must be able to withstand, engage and perhaps most importantly, encourage critiques — especially of themselves."

'The World Before Her' is an unflinching portrayal of the predicament of women in India and follows two young women in wildly opposing circumstances: one a contestant in the Femina Miss India pageant, the other a student at a training camp for women run by the hard-line Hindu group the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

The Times of India Group - which co-owns the Miss India pageant - banned all editorial coverage of the film after taking umbrage at Pahuja's less-than-flattering look at the inner workings of the event.

The company was reportedly incensed with one particular scene which shows a cosmetic surgeon injecting botox into the faces of several Miss India contestants - some as young as 19 - in preparation for the pageant's finale.

Pahuja writes: "If the image of the Miss India pageant has been tarnished through the film, that is not a bad thing at all.

"The Times group, like all of us, should be asking what kind of a world we are creating when giving 19-year-old girls botox and fillers is seen as empowering, necessary and/or a sign of India’s “progress.”

"Perhaps if they can’t defend the practice, they should reconsider it."

Ironically, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad - whose members are known for targeting mosques, churches and anyone deemed violating "Hindu customs" - have embraced the film despite initial misgivings.

According to Pahuja, the VHP has asked for her film to be shown at its training camps, "albeit with much of the Miss India footage deleted as it goes against 'Hindu Culture'".

Pahuja's comments came a day after 'The World Before Her' was nominated in the category of 'Outstanding Coverage of a Current News Story' at this year's News and Documentary Emmy Awards.

"It is such an honour to be nominated for an Emmy and especially to receive the news in India where the team has worked so hard to get the film out to audiences.

"I couldn't quite believe the message when I received it in my inbox! In many ways it makes all the long hours and years that have gone into this film even more worth it!," Nisha said in a statement.

'The World Before Her' has already won a slew of awards at film festivals around the world, including Best Documentary Feature at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

Those successes led to the film being championed by the likes of Amitabh Bachchan as well as the man widely considered the godfather of India's burgeoning independent film industry, Anurag Kashyap.

Since its release in India in June, the film has become the country's highest grossing documentary film and received widespread acclaim from critics, with Time Out Mumbai calling it the "most important Indian film of the year".

The News and Documentary Emmy Awards, presented by the US National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, will be held 30 September in New York.

The World Before Her is available for download on iTunes.

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