A major part of ‘Rang Rasiya’ focuses on the court case against Raja Ravi Verma… charges that continue to hound artists to this day. Yet the maker of such diverse films as ‘Mirch Masala’ and ‘Maya Memsaab’, Ketan Mehta finds his film stuck in the cans.
I saw ‘Rang Rasiya’ at the Kolkata Film Festival where you received a standing ovation. The film has travelled to many other festivals. Yet it is still to release. What hurdles are you facing?
The problem was that it wasn’t a cheap film to make. We made it in English and Hindi, that is in two versions. And to find an adventurous distributor who could take that kind of a risk was the challenge. Finally after two years of searching, we have found a distributor who is going to take the challenge.
So, it’s releasing this year?
In terms of style and content, the film is very mainstream, yet you talk of risks…
You see, I make a film because I need to make that particular film. The subject matter compels me to make it. So, yes it is agreed that a film, which I made with so much of love, affection and care, finds it difficult to get released, but that’s also the challenge. That’s what makes filmmaking an adventurous sport.
The visual grammar of ‘Rang Rasiya’– the way you mount your frames, the picturisation of songs- was very melodramatic. Was it a conscious choice?
You see, each film comes with its own structure, its own cinematic form. This film is based on a novel by one of the greatest Marathi writers, Ranjit Desai. So, the form was derived firstly, from the painting style of Raja Ravi Verma and secondly, the writing style of the novelist. If you see Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings, basically what he does is, he picks up the essence of a story in its most dramatic moment and it becomes a representation of the story as a whole. So, he picks up stories from the Ramayana, the Puranas, and the Mahabharata. In Mahabharata, he actually has the ‘Chirharan’ story being told. From Ramayana, he picks up the image of Ravana chopping off the wings of Jatayu. He actually picks up the most dramatic moments from the story. And that level of dramatic tension that he oozes through his paintings is what we were trying to achieve cinematically.
Considering the fact that you are a veteran, having made classics like ‘Mirch Masala’, ‘Bhavni Bhavai’, how do you negotiate the fact that you still face problems finding a distributor?
If you decide to make the kind of films that I decide to make, in that case, each film is a challenge. It is easier to make a film which is expected, which is run of the mill, which is commercial and that sells.
What’s with your fascination for biopics – ‘Sardar’, ‘Mangal Pandey’, ‘Rang Rasiya’?
Well, I have done ten films of which, three are biopics. But I have also made other kinds of films. I have done musicals, I have done a thriller, I have done a youth film, I have worked on folklore. Each time it’s a new story and we take it up as an adventure.
Last year, a lot of independent films didn’t do well even though in terms of content, they were very rich… films like ‘Mirch’, ‘Memories in March‘, ‘Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster’ as opposed to a blockbuster like ‘Bodyguard’. So, what’s your take on the way the Hindi film industry is functioning?
The popular minded cinema is the majority cinema. That is a given fact anywhere in the world. Escapist cinema draws in much larger crowds. When you are talking about a discerning audience; an audience which wants to participate in the film, which wants to take the film home with them, that’s always a marginal space. One would think that the margin would increase with the coming of the multiplexes but it has actually shrunk over the last few years. At the moment, the entire cinema is going through a process of transformation… from the point of production to even the exhibition and distribution of films. So, over the next 5-6 years, there will be a bloodbath, there will be a whole churning process but I am extremely optimistic about a wide range of cinema reaching out to a wider audience.
What’s your take on piracy? Some filmmakers feel that piracy supports small cinema because they get an audience, after being ignored at the cinemas…
Ironically, the so-called new wave cinema, the different forms of meaningful cinema or whatever you want to call it, don’t get pirated as well. Piracy actually affects the blockbuster commercial cinema more than the other kinds of cinema.
But there are torrents of Rang Rasiya available…
You are kidding me.
I have seen ‘Rang Rasiya’ even before it premiered at the Kolkata Film Festival…
I didn’t know about this at all. Thanks for warning me, I must check this out. It’s a pity that this is how the film gets seen because it is such a visually powerful film.
What are your future projects, apart from ‘Rang Rasiya’?
Well, I am working on a couple of projects right now. One is called ‘Noor’; the story of an Indian princess who became a British spy during the Second World War. It’s an amazing story of an amazing woman.
What about the film on Lakshmibai?
Yes, that’s a big project which is still being worked out.
And your ambition of filming the Mahabharat?
Too many people are looking at it, and again, that too is a huge project. Actually for Mahabharat, we have also started a visual effects studio in Bombay so that these kinds of films can be made. Again that’s a very exciting project.