Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, the director who once stunned the Indian audience with unconventional films like Rang De Basanti, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Delhi 6, and last year, Mirzya, turned 54 today. During an exclusive chat with indianexpress.com, he talked about his upcoming film, Mere Pyaare Prime Minister. We came to know that while making this film, which is based on the subject of lack of toilet facilities in the country, he was actually also building lavatories in the slums where it was being shot. Here are some excerpts from the interview.
So what is Mere Pyaare Prime Minister all about?
“It’s something I have been dwelling on for the last four years. Finally, when it was all ready we went into making the film. We have finished the shooting. We were in Delhi for the last two days of shooting, and this is essentially a story of inspiration. The main protagonists are a mother and son. The mother is 25 , and has a son is a 8- year-old. They live in a slum colony in Mumbai, Gandhinagar, (it’s a fictitious name). We have shot at all in real locations,” said the director.
“Here, the son’s endeavor is to make a toilet for his mother. He understands the pain and problems his mother faces daily…the problem of open defecation, for women living in urban areas especially in places like Bombay,” he added.
So will it be a reflection of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project, Swachch Bharat?
“Not really. It’s kind of independent. But there is an appeal which he (the young boy) makes to the Prime Minister of the country. Like I said it has been going on for four years, and back then, I also got associated with an NGO named Yuva Unstoppable, they are based in Ahmedabad. We were doing some work and soon we found a focus in building toilets in municipal schools and places which don’t have toilets. The feedback was really interesting,” said the Bollywood director.
“Previously girls would normally leave their studies after hitting puberty. They would stop going to schools because there was no privacy, no toilets for girls (particularly) and if there were any toilets, they were being used by all. They were basically in complete shambles. So we started building them, this started having really good results. Now we have built over 800 (toilets). So that was happening; and at the same time we had a writer from Bihar, Manoj, he came up with the idea of a young kid wanting to make a toilet for his single mother. So all the dots started connecting. I took the story idea, concept and developed it further, and then wrote the screenplay myself and set it in Bombay,” he added.
Last year, you launched Anil Kapoor’s son Harshvardhan Kapoor and before that you have worked with well-known personalities like Aamir Khan, Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan and Amitabh Bachchan. But Mere Pyaare Prime Minister does not have any stars.
“For me, right from day one, my story has been my first star. And then one would go ahead and cast the right actor for it. In Mere Pyaare Prime Minster, you don’t need a star. If you’re talking about slum kids, I cannot get an 8-year-old star. For the role of the single mother, we found an amazing actor, Anjali Patil. She is a national award winner. She also got awarded at the London Film Festival for her collection of work.”
How do you think the Indian audience will reciprocate to a film that doesn’t have stars?
“Yeah, that I’m about to see too. I have asked that question before Rang De Basanti, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Delhi 6. They are unconventional for me but that’s not the issue. If I have to tell the story I feel strongly about it, from our end, it’s a very interesting plot and I think it will resonate with the audience.”
You have worked with late actor Om Puri in Mirzya, Rang De Basanti. Do you miss him?
“I don’t know how to answer that, but for me, he (Om Puri) is always there… his body of work is so interesting that you can’t miss him. He is always there. But yes, I will miss working with him. He was a dear friend, and I will miss those times we have spent together. For me it’s not the longevity of your life but the quality and that he has achieved 10 times over.”