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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Director Mahesh Dattani: Wish I had made Morning Raga now, that time wasn’t right for such films

Mahesh Dattani, who directed 2004 film Morning Raga starring Shabana Azmi, says he would love to re-release it now as the Indian audience today is appreciating content driven cinema.

Written by Komal RJ Panchal | Mumbai | Published: January 3, 2018 12:18:11 pm
Morning Raga director Mahesh Dattani Mahesh Dattani’s Morning Raga was India’s entry to the Oscars but failed to make it to the nominations list.

Director, playwright, writer… Mahesh Dattani is one man with different facets. He helmed 2004 movie Morning Raga starring Shabana Azmi, Prakash Kovelamudi, Perizaad Zorabian and Lillete Dubey. This critically acclaimed film was shortlisted for the Oscars, but missed it’s chance at the nominations and the award.

After making other films like Mango Souffle, Dance Like A Man and Ek Alag Mausam, Dattani stopped directing feature films. He says he “belongs to the theatre” and enjoys the process of directing plays. We caught him with the filmmaker at APG World’s ‘Spotlight’. The theatre festival is a celebration showcasing some of the best productions from one of India’s premiere theatre production house, AGP World.

In an exclusive chat with, Dattani reminisces the film that got him global recognition, and how he thinks that it would be a good idea to get back to making films when Indian audience is appreciating content driven cinema.

Morning Raga was way ahead of its time. What do you think about it now?

I wish I had made the film now, rather than almost twenty years ago. That time wasn’t right for films like Morning Raga, because the whole parallel cinema movement had died down. With the way the ‘low-budget’ films are doing so well today, I wish I had made the film now, the audience is completely different and they are exploring.

It is very exciting that at least the old paradigm is broken, finally. Nobody knows what the new paradigm is, so it is an exciting time in cinema, or theatre, or whatever. Everybody is checking things out, so you’ll get some really great offbeat films and content to consume. This is one reason why we’re seeing such great talent in cinema today. Look how well Marathi films are doing, at least the ones I have seen are at par with Iranian films.

Shabana Azmi starrer Morning Raga A still from Morning Raga.

Why do you think it took so long for this wave of content driven films arriving in Bollywood?

It also depends on people who commission the projects. Now you have production houses, earlier there were individual producers, and they would take up projects which would fit their personal aesthetic sense. But now the time is changing, people are breaking out of the traditional view point. Then we also have Mavericks like Aamir Khan who knows how to package different stuff in the most entertaining way possible. So, with all of these things, the time is very exciting, I wish I was twenty years younger.

People are watching Morning Raga online. Would you re-release the film now, knowing that you have a bigger audience to watch it?

That’s right, yeah! I think I should speak to the producers about it. UTV has the rights. We gave them all the rights, but now UTV as a company doesn’t exist. So I don’t know how to handle all these other complications, but if I take an effort I should be able to get that going.

You’ve gotten into directing theatre plays full time. Do you plan to make a feature film any time soon though?

Theatre is my passion, of course, I loved making Morning Raga. But a film is like a product, it stays with you once it is made, but theatre is like ‘rangoli’. You do the ‘rangoli’, you enjoy making it, you appreciate it and then it’s all gone, in a few days. Theatre is very much like that. Whereas the film is more lasting, and it stays for posterity, with digitisation and conservation you can be assured that your work is preserved forever. Similarly, playwrights have survived, because the play is written by them. Writing is something that can stay, a written play can survive. But theatre artistes and directors are transitory, art is in it’s immediacy, and I love that concept, as life is also transitory. Flowers are more beautiful than stones, and that’s how theatre is for me.

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