After giving hits like Rang De Basanti and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, ace director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra is introducing a new flavour to the audience with his upcoming romantic film Mirzya. The filmmaker has unveiled the second teaser of his much-awaited film which marks the Bollywood debut of four newcomers, including lead actors Harshvardhan (Anil Kapoor’s son) and Tanvi Azmi’s niece Saiyami Kher. In an exclusive conversation with the IndianExpress.com, Mehra, who is a part of the Censor board revamp panel, gives his take on the ongoing controversy around Udta Punjab, about his film and its lead characters and about his ambitious Jaswant Singh biopic.
Q. Udta Punjab is facing issues with the Censor Board asking the filmmakers to remove references to Punjab. What’s your take on this?
I have a very, very clear take on the Censor Board. It needs reforms. I have given the last five months of my life to the Board. Myself, Shyam Benegal, Kamal Haasan, Gautam Ghosh, Piyush, we have studied the intricacies of the Cinematography Act 1958, revisions of 83, 2013, module commissions, met almost all the social groups, women welfare, child welfare, drug abuse, health ministry, understood the fabric of this country and how times have changed. And we have given our own recommendations as of yesterday. So it’s very timely. So I am extremely concerned about the reforms. I have a very clear view on that so that there is no ambiguity. There should be no censorship at all. That’s what we have recommended to the government. The scissor should be abolished once and for all. At the same time, we need to protect the children of this country against excessive violence, drug abuse, sex abuse, excess of all that. And we need to evolve and the society also evolving into a rating system. You know alcohol sells but you can’t sell alcohol to those less than 25 years. If you are doing that it is illegal. So similarly we need to evolve as a society and have a rating system for the film, and so you say this film can be seen by 12-year-old , 15, 18, 18+ , AAA rating on the licensed theaters in the middle of the night, but you can never ever suggest a cut for a film. So that should be abolished totally. I am totally concerned about it and this has been ailing us for many many years. And I am extremely happy that the government of India has asked us and none of us are yes men. In fact, they are all rebels in their own way. So we all have a head on our shoulders to give strong recommendations. So hopefully we have done justice to it. (Also read: Censor board Chief Pahlaj Nihalani faces calls for sack, sparks row over money deal)
Q. The Udta Punjab trailer was released with adult certification without any cuts. And now the Censor Board is going for almost 89 cuts in the film.
The Board should have no business in saying cuts. Forget about Udta Punjab. For any film, they should not be empowered with even suggesting cuts. You can just rate a film. You can never ever cut a film. If it’s defying the law of the land or it’s anti-constitutional, then it’s a legal issue. Then you can ban any piece of work. And the creator of that work has a recourse with law to prove you wrong. But this whole thing of human judgements, you know if both of us watch a movie or a painting, our reaction will be different. So it cannot have that kind of vagaries of human nature in the Censor Board or any board for that matters. There needs to be a more non-subjective way of working. It should be what the rule book is and we should follow it. (Also read: Udta Punjab issue reflects badly on CBFC, voice of the filmmaker shouldn’t be throttled: Aamir Khan)
Q. With you being one of the members of the revamp committee, can you tell us what measures have been taken so far to improve the process of film certification and censorship?
We have just given the report as of yesterday (June 7). Now its upto the government to adopt the recommendations or not. But the government of india and ministers have constituted this panel and spent time and money because they want a change, they want reforms. So let me promise you the government is very keen to reform the Board. Abolish the scissors. That is the biggest recommendation. I am sharing it with you. There cannot be a scissor any more and there needs to be a very robust rating system and time to time we need to review how the society was and grows and the society changes about even the rating system. So again say after five years we should again meet and say OK, how much is how much. But no censorship. As simple as that. (Also read: Udta Punjab controversy: Youth has the right to know drugs are a menace, says Shahid Kapoor)
Q. You are stepping into the romantic genre for the first time with Mirzya. Was it challenging for you to shoot for the film.
Every film is a challenging. I am always very nervous in creating something. Because you are creating something absolutely new which is not there. When you woke up in the morning, you go on the sets and you bring people together and you take the written script and then you get the cameras, you get music, you get the locations. So every day is a challenge for any movie I make, not just this. Yes, it’s a different story to tell.
Q. Did you have any inhibitions before taking up the genre and working with newcomers for the same?
No. The fact that I felt so strongly about it. I made the film. And that’s the fact. There’s no other fact. There can’t be any other reason to reconsider your decisions.
Q. With Mirzya you are going to tell the tragic story of Mirza-Sahiban. Do you feel you can do justice to it?
I have given my best. I always try to give my best. We have all worked very hard on the story. Whether we have done justice to it or not how can I tell. It’s impossible for me to say and talk about my own work. All I can say is that we put our heart and soul like everybody does to their jobs. So it’s not that we have done any different. So it was a very Interesting genre. You know tragedy especially. It’s a beautiful space to explore. It’s a beautiful area to go into, ocean to dive into. And you can easily get lost by misinterpreting things. But hopefully, fingers crossed, we haven’t done that.
Q. How are the lead actors Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher on sets.
Very competent. Extremely professional. Great future in front of them. All of them… Saiyami, Harsh, Anuj, Anjali Pathak. And the lead pair is very special to me, very close to my heart. And I got a lot of time from all of them. In fact, you might not know that one year before we went on the shooting floor, they were with me. So we did workshops, we did rehearsals, we hung around, we talked, we explored, we did physical exercises, learning how to ride a horse, archery, so many things. So it became like an extended family.
When you are making a film and when you are in front of the camera, for me what is very important is whether you are an actor or not. For Mirzya, we have been blessed with four new actors. So Mirzya will see four new actors given to the industry in substantial roles. So that’s really a blessing for a filmmaker to make a film with new talent.
Q. The second teaser of Mirzya shows two worlds. One is a modern take and the other is period.
Yeah. One is a folklore. See the story of Mirza-Sahiban, it’s a folklore like any other folklore… Laila-Manju, Romeo-Juliet, you know these famous tragic love stories. Mirza-Sahiban is a very important link in that chain. So when you saw the teaser, you would have seen two distinct worlds. So one world is the folklore world. I won’t call it a period or future. It’s folklore in my imagination. What came to me as imagination, I created. The beauty of folklore is that they don’t need to be in a certain time. Then that becomes a period film. That becomes like Milkha or Rang De Basanti. Here I was totally free and unshackled to go with my imagination. And at the same story of Mirza-Sahiban kind of echoes, reverberates and falls in today’s time. And so it’s a contemporary story where you meet contemporary characters. So mostly it’s contemporary and there are flashes of the folklore world. Because the essence of the story is the same.
Q. You are also working on a biopic on the life of rifleman Jaswant Singh, how is research going on so far?
My company Wrong Pictures is producing it. Sanjay Khandori is directing it. And this Sanjay can tell better than me. He has a whole team of writers and researchers and they have been at it for almost one year and they are still at it. There’s so much to it. It’s based in 1962 China war and there’s so much to learn to recreate an era and to understand the social fabric, the people, the behaviours, what actually went through the war. The last time, I read the script, they are doing a great job.