Like a mystic traveler, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra says he doesn’t select the road, rather the path chooses him. “I don’t pick my films, they pick me. I don’t know what I will make or when,” says the director. Currently he’s in the throes of shooting Bhaag Milkha Bhaag in Punjab. Based on the life and struggle of the legendary athlete, Farhan Akhtar essays the lead role of the Flying Sikh aka Milkha Singh.
The sprinter was the first Indian to represent the country in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. The director, of landmark movies like Aks, Rang De Basanti (RDB) and Delhi 6, believes his cinema represents him. His stories borrow from life – life that’s inspirational. It was not easy for Rakeysh to convince the 76-year-old athlete to give his consent for the film that dealt with the intricate aspects of his life. Narrates Rakeysh, “Prasoon Joshi (lyricist) and I made rounds of his house in Chandigarh for 16 months. Finally, his son Jeev Milkha Singh proved instrumental in persuading his father to give his consent. Reportedly, Milkha Singh had earlier received offers worth crores for a film based on his life. He was even offered a partnership. But as our talks progressed, he promised full co-operation and said he’d do the film just for a rupee.” Rakeysh, who has spent four years on the project, is impressed with the sportsman. “We have extensive recordings of a thousand hours with him. These are precious and far more informative than reading books on him. Ours is not an art film; it’s a commercial art project.”
When asked what made him zero in on Farhan Akhtar for the challenging role, the director smiles, “You should decide that after seeing the film. I don’t go with popular perceptions; I like to work with my convictions and beliefs. I have always seen an actor in Farhan. After he completed Lakshya, I had offered him a role in Rang De Basanti. But he refused saying, ‘I am a director not an actor’.” After five years, I am finally making a film with him.” Of the female lead, Sonam Kapoor, he says, “She’s a unique talent. I see an image of Waheeda Rehman in her.”
His last film, Delhi 6, didn’t exactly work at the box office despite having an original subject and great music. The audiences dubbed it ambiguous. The same was also said about his debut film Aks. “I agree that the story of Delhi 6 was atypical and complex. But there was an underlying philosophy. Similarly, there were many layers in Aks.
I make a film with conviction and it’s difficult to predict what will work and what won’t.” In the last 11 years the maverick director has had only three releases. “I need to soak in the story; otherwise, I don’t feel confident. I’ll make films only on my terms. I am not here to make money; otherwise, I would have been a businessman. I pour my life-force into a film.” He continues, “I am exposed, stark naked, when I make a film. It takes me months to come out of it. I want people to understand my sensibilities. I want my film to linger in their minds. I want to push the benchmark of cinema and make waves in the world. Filmmaking is an addiction and I want to stay addicted all my life.”
That he has a yen for music is evident. “Songs are to be heard, rather than seen. I have grown up listening to the radio. In my imagination, it is not the faces of the actors that linger. Rather I listen to the melody, words, poetry and emotions embodied in them. In RDB, I wanted to use songs in the background. But no one agreed. But I did experiment in Delhi 6. Prasoon Joshi and AR Rahman supported me. In the film only Genda phool, a folk song from Madhya Pradesh, is actually sung. The rest were background numbers. It was a unique experiment, something not attempted in the last 50-60 years.”
Rakeysh has three more scripts on the anvil – Bhairavi, Mirza Sahiban (written by Gulzar) and Paanch Kaurav, which he has renamed as Raja And The Legend of the Flute. “Raja would require a budget of `100 crore!” sighs the dream merchant who insists he has miles to go. All we can say is, keep walking.A.R. Rahman Aks Bhaag Milkha Bhaag Bhairavi Delhi-6 Farhan Akhtar Genda phool Gulzar Interviews Mirza Sahiban Paanch Kaurav Prasoon Joshi Raja And The Legend of the Flute Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra Rang De Basanti Sonam Kapoor Waheeda Rehman