New Delhi: The Indian film industry, pegged at over $3 billion, produces over 1,000 movies annually. But acclaimed filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra describes it as a “cottage industry” and believes it will really evolve when it crosses the phase of “intellectual bankruptcy”.
Indian cinema completes a century of its existence this year and Mehra, the maker of movies like “Aks”, “Rang De Basanti” and “Delhi-6”, says the baby steps towards “global” cinema have only just begun.
“It is a very comforting feeling for me at least, that now there is a life beyond a boy-girl romance (in cinema). I believe we are still a cottage industry and we are (slowly) growing out of it. We are an industry of a few families and a few genres,” Mehra told.
“No, not sadly! Even our politics is like that. It is the country as such. But when the country and society explodes, so will the cinema. Right now, we are not one step ahead of what’s going on. As filmmakers and storytellers, we need to be 100 steps ahead and need to visualise. Real work of art happens with imagination. Real commerce also follows imagination,” said Mehra.
That, the 49-year-old feels, is clearly not happening.
“We’re going through a phase of intellectual bankruptcy and when I look at the history of this land, it has epics like ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘Meghdoot’ written. But not any more.
“In the west, you see they are writing something more imaginative, there is more expression in it – whether they are real issues, social issues or completely fantabulous myths. So, I feel it has got something to do with the prosperity of the nation and the food in your tummy. In a hungry nation, it is difficult for art to progress.
“As a nation we are more prosperous, and that doesn’t mean rich! I mean intellectually we are prosperous, but when we have more equality, you will see it reflecting in movies and art too. That transition is happening,” said Mehra.
His 2006 directorial “Rang De Basanti” saw global acclaim, with a nomination in the best foreign language film at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards.
As a filmmaker, he aims to create movies with “global viability”.
“Right from my first film ‘Aks’, the idea was to tell the story to the world, not to some diaspora in New Jersey and emotionally blackmail them in the name of ‘Karva Chauth’.
“My ‘Rang De Basanti’ was exactly that – to tell the story of Indian youth to the world. It got a BAFTA nomination and was a curriculum in Australia. In ‘Delhi-6’, I went a step ahead to bring in some spiritualism and philosophy but couldn’t tell the story well – not as well as I would have liked to. But no regrets,” he said.
With his upcoming offering “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”, inspired by the life of India’s best known sprinter Milkha Singh, he is aiming at the same.
“I am telling the story of an Indian man, who fought all odds to conquer the world. These are stories the world wants to see – they don’t want their stories being retold or get their style presented to them only. Why would they? I don’t want to export the European way of filmmaking to Europe,” he said.
And an Oscar, he says, is not the “ultimate dream”.
“I am talking about telling a story to the maximum number of people across the world… That will happen when India will explode, that will happen when we empower Indians to tell stories, and that will happen when we empower the middle class to come up.”
Comparing the scene to the Indian cricket team, he said that when the game was with the Maharajas of Baroda and the rich people of Mumbai, it was contained.
“The moment the middle class came in and we got a captain from Ranchi (Mahendra Singh Dhoni) and a batsman from Najafgarh (Virender Sehwag) and a bowler from Saurashtra, Munaf Patel, look what they did! They conquered the world, and they are as good as anybody.
“They are people who represent the hungry, real India. I wish we can do that (those things) with our intellectual power. We are not doing that with it yet… we are killing our intellectual power! It doesn’t suit us.”