If you allow him to do so, Rakeysh can cut an imposing figure. Towering somewhere above 6 feet, sporting a neatly trimmed grey beard, dark blue shirt and jeans, he looks like the type of person who won't put up with a whole lot of bull****. Hell, we've long heard rumours that he's nothing short of a taskmaster when on the set. But get Mehra talking about his work (filmmaking) and one of his major passions (filmmaking again) and you quickly learn that he's downright mellow and what's more, that all of those rumours are probably nothing but a bunch of lies. We could run through Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's credits, but you don't need that. His career has been an exercise in the advancement of the motion picture standard. His first film Aks was made way ahead of its time for it to have worked well theatrically. And just after that, his second film, Rang De Basanti, went on to get nominated at the BAFTA's. How about that? His meticulous attention to the detailing and designing the story fetched him an international recognition. And with Delhi 6 he says, "I have now reached the first standard after passing out from nursery and senior kg".
Our correspondent met the BAFTA nominee film, Rang De Basanti's director at Anand Studios in Pali Hill at ten in the night, where he takes us out for a stroll in the garden at half past eleven and just seconds before we start the interview he said, "If the mosquitoes start biting just run inside". Over his 'god-knows-how-many' cups of tea he had during our two hour trip at the studio, he still recalled the last time we met him in 2007 at the Grosvenor Hotel in London's Hyde Park just hours before he put his feet on the BAFTA red carpet. Unaware of the fact that the clock struck twelve and yet another day nears the big release, under the beautiful moonlight, Rakeysh once again relights talking about Delhi 6, A.R. Rahman, his love for films, the doves and of course...some mosquitoes.
Does Delhi 6 capture the real essence of India?
Delhi 6 is a journey to discover this country. When I started this film, I didn't know why I was making it, but through this journey, I found out the reason for doing this. You can say that Delhi 6 is about the people of our country, the place, the beliefs, the disbeliefs, their contrast in religion, how they live in harmony, how they live in conflict, the whole Hindu - Muslim thing, the caste system in our country, the marriages, the dowry, etc. and yet Delhi 6 works. Bureaucracy prevails but yet there is something great about it.
Why do you think such things are still prevalent?
This change has triggered with the turn of the century and I always wanted to know why such things are happening. It's a funny place, this country is. Schools will have no books, if there are books, there are no teachers, if there are teachers, there are no exams, no results, if you pass out from your college, you won't get a job, you get married, find a house where there is tap but no water. You are back where it all started from. How the hell does the country work. Along the line we discovered that it's the people. I didn't touch up on the writing process but as we were closing towards the final draft, we realized that there are too many problems which a common man himself brings up.
It sounds like the film works on various levels?
You're bang on. The film works on various levels. Delhi 6 is not a plot oriented film. It's like a fabric you're trying to weave. Each thread is like a person with different colours added to them. Somebody is as close as cotton or as smooth as silk and they all come in various sizes and shapes and yet they form a fabric and that's the society we live in. We see these things from the second generation Indian played by Abhishek Bachchan.
Was making Delhi 6 a tougher challenge than Rang De Basanti?
No questions about that. Yes, I was very nervous attempting Delhi 6. Cinematically, if Rang De was kinder garden then I am in first standard now. I can feel the growth. I hope when I come out of this film (after a pause) and I don't know when I'll come out. Maybe couple of years down the line when I look at it again, it will all fall in place for me. As of now, there is no objectivity in making Delhi 6.
Will Delhi 6 weave the magic like what RDB did?
I don't know. There are no expectations. We haven't structured the film in a way that it'll walk the red carpet across the world. Though it'll be wonderful to get an international recognition and at the same time, our Indian recognition. More importantly, if it can strike a chord with the audience, that'll be great. I have departed totally from Rang De. There is not a single thought process that'll echo. Somewhere subconsciously, I'll be trying to tell the same story in a different way, even if try not to. Something or the other will seep into it. The story of Delhi 6 permitted me not to repeat myself.
Why is there a mirror on the audio CD cover of Delhi 6? Is that giving away an important message?
It does. The film tells us to look at yourself and so the mirror. The pre-climax gets triggered with the mirror. It's not just look at yourself alone though. We look for so many things. We look for God in our own way. Some look for Ram, some for Allah, some for Jesus, some for Krishna, etc. Somewhere it's got that kind of a 'sufiana' flavour to it.
Abhishek has an accent in the film. How was the preparation process?
It was Abhishek's process. He worked on the body language and the American accent. Everybody worked on their individual accents. For Abhi, it came very naturally. In fact, he barely speaks through the film. He hardly has ten lines in the film. It's his voiceover which takes us through the film.
We've seen Rakeysh Mehra have a strong penchant for music. Is it Rahman, Prasoon or all you three together?
What an album, isn't it? Of course it is A.R. Rahman and Prasoon Joshi. I don't have lip sync songs in Delhi 6. If you've noticed, in Rang De also, I didn't have anyone singing songs. For me, the sound of the film, whether it's the background or the songs, is the fourth dimension. It's never upfront. It's like a soul in the film which you cannot see but can only feel it. You can also see the energy of the soul. The songs interpret the film and take it forward in their own way. Me, Rahman and Prasoon jam a lot. Three years ago, while I was making Rang De Basanti, I was already speaking Delhi 6 with them. We keep talking, meeting and discussing as to what's happening with the world, chat about music, watch a movie and in the process, something starts happening. I keep telling them a story and every time I tell them, it's a different story. I try very hard to confuse them and they think I make some sense.
Aren't there more mosquitoes interested in our talk today?
I'm sure they are. They must've been snubbed by the pigeon which I have shown on the posters of Delhi 6 (laughs)
The same time zone of Rang De before release and Delhi 6 before release. Can you tell the difference?
During Rang De, I was blank. Now I am blanker (laughs). If Rang De was a political drama, Delhi 6 is a social drama. In terms of expectations, Rang De was a tough act to follow and sometime, your success becomes your biggest enemy. Everywhere I go, people recognize me and talk about Rang De Basanti. Now we did some test screenings of Delhi 6 and I found out that this is the first time I've sketched romance. That's a major difference.
Isn't A.R. Rahman making your job tough by not being there in the crucial and a critical stage of the films release?
Rahman called me half an hour after he received the award at the BAFTA's and said, "I am feeling so guilty by not being there. Anything you feel irritated about the background score, just change that". He just returned last night from the U.S. He landed in Chennai, was talking to his engineers and was so worried about the music of Delhi 6. In fact, the background score is much better than the songs in Delhi 6. Background is the film. What we tried for the background was that we didn't score for the shot. We just sat and spent the whole month of December and not a single sound came out. Everybody was getting worried. Then Rahman won the Golden Globe, came back and he again sat and bits and bits happened. At one point, I and Rahman were discussing to postpone the release date of Delhi 6. We still couldn't crack the background. So we decided to crack theme on the subject of the film. Not on some particular scene. Rahman went into a different world all together after that. He played all the instruments that were available to him and just went for it. He came up with ten themes and at one point we were confused of what to use. He is a true magician. When we put the theme with the scenes it would start and end perfectly. Can you believe it?
Do you think you are losing your creativity by making one film every three years? I mean, if you made three films in three years, it could've been a much creative process.
I am happy to make one film in a lifetime. Filmmaking is neither a race nor a number game. Though one thing (film) is stretching too much (laughs). I write, I direct, I produce. If I had sealed and bound scripts and good scripts, that will not quench my thirst! It has to be something cool which we can experiment with. Visually, the director is the writer. Then I have to produce because the kind of films I want to make, it's impossible to find a producer. Rang De Basanti took three to four years to find a producer till we roped in Aamir and in turn Aamir roped in Rahman.
"Delhi 6 has been a sort of uniquely joyous experience from beginning to end. It was hard work, but it was just sort of blessed right down the line. I almost like to think that it's the karma of Rang De Basanti", said the busy Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra who was juggling time for his interviews in between his tea breaks, then going in the mixing studio, then heading back to the garden for a smoke, then ordering his tea again, then giving an interview and then back to where it all began.