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Friday, May 18, 2001

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From marketing to story-telling

WINDING ONE's way up Pali Hill a day after a crippling bandh in Mumbai it was quite a relief to get back to business. The agenda was to meet Rakesh Mehra, ad man turned film-maker, toasted by the industry as the person who had pulled off a casting coup of sorts when he got Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Bajpai together in a film, ``Aks''.

Other than the fact that these are superb actors, they are being complemented by the vibrant Nandita Das, national award winner Raveena Tandon in a quadrangle that has not happened in a long time. Starting from the exotic locales of Budapest it is supposed to be an edge-of-the-seat thriller with Amitabh dominating the proceedings. `Aks' means reflection and has the music done by Anu Mallik to the lyrics of Gulzar with arrangements by Ranjit Barot.

Rakesh is your quintessential strong and silent type. He is the man who directed Amitabh's first music video ``Eir, Bir Phatte'' and the series of BPL ads, which featured him. Getting to talk about himself thus and his forays into the world of feature films, was a bit of a task considering he was most unwilling to say anything about ``Aks''.

Looking a bit enervated after a late night of working, Rakesh in his slow, thoughtful demeanour says, ``I've been doing commercials for almost 9-10 years now. And currently I am doing a feature film, which is not yet released so I really cannot talk about it. As for the kind of work I have done so far, I cannot really qualify it. You can see my show reel and decide for yourself. It's not for me to tell you.

From ad to feature films - do you think it is a natural transition? Have you been thinking about it for a long time?

That's exactly why I came to Bombay. It's taken some time to get onto doing it... because I have not been an assistant to anyone in making films as such.

How long have you been working on this? Is this your own story?

Hmm... yes it's my own story. It came to me quite accidentally. I was working on another project which did not take off. This happened instead.

You did the screenplay as well?

That's right - story, screenplay and direction. As for the story, I share the credits with another person, he and I worked together.

Would you say the story is something unusual? How would you categorise it? Mainstream or...?

I am not talking about the film. It's too early. And I don't know how much to tell...

Do you think there is any conscious shift in the role models in advertising? Or are stereotypes still being used?

An ad is driven by a product - its profile. It's got nothing to do with the maker. You have to follow the product so that the role model is seen according to that.

What has been your experience in directing a feature film. The logistics are different - would that have made any difference to you? Plus, you are working with mainstream artistes.

(Thinks for a while) It is a lot more professional working in a feature film. This is because you interact with far more professional people.

Has the experience been any different? Were there any expectations?

Actually, I still have not thought about the experience. I just went into it. I wanted to make this movie and it took over completely. Besides it is not like I knew much about the industry...I found the going rather smooth and everyone has been very cooperative. Besides, I was ready with my script, dialogue, and description of scene, much before we started shooting.

What according to you is a good film? Good story?

A story well told, I would say. Just the art of story telling.

Which are the films you have liked so far?

There are many. What do I start with? ``Mother India'', ``Amar Akbar Anthony'', ``Sadma'', ``Guddi'', ``Chupke Chupke'' and most of Rishi Kapoor's films.

Have you been inspired by films from the West?

Tremendously... there are so many of them. There is Kurosawa of course, who is not exactly from the West.

What about Kurosawa? Has he inspired you?

His films are hypnotic. I've always found myself coming out with the entire film lingering on.

And you would say good story-telling?

A master story-teller, and that is an understatement. Basically, we can identify with Kurosawa because we can identify with the culture. But then European cinema has gone very well with us too.

Do you feel that in an Indian film it becomes necessary to overstate?

You cannot decide on such things. They are more like trends. You may find a trend where things are understated, more introverted. Then there is a trend where speaking loud and expressing yourself again and again makes for the character.

And this has got to do with audience expectations?

No, it's not the audience's expectations. It probably has to do with the fact that our cinema originated from theatre. This should move on in the next couple of years.

But with all this globalisation and exposure to different kinds of cinema... 70 years have passed, so may be it's time we shifted a bit.

No the question is not that we should shift now. We are part of a shift. It is a period of transition. Something that is informative of the various aspects of entertainment. Earlier we were depending only on cinema but today we have various media. Today we not only hear songs, we also see them. We don't hear cricket commentary - you see it. So the whole structure of imagination is changing drastically.

Can we do a film without the song and dance routine?

There have been films done without song and dance.

But would you look at a film like that?

Depends on the story. I feel that it is part and parcel of life. It is how we express ourselves...It's not highly choreographed like we see in movies but it's there, a part of our culture. We hear it all the time - in the villages, the market.

How would you see Indian Cinema 10 years from now?

I think it will grow from strength to strength.

CHITRA MAHESH

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