'It’s not Olympics of movies' - The New Indian Express

'It’s not Olympics of movies'

Published: 28th September 2013 01:27 PM

Last Updated: 28th September 2013 01:27 PM

The most awaited panel discussion at the Bangalore Literature Festival this year was Making of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag: Has Indian Cinema finally woken up to bio-pics?. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, the director, Farhan Akhtar, the actor, and Prasoon Joshi, the scriptwriter brought alive the movie again, with film critic Bhavana Somayya moderating the session.

Received with a seemingly never-ending round of applause and hoots, the panel settled down into a discussion that circled Bollywood cinema and the Oscars, Milkha Singh, Farhan’s directorial ventures and much more.

“At the onset, it’s not a true blue bopic. This movie was inspired by the true life of Milkha Singh. As I was growing up, I was influenced by sportspersons like Milkha Singh and Dara Singh, although we didn’t really know too much about their lives. As a director, I’m always on the lookout for stories. Once, I came across Milkhaji’s autobiography but it was written in Gurmukhi which I can’t read. But the book had some wonderful photographs like Milkhaji as an athlete, him interacting with Nehru, him at the Commonwealth games, all iconic photographs. Very soon, I was on a flight to meet him. The moment we met, there was something that connected us,” said Mehra, who has previously directed the blockbuster hit Rang De Basanti.

“At first, we didn’t understand what the connection was but very soon it became apparent that it was the story of the Partition that drew me to him. That his story, is not just inspiration and hard work, it is actually a story about healing. I knew then that I wanted to make his story into a film,” Mehra continued.

Akhtar’s breakthrough role in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag has perhaps finally cemented him as an actor to watch out for. On preparing for his role, he said, “I don’t think there were any apprehensions when it came to taking up this role. When Rakeysh narrated the script to me, something just clicked. One understood the gravitas of what it meant to be connected to this character. Physically and emotionally, it was quite a demanding movie, sacrifices had to be made.

“I didn’t take on any other commitments while I was working on this movie. I lived the same disciplined life Milkhaji did, because you can’t pretend to be an athlete, you have to work for it. The physical look is a manifestation of that lifestyle and it also prepares you mentally. I just wanted to make sure that while I was running for camera against real athletes, they should feel the pressure of having to run against me, and I pushed myself to achieve that physical endurance and ability,” said Akhtar.

A question probably running on everyone’s mind was whether Akhtar and Mehra differed since both are directors. Akhtar was quick to dispel any such idea. “If you know enough about the film industry, you realise that it’s a collaborative effort. The film belongs to everyone who works on it. Everyone has a right to give suggestions and opinions. As long as you’re comfortable with that idea, it doesn’t matter if you’re directing or acting, it’s the same thing,” said Akhtar.

Mehra went on to describe the process of filmmaking as something that keeps you alive all the time. “Movies are written with emotions and you’re dealing with human beings all the time. Everyone will have their own interpretations of what you’re making. It’s important to keep all of it in mind, yet to be able to distance yourself from the clutter. In the end, we need to ensure that we’re making the same film,” said Mehra.

Prasoon Joshi, famous for his evocative poetry and lyrics that he lends to Bollywood film songs as well being an advertising genius, scripted Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. “It was a great feeling to work on this project. I was very removed from the world of sports, growing up. I’m definitely not the right man to be chronicling sports. But I can write a human story and in Milkhaji’s life I saw a story I could identify with. I love exploring the human psyche and to write a story you need to be a kind of psychoanalyst. If a story doesn’t inspire you first as a writer, it will not inspire the audience. Milkha Singh’s story is as inspiring, as it is tragic,” said Joshi.

When asked which film they’d consider as the best adaptation ever, all three agreed it had to be Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather. All three of them also agreed that it was time that Indian cinema stood up to itself and stopped looking for appreciation and acceptance from the West. “Your film should be good regardless of whether the Oscar accepts it or not. So this wanting of acceptance or wanting of some award from a culture that probably doesn’t  understand your own, doesn’t make sense,” said Mehra. “I can tell you for a fact that there are at least a thousand films in India that deserve to win an Oscar, whether it’s a Tamil film, Malayalam film, Bhojpuri film or a Bollywood film. We should not be so worried as to how we’ll be perceived by an academy sitting in America. It’s not the Olympics for movies,” concluded Mehra.

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