Ketan Mehta’s controversial Ravi Varma biopic was screened recently at ‘Cinema Diverse’ held in Bangkok.

Ketan Mehta’s biopic of Raja Ravi Varma , ‘Rang Rasiya’ (’Colours of Passion’) made in 2008, which is to be finally released in India on October 5 after a long tussle with the Censors, took Bangkok by storm when it had a special screening here recently.

It was the opening film of ‘Cinema Diverse,’ the new movie series organised by the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) and the newly formed FilmSForum group.

For Thai audience

The Film Series will focus on bringing noted movies and directors to interact with Thai audiences, to propagate film culture in a country that does not have a ‘film society’ movement like India. That was why the presence of director Ketan Mehta and lead actor Nandana Sen created a stir. Both were flown down especially for the event, by Thai Airways.

In fact the movie and presence of its high-level cast made it one of the most important Indian film events in the city, which was supported by the new, culture-loving Indian Ambassador, Anil Wadhwa, and the Aditya Birla group.

‘Rang Rasiya’ was described as ‘The perfect opening film’ by BACC Director Luckana Kunavichayanont, because of its theme.

Among the distinguished audience at the screening was noted art historian, Dr. Apinan Poshyananda, who said that he had given many lectures on Raja Ravi Varma and his influence on Thai oleographs.

It is a fictional tale, based on a book by well-known Marathi writer Ranjit Desai, and focuses on the Kerala painter’s experiences in Mumbai, in particular his liaison with Sugandha, a woman of questionable repute, who soon becomes his ‘muse’. His sensuous pictures of her invite the wrath of the conservative Hindu groups ,who get him arrested for his art.

The issue of freedom in art was important to the director. “The film was a reaction to the climate of cultural intolerance in our country, where a minority of reactionary, regressive forces are dictating terms to the majority,” said Ketan Mehta at the question and answer session after the film screening.

“Nothing in the world can justify violence,” he said referring particularly to the death threats to artistic icons such as the late MF Hussain, which sparked off this film. That was why he was happy that he had not succumbed to the Censors’ pressure for certain ‘cuts.’ He went to the Revising Committee, which finally allowed that the film be released this October without any cuts.

“As an artist one must never give up,” stated Mehta, adding that social issues lay at the core of all his films. “I believe in the transformative power of cinema,” he declared. He felt that inspite of progress in many fields, including economics in many Asian countries, a lot more progress was needed in the field of art and culture.

Among the audience was controversial filmmaker Ing Kanjavanit, who is fighting the ban on her latest film, ‘Shakespeare must die’, due to its political overtones.

Nandana Sen admitted that she went beyond the brief of most Bollywood actors when she agreed to do the role, referring to a couple of semi-nude scenes including the much-talked about opening sequence of her posing blouse-less for the artist. The actor informed that the scene was intrinsic to the story, which was why she had total support of both her famous parents. “I didn’t want to do anything that would hurt or embarrass the people I care for, which is why I discussed the film at length with my family, before I accepted it,” she declared, describing her role as that of “The first pin-up girl, in Indian art!” Nandana said that her parents not only loved the film but saw it several times at various festivals in Europe.

‘Rang Rasiya’ won the Audience Award at the Indian film festival in London and moved audiences at many festivals in Europe and America.

In India, the film was screened at the Kerala and Kolkata festivals where it created a stir.

“In Kolkata, there were double the number of audiences than what the hall could hold!” stated Nandana.

The actor who shuttles between New York and Mumbai, said she was working on an Indo-Italian co-production called ‘The Kiss,’ which was based on the various interpretations of the ‘kiss’ in Indian cinema and writing screenplays, apart from her work as a child’s rights activist with the ‘Operation Smile’ NGO.

Director Ketan Mehta informed that he had always had Nandana Sen in mind for the role of the sensuous child-woman that Sugandha embodied in ‘Rang Rasiya.’

After working with big stars such as Aamir Khan (‘Mangal Pandey’) and Shah Rukh Khan (‘Oh Darling! Yeh Hai India’), he said that he deliberately selected actors “without any baggage”, like Ranjit Hooda and Nandana Sen and he had no regrets. “I think they have given outstanding performances !” he exclaimed.

When asked if he, like in the film, feared a backlash from Hindu conservatives when his film will be released in October, the director quipped to loud applause, “ If you are an artist ,you must never have fear !”