Long before the multiplex audiences discovered their screen gods, there was Bobby Bedi meeting the needs of the discerning. As he returns from a sabbatical, one can still sense the hunger in him

There was a time when he was the go-to producer for directors looking for a viable alternative to Bollywood masala. “Bandit Queen”, “Fire”, “Saathiya”, “Maqbool”, he backed cinema that a critic could analyse and a commoner could enjoy. But then came “The Rising” and Bobby Bedi slowly eclipsed from the scene.

“For four years I stopped going to theatres. I did not understand the cinema that was being made,” says Bedi on the sidelines of the launch of “Mango”, which marks his comeback to the mainstream. “During those four years I didn’t find any film which I wanted to make. So I devoted my time creating audiovisuals for Khalsa Heritage Memorial Complex (‘Virasat-e-Khalsa’ at Anandpur Sahib). Then I watched “Ishqiya” and it stirred me. I called Vishal (Bhardwaj) and thanked him for bringing good cinema back. Now people are enjoying films that I would like to make. So I thought it is time to return.” It is an interesting turn of events because Bedi says once upon a time people like him were template for directors like Vishal Bhardwaj.

We often feel offbeat is a new “Kahaani”, but Bedi avers that audience acceptance was much more at the time of “Bandit Queen”. “Today, even Mani Ratnam is not finding as much acceptance as he used to, both in Hindi and Tamil. It is not that he has changed, the audience has changed.”

Bedi is planning to revisit the story of Phoolan Devi. The film will focus on her political career. “A mallah girl becomes a victim of caste system in the society. When she rebels and becomes a dacoit she finds there is caste discrimination among outlaws as well. A village girl, who had been to a city only once in her life, comes out of Tihar jail, interacts with people like Bobby Bedi and Shekhar Kapur over a film made on her life, and then enters Parliament in an election where Manmohan Singh lost from South Delhi. Again, she wins the election because of the caste.” When she went for the campaign, Bedi reminisces, Phoolan asked him for the ‘tape’ of the film. “I reminded her that she had one. She said it won’t suffice. She asked for 70 and 80 tapes as she wanted to show her people what had happened with her. So in a way she was raped because of the caste and won an election because of the caste. I want to explore this stark reality of modern India,” says Bedi describing Phoolan as a smart lady. “I have got the story but the script is not ready. Shekhar is going to help me but he is not interested in directing it,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Bedi is himself donning the director’s hat with “Kutch”, which he describes as antitheses of “Bandit Queen” in terms of treatment. “If that was ugly, it is going to be a beautiful film about an equally mind numbing issue.” The film deals with the issue of female infanticide in the garb of a thriller set in the Kutch region of Gujarat. Bedi says he has always gravitated towards scripts that have an underlying layer against bias. “This is strange because Indians are used to discrimination,” his sarcastic tone comes to the fore. “Gender bias is part of most lives and manifest in many ways and the worst of these is female infanticide.”

Talking about the changing profile of a producer, Bedi says, previously the financer used to call himself the producer. “These days, Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, Aamir Khan and to an extent Farhan Akhtar are the only big producers, who are deeply involved with the filmmaking process. Rest are only trading in films.” He feels actor becoming a producer is not good for the industry if he is interested only in acting in his own film and taking away his share of profits. That way, Aamir Khan is different. He is backing some really original stuff.” Does any of them remind him of Raj Kapoor? “Raj Kapoor did it largely for himself but he had the capability to do so many things on his own, which these people lack,” says Bedi, who made a popular series on the Showman called “Kehta Hai Joker” for the television. Some analysts feel that the corporate houses could bring the studio culture back in business but Bedi differs. “Today, only Yash Raj could be seen as a studio. Rest are just pretending to be a studio. As I said, they are just trading in films. What they have done is that they are attempting to trap legends like Mani Ratnam in mohmaya ka jaal!”

Bedi’s films are known for their technical excellence and he says it is not about the budget. “My technical crew doesn’t change with the budget of the film. Vishal made ‘Maqbool’ with me for around Rs.4.5 crores and then made ‘Kaminey’ in about Rs. 45 crores but you can’t find the difference on screen.” Now, his heart has come on “Mango” with Abbas Tyrewala, who co-wrote “Maqbool”, helming it with a relatively new cast. “He is a wonderful writer. We are always on the same page. As for star material, you don’t need it. Who knows it better than me? The only time I faced setback in my career was when I worked with a star,” he says in reference to his association with Aamir Khan in “The Rising”.