A colourful adventure

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Focussing on history Ketan Mehta in New Delhi.
Focussing on history Ketan Mehta in New Delhi.


Seasoned filmmaker Ketan Mehta brings alive the life and times of Raja Ravi Varma.

I am a student of cinema who doesn’t believe in its classification largely done by the media

After “Mangal Pandey”, Ketan Mehta is chronicling the life of Raja Ravi Varma on celluloid as “Rang Rasiya”. We seldom see filmmakers finding inspiration from the world of art, but then Ketan is known to be in a different league.

Generally filmmakers are known for certain genres but Ketan’s canvas expands and shrinks like the light from a projector. From adapting folk idioms in “Bhavani Bhavai” and translating Madame Bovary as “Maya Memsaab” to testing the definition of a hero in “Aar Ya Paar” and “Sardar”, Ketan has explored cinema like no other. The spice of life gets a new meaning in “Mirch Masala” and his “Holi” redefined campus films.

“To me every film is an adventure. I am a student of cinema who doesn’t believe in its classification largely done by the media…at times even the actors are classified. I have worked with Naseer and Om as well as Shah Rukh and Aamir,” says Ketan settling for an interview on the sidelines of the just concluded Osian’s Cinefan film festival. A product of the new wave cinema that emerged in the ‘70s, Ketan feels happy that the boundaries are blurring these days. “Globalisation and localisation of cinema is happing at the same time. As for the wave, it didn’t die. It is just that at that time not many outlets were available for us and in the 80s and 90s television emerged as a parallel industry and some of us were absorbed by it.”

Controversial and colourful

Turning the focus on Ravi Varma, Ketan says he is inspired by the man who changed the face of Indian art. “He was a controversial and colourful personality. He introduced modern sensibility in Indian art scene. Today we take oil painting for granted, but he was the one who introduced the medium to India. The modern calendar art is his creation. He gave gods and goddesses a face. He democratised art by starting a printing press making it possible for the common man to own a piece of his creation. So in a way he united the country much before Gandhi and Nehru did.”

If one is not wrong, it was Dada Sahib Phalke who helped him with the press idea? “True, he is a character in the film. If you see his early films were inspired by Ravi Varma’s paintings.”

However, Ketan clears the film is not a biography. It is based on a novel by Marathi author Ranjit Desai. After the controversy over the authenticity of the plot in ‘Mangal Pandey’, Ketan seems to be playing safe. “Adapting a novel is not an easy task. You have to be very judicious about the part you incorporate. We have taken certain incidents from his life but the focus is on how he faced charges of obscenity in those times and managed to win a court case. This has contemporary relevance, as after economic liberalisation, we need to have liberalisation of minds.”

But the media reports have focussed only on the sensuality aspect of his paintings and its interpretation by Ketan? “It is the media’s call what it touches and what it leaves out. The film is multi-layered and talks about the political and cultural situation of the times.”

On the choice of Randeep Hooda to play the Varma, Ketan says he found him a skilful actor. Isn’t he percieved as an action hero? “He is malleable and it’s a misconception that all artists are soft.”

Next in line is a biopic on Laxmi Bai. He refuses to confirm that Aishwarya Rai has been cast for the title role. “Three people are working on Laxmi Bai. Let’s see who comes up first.”



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