Kurt Vonnegut had once written – Who is to be pitied more, a writer bound and gagged by a policeman or the one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?
Ketan Mehta clearly refuses to be the latter and Rang Rasiya is proof of his creative valor in terms of his bold vision and his ability to serve a four year long gestation period before his film could release. In a candid chat with Koimoi, Mehta explained why the film was so delayed. The filmmaker pointed out, “I am overjoyed in finally presenting Rang Rasiya. There are two basic reasons for the film’s delay. The primary one was that it was an expensive film on a very big scale. The film’s cost of production was massive. Secondly, it was a controversial film in terms of it dealing with a controversial subject. Initially, it was dealing with the Censor Board and we had a problem being issued the Censor Certificate at first. They refused to gives us a certificate and we had to take it to the revising committee and fortunately for us, Sharmila Tagore was the chairperson there. The revising committee after their screening got up and complimented me on the kind of film it is. On a vulnerable subject, this was a sensitive film. The Censor issue was solved without any cuts but without the controversial nature of the subject, distributors were weary about the perceived risk of handling this film.”
But the Censor Board did eventually adopt a very broad view towards the film. Ketan admits, “The film was censored four years ago and it was passed without a cut.”
Every artist in India is critical about Censorship and Ketan, being a filmmaker was particularly moved by the M.F Hussain who despite being an Indian died a citizen of Qatar, breathing his last in Doha. Ketan elucidated, “Censorship itself is an idea whose expiry date is long over. We have won political freedom, we have liberated our economy, it’s high time we liberate our minds. This film is about liberating our minds. Freedom of expression is absolutely necessary for any democracy to survive.”
Randeep, in an interview told Koimoi how it hurt him when the film couldn’t release, so much so that he stopped attending its screenings. It pained him but for Ketan, it was a frustrating battle. He says, “My Rang Rasiya pregnancy lasted five years. That was a long time. I think an artist can’t be a coward or be bogged down by what other people will say. For me filmmaking is a crime of passion. It’s a crime because my passion knows no rules and boundaries. It actually is believing in freedom. That’s the biggest joy of being a filmmaker. Each film must be a journey of discovery where I am covering different aspect of my life, where I am extending myself.”
While Satire is one of Ketan’s most used tools, Rang Rasiya made on an entirely different plane draws from sexuality. Ketan elaborates, “Sensuality and passion are the tools I have used in this film. Sensuality is the spice of life and makes us human. We Indians are the most sensuous people. From the spicy food we eat to our colorful costumes to the way we celebrate our festivals to our population explosion, it all is testimony of us. It’s a part of our culture to boldly celebrate sexuality. It’s in the past few 100 years, post Colonial and Victorian mindset which compares sensuality to sin that the entire perspective towards life has changed. Society now looks at sexuality with shock and suspicion. In this film, the questions we pose are very basic. There is no shame attached to human body but it is the perspective that makes it dirty and vulgar. If these questions aren’t debated, we are regressing.”
Finding himself in a bunch of legal battles already, we travel back in time when Mangal Pandey had sparked off a massive controversy of it lacking in authenticity and portraying tinted historical truths. What happened to those cases and Ketan adds with a laugh, “There were 80 cases lodged across India after Mangal Pandey and they all collapsed in no time. Most of these are fraud and purely extortion cases which are meant to do nothing beyond harassing us. Even with Maji the Mountain Man, I had to fight out a 6 month battle at a Patna lower court.”
Ketan’s next is a biopic on Dasharath Majhi, that features Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Praising Nawazuddin, the seasoned filmmaker said, “In Majhi, the Mountain Man one will see how brilliant, earthy and spontaneous he is as an actor. His focus made things easier despite shooting in such impossible terrains. It was a common man’s Taj Mahal built over 22 years and only Nawaz could make it look so heartfelt.”
Ketan doesn’t fear anymore and Rang Rasiya, with controversies has just given him the courage to stand by his vision and passion, and create something that a myopic mind cannot imbibe.