US students identified 'Rang De...' with discrimination: Mehra

May 19, 2006 Subhash K. Jha

Mumbai, May 19 (IANS) Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who is just back from the US after screening "Rang De Basanti" in various universities, says students there associated the film with racial discrimination and apartheid.

"I sensed the same passion, the will to change the status quo, in the audiences in the US," Mehra told IANS in an interview. "Everyone seemed to identify with the theme of corruption in politics and also the Hindu-Muslim conflict..."

He is aware that with the success of the film, he has a much larger audience than he did after his debut film "Aks". "However, I won't make a 'youth' film next time just to connect with the target audience," Mehra said.


You took "Rang De Basanti" on this historic trip through the academia in the US?

Historic? That sounds too self-important. But, yes, we did go through the liberal mid-west area of the US. There were two shows also by Global Rhythm where A.R. Rahman performed. They were awesome. Rahman was accompanied by a 150-piece orchestra and a full choir.

The trip served as a curtain raiser. After the shows I've a feeling that a lot more invitations are on the way. Stanford, New York Universities..."Rang De Basanti" has established its own network all across the world.

Did the students at the US universities understand the indigenous historical references?

I was apprehensive whether they'd cotton on. But the US students identified with the film to the hilt. I saw no difference between the reactions in Ahmedabad and Cincinnati. I sensed the same passion, the will to change the status quo, in the audiences in the US. I didn't feel the cultural disparity at all. They associated the political situation in the film with racial discrimination and apartheid. They spoke to me about how the poor in the US couldn't avail of medical benefits.

I think "Rang De Basanti" is being seen as a parable on corruption and discrimination. The US students told me how the image of America as a cultural melting pot has gone for a toss. Everyone seemed to identify with the theme of corruption in politics and also the Hindu-Muslim conflict as represented by the characters played by Atul Kulkarni and Kunal Kohli. A couple of years ago after 9/11 the Americans too had started being suspicious of Muslims. They could empathise with Atul's reformation from radical to tolerant Hindu.

What has the impact of "Rang De Basanti" taught you about the influence and power of cinema?

Yes, that's a question I've been waiting to answer. It's difficult to say something on this without sounding pompous. I had heard about the power of cinema. I had experienced it as a member of the audience. But while making "Rang De Basanti", I never thought it was going to connect so deeply and so widely.

After you make a film you see it making such an impact all over the people, you suddenly understand how completely an audiences can love a film, give themselves completely to the cinematic medium. I know one thing for sure. Once you make a film and it goes into the theatres, it's no longer your property.

But how could American audiences connect with Indian history?

The American audiences have adopted "Rang De Basanti" and are willing to learn about Indian history. I didn't know about Che Guevara until I saw Walter Salles' "Motorcycle Diaries". I truly believe cinema is one of the most powerful mediums of expression. I saw people enthralled by my film and then watched them discussing it as an experience that takes cinema beyond all prescriptions of entertainment and information. Only cinema can do this.

So far we thought our youth don't think beyond sports shoes and sneakers. The market research and entire tools of advertising have been proven wrong. We totally misread the youth. The things that touch and move you will always triumph in cinema. And we don't need to stick to the time-tested formula of boy-girl, father-son, romance drama etc to get the audience interested. The lesson from "Rang De Basanti" is so simple. If you can touch the audiences' heart, you can win them over. That's the only magic formula we filmmakers should know.

"Rang De..." seems to have struck a chord with the youth.

I'm told viewers between the age of 16 and 35 constitute 65 percent of the audience for our movies. It doesn't require brains to know that a film should appeal to that age group. However, I won't make a 'youth' film next time just to connect with the target audience. I'll do exactly what the plot dictates.

What next?

We're working on a script called "Delhi - 6" about my childhood in Chandni Chowk. We'll see how it goes. I've started work on it. I don't even have time to sleep. In a month I'll know if the screenplay is going where I want it to.

Would you work with the same crew as "Rang De Basanti" again?

Of course, why not? We know the level of work that we accept from all of us. Why shouldn't we carry on together? I'm aware I've a much larger audience this time than I had after my first film "Aks". I can't run away from that truth. But I can only do what comes naturally to me.

Today Rakeysh Mehra is a brand name.

And I thought I had left the whole experience of advertising behind me. Ha! Click the Movie button below for more info:
Rang De Basanti


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