After giving box-office blockbusters like Rang De Basanti and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra is back with a heart-warming film titled 'Mere Pyare Prime Minister'. Starring National Award-winning actress Anjali Patil in the lead role, the film was screened at the Rome Film Festival. Mehra’s 'Mere Pyare Prime Minister' revolves around four children living in a Mumbai slum. One of them wants to build a toilet for his single mother and makes an appeal to the Prime Minister.
In the exclusive chat with Deccan Chronicle, the filmmaker talked about why he chose this story, his experience of shooting the film, his lead actress Anjali Patil, film’s reception at the prestigious Rome Film Festival and his next project with Farhan Akhtar. Excerpts:
The film seems to be talking on the issue of open defecation and sanitation problems in the country. What attracted you to the subject?
Actually, this film talks about a bigger problem - it talks about rapes - and not about open defecation as such. Yes, that is definitely a part of the film, but the issue it takes up is about the collective consciousness of nation towards a rape victim and how we deal with it. There were these figures from UNICEF which said that 50% of rapes that happen in India are when women go out to defecate. This film is about 8-year-old boy and his mother who lives in the slum colony in Mumbai which we have named Gandhi Nagar. The film is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi-ji and one of his teachings that 'The change you want to see begins from you'. This small kid begins the initiative and inspires us to kind of bring an environment of safety for his mother because after she is raped and she is going though her own trauma he is deeply saddened. So, he does different things, goes to authority and tries to make toilet for her but fails; feeling dejected he writes to Prime Minister about his struggles and asks for his help.
This film tries to see the problem from a very different angle. It tackles a subject that needs to seen face-to-face, but this is a very endearing and uplifting film.
This film is probably your lightest one in terms of its scale. Were you more relaxed during the making?
I try to be relaxed while making all my films (smiles). In this case, it was not an easy subject because we are talking about a real social issue out here. It’s a tightrope when you are talking about women safety, a rape victim and the whole acceptability after the rape. Normally we get into revenge mode and we get into rhetoric of repressed anger and all that but, my protagonist is trying to create a safer world for his mother and women at large. I had rented a room in the same location and lived there for fifteen days before the shooting happened. I wanted to understand what life I have to crate and that was a surreal experience for me. This film is set in the milieu of slums and we shot it entirely there and even cast local children.
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How challenging was it to shoot at real locations?
It was quite different from what I have done earlier so it was bit challenging that way. We had a guerrilla crew, we did shooting in indie style and we were always on our toes. We shot at locations we had no control over. But surprisingly, people were very helpful, very kind to us. We actually shot inside their homes. There were no artificial lights, no vanity vans. In fact, all the extras have been cast from slums only. Yes, it was challenging to shoot in small spaces but the people made it easy for us.
Does this film come from your own political viewpoints?
Well it is not a political film, it is a social film. Yes, if in the title you have a word ‘Prime Minister’ it’s kind of leads people to think that there will a political comment but there’s nothing like that. The film deals with a social devil that is rape; it deals with how we deal with a rape victim in the society and what we can do in our own small way. There’s also a beautiful romantic sub plot in the film. There is a boy who is in love with this single mother. It's wonderfully played by this new actor called Niteesh Wadhwa. The film shows how his love grows after she has gone through the trauma rather than shunning her or getting into a revenge mode. He feels more for the victim. At the larger level, it also opens our eyes and our consciousness to accept the fact that women are not safe in our country.
This was the only Asian film which screened at the Rome Film Festival. That must have been an incredible experience...
I went in with no expectations but I was thrilled with all appreciation and love. There were four screenings at the festival. I couldn’t attend the first screening because it was house pocked. I remember it was a press screening. We got very good reviews and also received a long standing ovation at the premiere show. There was a big acceptance to the film all around. Normally, the western worlds have always looked down upon slums like a third world thing but, I think, what they liked here is that we celebrated their lives in the film.
How was Anjali Patil to work with? Tell me about her.
I compare Anjali Patil with Raag Bhairavi - which is a ‘sampoorna’ (complete) raag. Normally all raags have five, six notes, or seven notes but Bhairavi has eight notes also! Anjali is a complete actress. I have become a huge fan of her after working on this film. She did a cameo in 'Mirzya', so I knew her potential. In this film, the story revolves around her and she has outdone herself. Each frame, each word spoken is so heartfelt that she was not acting she actually became the character - which is a hallmark of great actress.
You will soon get busy with ‘Toofan’, your next film with Farhan Akhtar. How is the film shaping up?
After Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, both Farhan and I were very keen to collaborate again and with this story we found a great match. Anjum Rajabali is writing it. It is a lovely story, it has a very fresh voice. The pre-production has started and we will go on floors by the end of this year....