Rakesh Omprakash Mehra whose Bhaag Milkha Bhaag has just won 14 awards at IIFA is ready to embark on another very difficult film. Mirza Sahibaan promises to be the mother of all classic love stories. He speaks to Subhash K Jha
14 awards including Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor, how does it feel?
It’s a culmination of a long season of awards, I feel very happy for the entire team. I specially feel happy for Milkhaji. Now it’s time to move on.
Mirza Sahibaan is your first foray into unalloyed love. What does love mean to you?
Love is quite illogical. We try to find reason for it. And fail. Love doesn’t mean trying to figure out all the equations formulas and theorems of love. As for what love means to me, I will discover that as I direct the film. I know it’d be one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. My film is not a boy-girl thing. It’s about soul mates. I won’t try to figure it out. I’ll just experience it. My writer Gulzar Saab has said, ‘Sirf ehsaas hai yeh rooh se mehsoos karo pyar ko pyar hi rehne do koi naam na do.’
Unlike other classic love stories Mirza Sahibaan has not been done too often on screen?
It’s very interesting that you point this out. When I embarked on this journey I wasn’t the least concerned about how many times the story had been done. This was just something I needed to do. It’s a tragic love story. But the way it plays out is so unique. See, usually classic love stories are based on the premise of societal opposition. In Mirza Sahibaan the dynamics and complexities of the love relationship are defined by the couple itself. That’s what made this love story so contemporary for me. In today’s world, love is not a taboo. It’s something parents and society accept. Here the boy and the girl share a very dynamic equation. They keep inter-changing between the lover and the loved one. There is unconditional surrender in this relationship, a kind of Sufiyana touch, that fascinated me.
How have you contemporized the love story?
It’s set in modern times, 2015 India. The legend of Mirza Sahibaan echoes across the centuries. That’s how it plays out. Once I was certain of the time zone I decided on where I wanted the legend to be located. We decided on Rajasthan.
The desertscape lends itself to immense romance?
True. But why do we only think of the desert when we think of Rajasthan? The Rajasthan that I want to explore is the very modern touristic hub. That is the Rajasthan I am looking it, and not the deserts, the ghagras and the Sarangi. It’s set in the heart of Rajasthan.
Your Mirza and Sahibaan are played by two newcomers?
Yes, Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher are my Mirza and Sahibaan. They play two youngsters brought up and educated in England, now back in India. They play the gen-now in the legend at a turning point in the story, Sahibaan breaks the arrows and that matters to Mirza the most. We’ll explore the legend through these very talented newcomers. It would be new challenge for me to direct newcomers. They don’t have to compete with other youngsters. They’ve to compete with themselves. Both my leads are living out their characters. Their journey has started at Point 0. The same point where I start every film. This is what I learnt from Amitabh Bachchan and A R Rahman. With each project they’re starting again. Har baar baahar ke shor ko nahin sunta hoon, andar ke sukoon ko sunta hoon (I don’t listen to the noise outside, only to the silence within).
Harshvardhan and Saiyami must be setting aside their contemporary lifestyles to get into character?
My film is set in contemporary times, though we are showcasing the classic ancient era for 20-35 minutes of the film. We’re creating modern folklore through music. I always felt legendary love stories should be interpreted through songs.
The format sounds unparalleled?
That’s what I was told when I did Rang De Basanti. People even called me crazy. But the audience was kind enough to accompany me on my journey. I guess I am blessed.
Chetan Anand’s Heer Ranjha did the love story in song form?
No, that was different. But we’ve recorded 400 hours of music. We’ve been recording since before the release of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. My association with Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is almost telepathic. It’s like I have a dream. And these other artistes come and become part of that dream and give new interpretations and dimensions to my dream.
What do you hope to achieve in this adaptation of the original love classic?
I am really enjoying the process of putting the project together. Its soul, its essence. The fragrance of the flower, the nectar….you can see how poetic I am becoming in Gulzar Saab’s company.
How is it working with him?
He’s such a complete artiste. Here’s a true writer who can see pictures. When he writes he paints pictures. He always tells me, ‘I keep talking and talking, you absorb.’ His writing is so layered, it is important for me to keep peeling off layers after layers.
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag took your filmmaking career to a new level?
Oh, totally. It’s like living another life now. I travelled recently to a village called Girdwala on the Indo-Pak border. There’s no cinema hall there. But they had seen Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. They told me, ‘Aap aise hi filmen banate rahiye’. It’s so beautiful. I feel I’m ready to start all over again. As I go along I’ll rediscover myself. I never want to emulate my successes. But I want to learn from my failures.
You’ve worked with the finest talent in the film industry?
I’ve been very fortunate right from Day 1 when I worked with Mr Amitabh Bachchan in my very first film. He has been such a blessing. Then there was A R Rahman who such an inspiring light in my life. There is so much I’ve imbibed from him. Then there is Aamir Khan whom I worked with in Rang De Basanti. The letter ‘A’ has played a very important part in my life.
The ‘F’ factor has also been very important.
Ya, but Farhan is also an Akhtar.