After making a mark in the world of advertising, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra directed his first feature film, Aks (2001). The film was praised but failed to score at the box office. His next film, Rang De Basanti (2006), made him a force to reckon with. The film was loved unanimously and is today hailed as one of the top Hindi films of all time. In his autobiography, ‘The Stranger In The Mirror’, co-authored by Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta, Rakeysh reveals for the first time the hardships he had to face to get the film on floors.
REVEALED: The INSIDE story on how Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra STRUGGLED to get Rang De Basanti on floors and Aamir Khan’s ‘pay-me-double-if-not-paid-on-time’ clause
Rang De Basanti had a great ensemble star cast comprising Aamir Khan, Soha Ali Khan, Atul Kulkarni, Sharman Joshi, Siddharth, R Madhavan and Waheeda Rehman. Aamir brought the star power to the film and he came on board very early.
As per the book, Aamir decided to do the film in or around the year 2002, a year after the release of Aks. In the film, he played freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad as well as a confused, free-spirited youth of today, DJ. Rakeysh's wife P S Bharati gave Rakeysh a quote which he sent to Aamir to explain to him about his character. The quote read, 'There are two primary choices in life. Either you let things be the way they are. Or take responsibility for changing them.' The Hindi translation of this quote also made it to the film.
Rakeysh in the book revealed that Aamir Khan added a clause in the contract which stated that if Rang De Basanti was not completed on time, Aamir would have to be paid double. To quote Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, "While signing on the dotted line, Aamir included a clause, which was the reason I ended up making the movie on time in the first place. Here's an example: 'If my fee is Rs. 4 crore and you don't pay me on time, then you'll have to pay me Rs.8 crore for defaulting,' he had said. I had never even seen Rs. 8 crores till then."
While Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra began to work on the film, he had not raised funds. He stated in his memoir that Angad Paul and Nilesh Dadhich were the initial producers but they couldn't get money. Yet, Rakeysh started working on getting the cast and crew in place.
Finally, it was January 2004 and he had still not found a financier. Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra then met Kishore Bajaj, the owner of the reputed fashion label Bada Saab. Rakeysh called him an angel since he arranged for a loan of Rs. 2.5 crores at 36% interest from a private financier. Rakeysh even mortgaged his bungalow to raise additional funds.
It was October 2004. There was no sign of moolah that the film demanded, and Aamir Khan began to get other film offers. Aamir told Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, "If I back out, yeh film banegi nahi fir se." Rakeysh then tried his luck and met a Hollywood producer of Indian origin, Ashok Amritraj, in the USA. However, he was not ready to expand into the Indian market. Rakeysh revealed that he was so broke at that point that he had to borrow $100 from his brother-in-law Srikanth to take a cab to the airport.
In Mumbai, Aamir Khan had a meeting with the whole team and he suggested that they enforce his contract. As part of this idea, Aamir Khan sent a notice to the film's producers - Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra, Angad Paul and Nilesh Dadhich - and asked for double fees for defaulting. Rakeysh said that there was no bad blood over this notice. In fact, to motivate, Aamir sent Rakeysh the message that he had once got from the latter, 'There are two primary choices in life. Either you let things be the way they are. Or take responsibility for changing them.'
On December 28, 2004, Rakeysh sent his executive producer Adam Bowling to London. He got Angad Paul to relinquish their rights on Rang De Basanti. Nilesh Dadhich, meanwhile, was paid off to exit.
And then finally, Ronnie Screwvala of UTV Motion Pictures decided to produce Rang De Basanti. Rakeysh wrote in his book, "I thought we were all a crazy lot in attempting this film but Ronnie beat us all when it came to 'crazy'." Ronnie Screwvala gave the first cheque of Rs. 5 crores and Rakeysh used it to not just set up the shoot but also repay the loan sharks. Aamir was moved by the struggle and he offered to reduce his fee. Rakeysh wrote in the book that at this, he told Aamir Khan, "Our boat is sailing. Let's keep it in our back pockets in case we need it later."
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