Filmmaker Rakeysh Mehra: 'Raising the Bar Is Where the Challenge Lies'
Indian filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra sees his industry undergoing major changes, such as institutions replacing private financing, increased use of digital technology, a breakdown of the star system and its inefficiencies, and the emergence of amore professional, level playing field. Mehra is best known as the writer, producer and director of the 2006 blockbuster,
Rang De Basanti
. At the recent Wharton India Economic Forum in Philadelphia, Wharton operations and information management professor Kartik Hosanagar spoke with Mehra about the changes in the film industry,including the controversy over intellectual property rights and royalties. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
Kartik Hosanagar: Congratulations on all of your recent successes, including
Rang De Basanti
. Originally, you were in advertising and then you made a careertransition into filmmaking. What drove that transition?Rakeysh Mehra: It was like flowing with the water. Nothing was pre-decided. I just went alongfrom one profession to another until [I found my] calling, and I guess cinema was it. Havingdiscovered cinema -- and I am still discovering it -- it gave me a lot of happiness and satisfaction. Icould also express myself through the medium, much more than I could have done anywhere else.Hosanagar: I would have thought you could have expressed yourself through advertising as well.Mehra: I had a lot of fun in advertising. I started producing commercials. Then I started directing.A lot happened when MTV moved into India [in 1995]. They gave me the task of "Indianizing"MTV. It was great fun ... making the first commercials with [film actor] Amitabh Bachchan. Atthat point in time [in advertising,] there were only models and non-cinema personalities; celebritieswere not common. At the same time, there were huge technological breakthroughs in advertising....[Also,] a lot of international commercials came over because India was booming economically.The automobile industry, including Japanese cars, came to India, and we started shooting for it. Butin advertising, you are always working under a given brief. Your primary job is to sell. That is avery limited expression. Technically, yes, you can express yourself.Hosanagar: That makes sense. Let's talk about your films. Your second film,
Rang De Basanti
, wasa phenomenal success and among the top three highest-grossing Hindi films ever. What were someof the factors that led it to its success?Mehra: Actually, when I was conceiving the film and making it, and even during its release, I couldhave never thought that this film was going to shape up the way it has. It became more than amovie. It went on to occupy the subconscious of the nation.
There are millions of reasons for the success of the film. But once you are going with it, you are goingwith your instincts -- a small voice inside you, which is the loudest. That drove me into writing the scriptand then taking it forward -- producing and directing the film. You can do justice to the subject when youare really dying to say something, dying to express yourself. Then, you are drawing out of your own reallife. The soul originates from your childhood, your youth, your school, your college, your profession,what you have seen in life and what you imbibe from life and learn from life. And then you give it back.
Hosanagar: You mentioned there were a million reasons why it was successful. There could havebeen reasons why it could have failed. On that note, I want to look at the business of cinema. It is a
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