Faridoon Shahryar (FS): We have with us Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra at IIFA Singapore. He was a part of a fascinating workshop on music. Pleasure having you on Bollywood Hungama, once again!
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (ROM): Hi!
FS: What is it about your change of look? You have cut your beard off. It was difficult to recognize you the other day!
ROM: Ha ha! No no absolutely. We were shooting outdoors and it was very hot. Hence, we had to get rid of the beard and the hair.
FS: Are you playing any role in the film?
ROM: No way! My job is behind the camera.
FS: The entire experience of this musical workshop was incredible and for me, this was the best event so far at IIFA…
ROM: Yeah I felt good and it was enriching. Out there, there were Shantanu, Vishal-Shekhar and it was incredible. To be among Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi is always an honour. I am an ardent fan and love their work from the bottom of my heart. To be a part of such great intellect minds and talent was wonderful.
FS: As a director, you generally prefer songs in background in your film instead of lip-sync songs. There was also heated debate today where Javed saab supported lip-sync songs and you guys had this take that songs in the background can be there as well. Even Zoya Akhtar gave you support. As a director, what do you think is the prerogative that should be there in the final film?
ROM: To each one, his own. A film is a medium of art and supported by commerce. I can't speak for the world but I can speak for myself. I love music, the poetry and the melodies and that show with the kind of music we had in Rang De Basanti (RDB) and Delhi-6. And now, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (BMB) is also shaping up well. When I was making RDB, I did feel that I don't need to go for lip-sync songs. The world is changing and it's a very alien thought for the world audience and our audience, particularly youngsters, to start singing at the drop of a hat. I do understand that traditionally, it is something that we need to keep and preserve but you also need to move on in our storytelling. Mereko hamesha ajeeb sa lagta hai ki when a mother, school teacher and prostitute all start singing, unless a situation requires. I think musicals are amazing, difficult and most beautiful of all genres if I had to take horror, action, sci-fi, comedy or romcoms. But musicals are closest to my heart. However, all stories cannot be told musically otherwise there is a huge gap in a character. If you have a character of a serious police inspector doing sincerely about his job and if he starts singing, it starts looking frivolous in today's day and time. I am not commenting about the debate that happened today. So it was a huge chance that we took with RDB followed by Delhi-6. It worked thankfully
FS: So should we expect something similar in BMB?
ROM: In BMB also, you won't find lip-sync songs. But if there's a situation, I would love to do it.
FS: How many songs are there in BMB?
ROM: I don't know. We are in the process of composing. 6-7 to ho gaye hai. Aur hote rahenge.
FS: Speaking of Farhan Akhtar in BMB, he's looking fantastic and it's difficult to make out as to who is and who is not the real Milkha Singh. Is it taken care of?
ROM: Nothing is taken care of. Milkha Singh is a tremendous personality. He inspired me to make this movie, inspired Prasoon Joshi to write the lyrics. It's been three years since we have been researching and even frequently going to Chandigarh. Prasoon has given a lot of his time to visit Chandigarh, stay there and be on Milkha Singh's side. We have understood him intrinsically which has reflected in the script. When Farhan read the script, he immediately agreed to play the part of Milkha Singh. It's not an easy role for any actor, not only physically but also emotionally. Here's a boy who saw the massacre of his parents and siblings when he was just 11 years old. Here's a boy who picked up a knife for survival. Here's a boy who spent time in jail. Here's a boy who had nothing – no parents, no roof on the head, no food to eat, no clothes to wear. He didn't even have pair of shoes and yet he broke the world record and in turn conquered the world. Once Farhan was emotionally with the character, it just reflected externally. Right now, everyone is reacting to the external part – the muscle, the running style and the beard – which took 6 months for him to get into it. He also worked tremendously hard. His dedication is awesome and unbelievable. So lucky to be working with him!
FS: Paan Singh Tomar (PST) has been a huge success which was also about an athlete although the context was different. Did it encourage or led you to rework on your script?
ROM: PST was a revelation. I have always loved director Tigmanshu Dhulia's work and Irrfan is a beautiful asset for us. It was an amazing subject and they have made it into a beautiful film with very limited resources. Kudos to them and it is very encouraging for someone like me who's now making a film on Milkha Singh though we have a different take altogether. I have a different interpretation to the story. It is not about athletics. It's more about the human spirit. I hope we connect with the younger generation the way the narrative is. When we come out with BMB, we have a PST behind us and in a way they have prepared the audiences for us.
FS: So when is the movie releasing?
ROM: That's such a tough question! I don't know and for me, it's a work of art. So whenever, it's snatched out of my hand, it'll release.
FS: Approximately if you can tell us?
ROM: Approximately, it should release in the middle of next year.
FS: When you are making a biopic of a dead person, you can opt for cinematic liberties. But if that person is still alive and is quite a firebrand, what steps do you take while working on your script, how close are you to reality and what chances are you taking in terms of fiction?
ROM: It's fantastic that Milkha Singh is among us. I understand how lucky I am because most of my research is primary. I talk to the person and try to understand the person deeply and feel the way he feels. Normally, you rely on secondary research, documents, written stuff in newspapers and internet, books, novels etc. Just to be with Milkha Singh and understand his trials and tribulations, it was not exactly an eye-opener but I am very lucky to hear it from him.
FS: I was reading the biography of Steve Jobs the other day. Jobs had told author Walter Issacson that he hasn't told him about the contents of the book and hence won't be an insider's job when the book comes out. In that context, when you are making a biopic, are you going to focus only on the good things of the person or are there stuff that is unflattering about the person because they may not like it but for a layman, they would like to see both sides of a coin if possible…
ROM: Flattering-unflattering is a point of view. It's an immature way of looking at things. We narrated the script to Milkha Singh many times over. His blessings are with us. His son, Jeev Milkha Singh, has also read the script. On the contrary, Milkha Singh has in fact told us to show his dark side because unless you show a conflict in any character, it doesn't become real for the audience.
FS: True. Thank you sir!