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Ketan Mehta: I must be the craziest man Deepa has met in her life

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28 October,2014: Ketan Mehta, 61, is very obsessive when he is working on a project, very laid-back when he is not. He is very stubborn if he believes in something, very accommodating otherwise. He is a Gandhian, but a rebel and is ambitious to go beyond his means in trying to do new things. The release of Rang Rasiya may have drained him physically, emotionally and financially, but this filmmaker, who holds the distinction of having launched Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri in bollywood, felt compelled to tell the story of Raja Ravi Varma, a man who fought for the creative freedom of expression. Over an hour-long conversation with Bombay Times, he talks about his intelligent and strong-willed wife Deepa Sahi, his childhood rebellion against being a Gandhian and his obsession and passion for telling the story of Raja Ravi Varma.

How did you become a filmmaker?
I was born in Gujarat at my nani’s house and then lived in Mumbai till the age of 10 and then moved to Delhi. My father was a professor in Gujarati Literature and taught at the Delhi University. He was a Gandhian and had been a freedom fighter, who had gone to jail with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel for four years, so all those influences were there. His father was a khadi-wearing nationalist and so, patriotism came naturally to him. I had two younger brothers and was the black sheep of the family, who rebelled against the restrictions placed upon me as a Gandhian, like wearing khadi all the time, the frugality of living and food habits. My father was a complete moralist with high standards of ethical behaviour. While we grew up in Delhi, we would go back to Gujarat on our holidays, spending time in mango orchards. Dr BV Karanth, who later became the director of NSD, was my theatre teacher in Sardar Patel school in Delhi. So I grew up in theatre, in a sense, and those experiences in childhood must have shaped the desire to be in this field. I was a merit lister and got selected for Economic Honours at St Stephen’s College, but I had no interest in Economics while I was there. And while all my classmates went onto becoming IAS officers or to Cambridge or MIT to learn or teach, I joined the Film Institute in the film direction course. When I told my parents that I wanted to go to the Film Institute, they were shocked as filmmaking was taboo. They even decided to go on a hunger strike to stop me from going there, but somehow, I persuaded them. Those three years were transformational years in my life.

Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Vinod Chopra and Saeed Mirza were all contemporaries. Falling in love with cinema was the best thing in my life. It took possession of my life and I never looked back after that. I then joined the Indian Space Research Organisation in Gujarat, as they were the first to beam directly from satellite and that really excited me, as it was the very beginning of satellite television. I travelled rural villages shooting and also got exposed to a folk Gujarati form called Bhavai. I did a series of programmes on the untouchables and made my first feature film called Bhavni Bhavai with just 3.5 lakhs given to me by NFDC. Making a musical with just that much money is as foolhardy as it gets, but it won several national and international awards. Friends like Naseer, Om and Smita Patil made their debuts and all came together for nothing. They would sleep on a terrace in a haveli in a row, under the sky. That’s how it started. I then picked up Aamir Khan, who was a student in one of the colleges and made my next film Holi with him and Ashutosh Gowariker also making his debut. And since, it has been 35 years.

Source:The Times of India

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