Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra talks about DELHI-6

“Delhi-6” (the zip code for the medieval heart of Old Delhi) is the story of an American-born Indian, Roshan, who takes his ailing grandmother back to her neighborhood in Delhi to spend her last days. Roshan falls in love with a beautiful local girl and finds himself at the cross roads of ethnic and religious conflict. Director Mehra’s third film blends themes from classic Hindi cinema with those of the modern day emigration and grapples with a host of issues: caste differences, superstition, communal rift and middle class dreams.

The story is told against the backdrop of the ancient walled city of Delhi which is a character in herself; a city that represents the chaos of Indian people, their religion, their beliefs. “Delhi-6” is the 3rd directorial venture of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, BAFTA Film Award nominee and winner of Filmfare Awards and National Awards for “Rang De Basanti” (2006), considered to be a landmark film in Indian Cinema. His first feature film was “Aks” (2001). “Delhi-6” is semi-biographical for Mehra who grew up in the walled city of Old Delhi and drew upon his childhood memories to tell the story. “Delhi-6” boasts an Original Musical Score by music maestro A.R. Rahman, winner of two Oscars for “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008).

Bijan Tehrani: What initially motivated you to make Delhi-6?
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra: There is one thing that I can say motivated me to make Delhi-6, I was born and brought up in Delhi-6 which is the pin code ID of the walled city of Delhi. So there were a lot of childhood memories and incidents and it was a really a place that I knew. Basically the social condition that the country is in is what motivated me, and I think that it is reflected in the film.

Bijan: How did you come up with the main character?
Rakeysh: I needed somebody who was alien and would come to India and be a complete fish out of water. I wanted to have someone who never experienced these issues, otherwise it would have been an Indian protagonist who would have grown up with these issues all around him. When you grow up with these issues you become desensitized.

Bijan: One thing that is interesting is that your story is a combination of comedy and tragedy; it is not the usual way that films are made in India. Were you at all worried about the box office issues that go along with making the film in this style?
Rakeysh: There is no absolute formula to the box office; there is no guarantee. There is no challenge in making cinema if you do not raise the bar. You might hit the bar and bar might fall, but you can never be accused of not trying. I am also a firm believer that India is now placed on a platform where it is becoming integrated globally. There is economic and social reform, so even with the story telling we have, we felt that now is the time to build bridges so that people across borders can enjoy Indian stories. This was the driving factor for me. I wanted to tell Indian stories to the world, because our history is unique and our current culture is changing.

Bijan: There are a lot of political issues in this film how did you manage not to take sides?
Rakeysh: There is only one side, and that is the right side, there is no other side. Democracy is meant for the people, and that is how the world has come about; anything else is a distortion of that. So it has to feel right and be right, and in doing that you cannot be biased politically. Cinema is not about being political it is about expression.

Bijan: How has the global audience received your film?
Rakeysh: When we released the film in February it received a lot of critical acclaim. After I released the film Rang De Basanti and it had a cult status, it was the second highest grosser of the decade. A year after its release, people came out and emulated scenes from the film. Those kinds of scenes were being repeated all over the country. When I was making Delhi-6 everyone expected it to be a sequel to Rang De Basanti. People all over the country were disappointed that I had not made a similar film. I was also not happy with what I saw and realized that I had deviated from my original script. We decided to reshoot the film. I told my crew that I needed four days, so we re-edited the film and shot some new pieces. This is the version that we released at the Venice film festival and eventually nominated at screened for consideration for the Golden Globes.

Bijan: What is the next project that you are working on?
Rakeysh: There are a couple of them; I have three stories that are in the final stages of writing. One is a bio-pic about a person who saw the partition of India and went out to become the greatest sportsman ever. The other is a folklore type romance which is played out over 1000 years ago. The third is a mythical caper. These are the films that I will be directing. Other than that we are also producing and trying to build up the talent in the country. Next year we will also be giving a break to three young directors who are trying to make it in the Indian film industry.


About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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