High five

Team Rang Rasiya – director Ketan Mehta, producer Deepa Sahi, and lead actors Randeep Hooda and Nandana Sen – in conversation with team Box Office India.

Randeep Hooda (RH): Ketan, how does it feel to have your film release after so many years?

Ketan Mehta (KM): I feel like a very pregnant woman who is about to deliver.
RH: Was it a good pregnancy?
KM: Five years!
Nandana Sen (NS): Long labour.
KM: Five long years of labour.
RH: We don’t have to say five years.
NS: Yeah, let’s be vague about it.
KM: Yeah! I am very happy the film is finally releasing. We have all been looking forward to this day. It’s an absolutely wonderful feeling.

BOI: Ketan, you have worked in this industry for many years. Does it feel good to see your lead pair supporting the film? Nowadays, not many support films that run into trouble or take ages to release.

KM: They are professionals and know that they have done a great job in the film. So I am sure they are as eager as I am for it to reach out to as many people as it can.

RH: Absolutely! Unless your work is shared by a large audience, which includes screenings and film festivals, I think the film is incomplete. You have to give people a chance to watch it and for this, you have to make people aware of the film’s inception, pregnancy and delivery. The delivery cannot be half-hearted.

NS: It was a very important and a very courageous film, so it deserves to be celebrated and championed. Every film deserves that effort, and this one in particular because it’s such a heroic film.

BOI: Deepa, how tough was the journey for you?
Deepa Sahi (DS): It was a very long journey but the entire team was totally committed to the film. I remember, during the shoot, we had to keep in mind how Raja Ravi Varma had travelled across the countryside to understand the soul of India. So it was like taking that journey ourselves.

We travelled to Jaisalmer, Varanasi, Kerala, Baroda and Pune and we did loads of research in terms of costumes of that period and getting the rights to those paintings. Raja Ravi Varma made these huge paintings that now cost ‘ 20-30 crore. Photographing them, getting them painted upon and blowing them up was a huge organisational job.

KM: Changing the face of the girl in those pictures and replacing it with Nandana’s was a huge special-effects job as well.

DS: We didn’t want to compromise on any of the artworks because Raja Ravi Varma is the father of Indian art. So we ended up having two DoPs because one of them couldn’t speak in English and I assured him that I would get another guy to translate everything in English for him. But it also had to be a technical guy, who could quite literally understand the language of cinematography. Since this is a period film, that’s the kind of authenticity we have achieved.

BOI: How crucial was the casting?

DS: It was very crucial, and Ketan kept on screen-testing. One day, I was watching this movie called D in which Randeep was the hero and I asked Ketan to watch the film too. he watched just five minutes of the film and said, ‘This is my Ravi Varma!’

BOI: Randeep, what was your reaction when Ketan came to you with the script?

RH: Working with Ketan was a no-brainer. My two favourite films in Indian cinema – and none of them features Sholay! – are Ghulami and Mirch Masala. Sholay has elements from movies across the world while JP Dutta saab’s Ghulami and Ketan sir’s Mirch Masala have original stories. Moreover, he has worked with all these super guys. So I felt that mera bhi chal jaeyga kaam! (Laughs)

DS: Guys and girls, Randeep!
RH: Yes, guys and girls like Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Shah Rukh Khan, Deepa Sahi and Aamir Khan. When he gave me the script in his office, he offered some chai and told me, ‘Padh lo yeh script.’ So sone pe suhaga ho gaya. But the first thing I asked Ketan was, ‘Who is this guy, Raja Ravi Varma. Is he a fictional character?’ Ketan gave me this book and began flipping through the pages. When he came to the pages with paintings of Laxmi and Saraswati, I was shocked because I had these very same paintings in my house. So that was really sone pe suhaga! The only thing is that, had this film come to me now, I probably would have played the role differently because I am more mature as an actor. But the downside is, I would not have brought the innocence to my acting that I had at the time.

BOI: Nandana, what was your reaction when Ketan approached you?
NS: Ketan and I have wanted to work together for a very long time. There were films we could have worked on but they didn’t happen. So when he came to my home in Mumbai, he saw two life-size replicas of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings. I have loved and admired Raja Ravi Varma’s work for quite some time, as an artist and a pioneer. I had one small painting of his when I was in college and two of these large replicas of his work. Besides, I had wanted to work with Ketan since I made my debut.

Ketan is a rare kind of Indian filmmaker, whose films strongly portray women, whether Mirch Masala or Maya Memsaab. Ketan is very strongly invested in women’s rights and women’s empowerment without being didactic about it, without hitting you on the head with it, by just finding the right story.

This film makes such a strong and beautiful statement about how vulnerable women are and yet how strong they can be. So to play this part with a director I had always wanted to work with, on a story about an artist who I am deeply inspired by, and to act with a friend who had moved to Mumbai the same time as I did…

BOI: But was it a very tough role for you to portray?

NS: It was very challenging. First, I had to essay this timeless character who was strong but also fragile. This combination was key to the character and was a beautiful challenge. A period film has its unique set of challenges. So, for instance, Ketan once cancelled the shoot because the sari’s border didn’t look like it should have. I was also playing the character represented in the painting. Even though we didn’t know much about her, Ketan was certain that I needed to gain some weight for the film. And that was challenging. I had to gain 7 kg. I had to eat lots of bananas, rice and ….

RH: (Cuts in) Grapes
NS: …and grapes. It was also a huge responsibility to pay the archetypal Indian women. Actually, Sugandha’s journey mirrors the trials of all the archetypal Indian women. It’s like Damayanti, it’s also like Draupadi, in a way, because of the kind of humiliation she goes through. It’s like Sita, in a way, because of virtue being on trial and it’s like Shakuntala, in a way, because it’s been forgotten.

So I went back and reread all of these mythological stories. And I drowned myself in Ravi Varma’s painting to figure out the physicality of these women, which is very different from Nandana Sen. I am very clumsy and you know I don’t walk like I do in the movie. And by the time we started shooting the film, I was walking like Sugandha. In fact, when I finished the movie, I missed the character. It was beautiful but very challenging. Over to you, Randeep…

RH: I just played it. It was as challenging as any other role. I had just come off playing Daya Nayak in Risk and I had developed this harsh look and macho character. So the biggest challenge was to develop a softer look. While Daya Nayak looked at the worst things in life, Raja Ravi Varma looked at beauty. That was the hardest part. Then to get your head around a mundu, those lungis… And the soul of the film is painting so someone from Nitin Desai’s team taught me the basics of painting.
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