‘Idea of censorship today is counterproductive’

After films like Mirch Masala, Hiro Hiralal, Maya Memsaab and Mangal Pandey : The Rising to his name, Ketan Mehta is back with Rang Rasiya, his much anticipated homage to the 19th century  painter and artist, Raja Ravi Varma. Raja Ravi Varma is known not only as being the first painter to bring Indian Gods and Goddesses on canvas and eventually in people’s homes but also for the controversy that involved his paintings. His muses gave faces to the goddesses and he was accused of using nudity and obscenity in his work.

Rang Rasiya stars Randeep Hooda as the legendary painter and Nandana Sen as Sugandha, his muse. Much like the painter himself, Rang Rasiya too ran into a lot of controversies from the depiction of unbounded passion, to the female lead Nandana Sen’s bold scenes. The Central Board of Film Certification’s censor resulted in it being canned for five years. The film made in 2008, was released only last week (7 November, 2014).

Raja Ravi Varma’s work is today found in every household, many pray before his paintings of the gods and goddess, but is that why Ketan Mehta chose him as the subject of the film? After a small pause Mehta says, ‘ When I saw his early painting in the film institute ( Film and Television Institute of India, Pune) , I realised that somewhere the Indian cinema has derived so much from his iconography. His paintings had the first pan-Indian imagery that was created and that was followed so greatly by the early  Indian cinema, and that is what drew me to him.’

‘Even Prabhat studio is completely inspired by his paintings. Dadasaheb Phalke started as an apprentice in his studio, so Dadasaheb Phalke was in a way a creatively direct descendent of Raja Ravi Varma and we have all derived so much from him.  Unknowingly we are all today inspired by Ravi Varma or have inherited the idea of art from him,’ he adds, reflectively.

Rang Rasiya ran into a horde of controversies and the censor board’s decision had canned the film for five years. But In a time and age when everything is easily available on the internet legally or illegally, doesn’t the whole idea of censorship seem a little  redundant? ‘ I think in today’s age of information, the idea of censorship is counterproductive, inconsequential and ineffective,’ says Mehta before he adds forcefully, ‘ I think it’s an idea that has long passed its expiry date.’

The irony doesn’t get lost that  the kind of controversy that Rang Rasiya ran into, Raja Ravi Varma, the person on whose life the film is made also ran into similar controversy. His work was charged for nudity and obscenity. Ketan Mehta smiles before answering, ‘This is the story of the eternal artist who reflects the society in all its colours, in all its contradictions, with all its glory. This is what I believe is the purpose of any artist. to reflect the time that he is living in and to reflect his heritage that he inherited. I think Raja Ravi Varma did that gloriously and that is why I think he was a inspiration.’

‘That is why Rang Rasiya is a tribute to such a great artist. It’s a small a tribute to a great artist,’ he further adds.

Rang Rasiya talks about Raja Ravi Varma and his many muses. But what about the idea of one eternal love? ‘I think, this, somewhere reflects the human nature as even depicted in our ancient myths. Mahabharata has every kind of love possible, but this morality of having only one love is in my belief a colonial idea, not our own culture in fact it is  against our culture,’ says Mehta. ‘Our culture celebrates life in all its glories, in all its colours. That is wonderful culture to be in. One of the most sophisticated, the most liberated culture, which has become convoluted  by the colonial legacies. It’s time we liberate ourselves like we have liberated ourselves politically and economically.’

From Hiro Hiralal to Mangal Pandey : The Rising, Ketan Mehta has made excellent films and one can almost see his evolution from film to film as a director. Has Rang Rasiya evolved him, as well? ‘I think I have just begun!’ he laughs, ‘I have made just 10 films, just stories enough for five lifetimes to tell so I am looking forward. I think cinema is such an incredible medium that one lifetime is not enough to explore it. The moment I  joined the film institute it has been an ever-growing love story with cinema and it will last me a lifetime.’

The cast of Rang Rasiya was barely famous when it was made in 2008. Mehta had cast Randeep Hooda before his success with Highway and Saheb Biwi aur Gangster. Will Hooda’s recent success affect the film more now that it is released five years later? ‘You should have asked this to Randeep,’ he smiles, ‘Randeep is happy that the film has released now. He believes that this is in fact  the right time to release this film. In the last 5 years the audience has changed, evolved.

They have become more open for different kinds of cinema, the audience is going back to cinema as we knew it. He thinks that the film might not have received the same response has it released five years back. Well, all I can say is let us hope for the best!’ he adds before signing off.

And with the film getting positive reviews and some critics even calling it a ‘timely delay’, let’s hope for the best, indeed!
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