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Mangal Pandey, Mutiny, Mehta

PRASHANTH G.N.

Ketan Mehta, director of `Mangal Pandey... ,' feels that freedom is a state of mind.



FOR FREEDOM: Ketan Mehta

Freedom in the early 21st century seems to be under threat. The timing of the film `Mangal Pandey - The Rising' is perfect in the sense that it is also an articulation on freedom, though from the perspective of the past.

Ketan Mehta, the well-known filmmaker, who has made path-breaking films like `Mirch Masala,' `Maya Memsaab' and `Hero Hiralal,' took time-off to share his views on the film.

Spirit of freedom

"Mangal Pandey rests on the notion of freedom. While the reference to freedom is from a particular historical episode, the spirit of freedom is a metaphor for the freedoms to come. Freedom may mean different things at different times, but its spirit is essentially the same."

But why Mangal Pandey now? What is the context?

"Freedom is a universal attribute. At first, it may seem like its only about 1857, but it is more about what 1857 came to symbolise. That is the spirit in which we need to live even today. On a personal note, I was excited by the fact that 1857 was the first time Hindus and Muslims came together. The coming together was very inspiring. I thought the story needed to be told.

"I have been thinking about Mangal Pandey for more than a decade. I happened to do it now. I also needed someone to do it well. None better than Aamir."

Total commitment

What is it like to work with Aamir? "I do not know of any other actor in Indian or world cinema who would give two-and-a-half years to just one project at the peak of his career. I do not know of any other actor who will exhibit such commitment. I only remember a Japanese actor who gave two whole years to grow a beard for the film `Red Beard.'

"Aamir is a man of faith, a man of belief. He is a successful star yes, but he is a genuine human being, open, straightforward, sincere. I think he is at ease with himself."

To get back to the film, did you feel the need to make a statement about colonialism now?

"Not exactly, but as Aamir says, everyone knows the story of 1857 Sepoy Mutiny from that side. We needed to tell our side of the story. But then again Mangal Pandey is about the human condition. About existence. Freedom is a human condition. It is something that resonates on a larger plane. That is why I suppose it is alright even if you told the story at a later time. We are talking about civilisational attributes."

There seems to be a philosophical axis in his work. Films such as `Bhavani Bhavai,' `Mirch Masala,' `Sardar' and now `Mangal Pandey' take a sociological view of life.

Is there a role you attribute to yourself as filmmaker?

"Every artiste, to me, is an agent of change and I see myself as an agent of that change. I need to be able to look at the unsaid, read in between the lines and speak for the unheard. I do it in films because the film can be an agent of change.... I am speaking about the freedom of the artiste."

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