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English, Rahul

Rahul Bose is immediately identified with both theatre and Hinglish films. The success of his `English, August' gave other filmmakers courage to make English films in an Indian milieu.

YOU WATCHED and loved him in Dev Benegal's English, August, the film based on Upamanyu Chatterjee's eponymous novel. The very attractive Rahul Bose left his advertising career for a debut in what is seen as a landmark in Indian cinema. English, August managed to neatly balance both Bollywood and art house cinema traditions. Rahul Bose was hilarious as the bemused and befuddled Agastya, the probationary IAS officer posted in Madna, c/o The Boondocks.

His subsequent films, Bombay Boys, Thakshak, and Split Wide Open didn't exactly boost his career, though the play which he directed, Seascape with Sharks and Dancers, was well-received.

Rahul has now turned writer-director with his film Everybody Says I'm Fine. The film is set amongst Mumbai's glitterati where everybody desperately believes they are OK. Of course they are not. Rahul was in town recently to oversee its release. Excerpts from an interview:

Pradeep Sebastian: Any luck that we'll soon see you as August again in The Mammaries of the Welfare State?

Rahul Bose: Is it going to be a movie?

I am hoping it will be.

I haven't spoken to (Dev) Benegal about movies in a year. But yeah, if there's a sequel, I'd like to play August again.

I was wondering...wouldn't it be great if you were to raise money to make it and direct it yourself?

Well, Welfare State is not the kind of movie I'd like to make. Upamanyu's book is about August but also the way he sees society...it's his take on society. I'm more interested in personal stories with strong emotional content.

Welfare State seems underrated, though it is a terrific book in its own right.

I was speaking to Amitav Ghosh not too long ago and he said it was a good book, too.

So what will you be doing next - director-wise?

There's this unusual love story I want to tell. It's about two people who never meet or speak... it's going to be difficult and will need a lot of money to make but I'm going to do it. That's the kind of story I'd like to tell - strongly emotional, surreal.

Why is it that Indian English movies like Bombay Boys and Snip feel they have to be wacky and surreal?

Wait a minute. Are you comparing those movies with Everybody Says I'm Fine? Because if you are, I'd be deeply offended.

Actually, what I was getting at was...

I didn't care for those movies myself. Twenty jokes don't make a movie.

I'm glad you think so too. I, well, a lot of us who have been following Indian English movies closely, had hoped - still hope - that they would take the place of our failing parallel/art cinema. English, August, Hyderabad Blues and Dollar Dreams seem to be moving in the right direction - telling tales of the cultural split in us; contemporary urban stories that needed to be told. But the movies that came after were hip and stylish but hollow. Not to forget boring.

Oh, I agree. And I still think Indian English films could do that - be the alternative to mainstream Bollywood cinema that we have been longing for.


Rahul Bose at a press meet before the release of Everybody says I'm fine.

Actor-wise you must have a number of projects.

Several, but I'd like to mention two. Mr and Mrs Iyer, Aparna Sen's new film. Aparna says it's the best thing I've done as an actor. What I've liked so far is what I did in Split Wide Open - it was a real stretch to play that role but I did it. The other film I'm very excited about - and that will come out soon - is called Big City Blues. It's a Woody Allenesque script. I play a virgin who is obsessed with sex. It's hilarious. Very smart script.

What was it like - making your own movie?

Great. It's a terrific experience. I went out there and gave it everything I've got - that was a couple of years ago - today probably I'd do it a little differently; but back then when I was making Everybody, it's the only way I would have done it.

What got you to tell this particular story?

I see so many people wrecking their lives but not admitting it or even seeing it. And that happens with the rich too. Everybody has several characters whose lives are messed up but they won't admit it. I just felt this is a story I wanted to tell. What did you think of the film?

I have mixed responses. I liked Zen - the character and the actor - and the premise of the hairdresser who can see through all these people. But that Jester character you play, I had problems with.

Not just you. A lot of people around the world have said that to me. But interestingly, many in the Indian audience liked that character. He isn't surreal, by the way, just over the top.

What are the things that obsess you apart from cinema and acting?

Hmmmm... rugby. There's something that's taught me a lot. But I won't say I obsess about anything.

That would be taking things too seriously. I'd like to see it the way the Gita speaks of it - as a game. You do it to the best of your gifts. If it works out, fine - otherwise just let it go. I take it all moment by moment. Right now, it's nice to be here, talking to you.

After this I'll head out to Symphony where Everybody is playing and after that, it'll be something else. But if today all of this were to fall, if it were all taken away, I honestly won't give a shit.

PRADEEP SEBASTIAN

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