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All for thoughtful cinema



Mehul Kumar... A new awakening. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt.

WHEN HE was 26, he sported a moustache. Not because it was considered a sign of manliness but because he wanted to look "mature, who could be taken as a serious director by those who reserved this slot for senior people only." This was Mohammad Baloch from Baluchistan who rechristened himself as Mehul Kumar when he landed up in Mumbai to make films in 1997. He needed to look mature also because he never thought of making a "formula film" but "issue-based" ones. "Tirangaa", "Krantiveer", "Mrityudaata", "Aye Watan Tere Liye", the list of such films by him is long. And so are his hit films in Gujarati. From his kitty arrived another concern through his latest film "Jaago". It is a real life incident of an 11-year-old girl raped inside a train in Mumbai four years ago.

Now a 55-year-old producer-director, he does not need to put banners proclaiming his maturity as a filmmaker and a thinking citizen of India. "I could have made the film at a smaller level, but I thought, why not take it to national level? Today, rape is a bitter truth in our society. In fact, it has always been. So why are not any stringent laws made to punish the criminals? Why they go scot-free in most cases? Why women have become so vulnerable in our society? Whose duty is it to safeguard their dignity? I have tried to raise all these issues through the film," says Mehul. Actual locations, be it school or police station, talk with the victim and her parents, the cop who investigated the case and an intensive research is what Mehul was heavily dependent upon to "bring the film closest to reality". In the real incident, there is one culprit and the girl is 11-year-old and does not die, while Mehul shows three culprits and the girl, a nine years old, dying in the film.

Apart from initial conflict with Raveena Tandon on the film who is learnt to have tried to dictate terms to him on the script, Mehul worked hard with Baby Hansika Motwani, who has played the role of rape victim. "When I am on sets, my script has to be final. I don't tolerate anyone's interruption in that. On this front I had problems with Raveena but all's well that ends well. Things fell in place on time. But it was difficult to make a nine-year-old child understand this part of the role. I had to persuade her, amuse her to get my point across." Well, we maintain that he could do without that detailed scene!

Mehul who has penned four novels also wrote all the songs for "Janam Janam Na Sathi", a film in Gujarati that he remade as "Phir Janam Lenge Hum" in Hindi.

A famous name in Gujarat, Mehul's ancestors settled in Jamnagar several centuries back. "They had close ties with the Maharaja of Jamnagar who had gifted them a whole village to rule on." Mehul has recently built Mehul Cineplex there, which he claims, is "doing roaring business"! Mehul was Mohammad Baoch's `nickname' for his write-ups. "When I came to Mumbai in 1997, I utilised my nickname to sell my calibre. Mohammad is Prophet's name, I did not want anyone to take it casually," is his reason for renaming himself.

"Azadi, The Freedom" is his next film on "where we actually got freedom and where not".

Ready for this?

RANA SIDDIQUI

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