At a time Hindi cinema was going through a metamorphosis with films like ‘Lagaan’, ‘Gadar: Ek Prem Katha’, ‘Dil Chhahta’ and ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’, emerged another director with a vision. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, made his directorial debut in a year filled with films that went on to pioneer their respective genres in future, yet he is the one who wrote history with his ideas, later.
His first film ‘Aks’, was a supernatural drama starring Amitabh Bachchan, who had found his stardom with ‘Mohabbatein’ and KBC and Manoj Bajpayee who created a stir a few years back with Satya. With a powerful starcast and somewhat offbeat theme, Mehra stayed true to his art, giving enough to the stars, but not too much to shadow the characters. The honesty is something that is reflected in his films even after 19 years since his debut. His career’s highest point came in 2007 with ‘Rang De Basanti’, a film that was a revolution, became an example of modern patriotism for the youth, which was somewhere lost in the wave of globalisation and westernisation of thoughts.
Mehra’s young ‘patriotic’ brigade consisted of ‘college-going’ characters that became ‘us’ and every word uttered by them became ours.
Interestingly, the film birthed from Mehra’s own thoughts and opinions during the Mandal commission. Thus, the rawness. The reason why it’s considered one of the most revolutionary hindi film of the 21st century is because of the man who sat at the director’s chair, but made his thoughts come alive with each of the characters.
Mehra continued his revolutionary approach with Delhi-6, probably one of his most underrated films. Though the film didn’t get the recognition it deserved, and fell short on the execution, noone can take away that vision of the film. It’s eerie that even in 2020, the film makes equal sense as it did in Mehra’s mind at the time of its release. With Delhi-6 he also tested his hands in ‘french-new-wave’ like cinema, making the city a living, breathing character.
With Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Mehra successfully experimented with a biopic. With Mirzya he dabbled into the genre of fantasy-romance. However he soon returned to his roots of making films with a voice with Mere Pyaare Prime minister. The film was about an 8-year-old boy who decides to write a letter to the Prime Minister of India after his mother is raped.The film brings into focus the issues of defecation in open and sanitation problems faced in slums. Living in Mumbai since 1998, Mehra also brought into focus the alleys of the city that hide behind taller scrapers and glamour of it.
The world of Rakeysh Ompraksah Mehra’s films is intriguing. It believes in questions. It doesn’t shy away from experiments. In a mainstream director these qualities are rare to come by.