Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra reveals why following his heart played a key role on making his new film Mirzya
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya is one of the most visually satisfying interpretations there has ever been of a tale about star-crossed lovers. An epic romance set in two eras, played by two effortlessly talented newcomers Saiyami Kher and Harshvardhan Kapoor (Anil Kapoor’s son), it’s an example of the originality that can be achieved in filmmaking when a Director follows their heart. Ahead of its World Premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Asiana asked Rakeysh more about his personal vision to breathe new life into a universal love story.
Mirzya is an Indian folklore with many similarities to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, how did you first encounter the tale?
I first saw the play of the Mirzya Saga when I was in college, which was back in 1982. So for almost 35 years, the story has resonated with me and has stayed with me somewhere deep down. Then one day you find yourself in a Director’s chair telling stories. Each time you’re always keen to dive deeper within to find out what the next story you want to tell is. This was sitting in a corner, waiting to be picked up then around five years ago I started developing it along with lyricist Gulzar Bhai.
What really fascinated me was that it has this likeness to the classic Shakespearean tragedies. But more than that, the character of the girl, the female protagonist, was very strong. She actually sacrifices her love, and she breaks the arrows. The theme track of the film is called ‘Broken Arrows’. Why do we hurt them the most, those who we love the most? This whole illogic of falling in love and falling out love and being in love is a big part of the story.
So the journey began and I went to Gulzar and I asked the question. I said, ‘So, Gulzar Bhai, why did Sahiban break the arrows?’ He replied, ‘Go and ask her.’ I said, ‘I’ve been looking for her for thirty years but I can’t find her.’ He has a twinkle in his eyes and he said, ‘Okay, let’s figure it out. Let’s find her together,’ and that’s how we began working together on the film.
Love is an integral part of the story and to most Indian cinema. But what made you want to do a love story as your next film?
I totally understand what you’re saying but it’s more like a multi-cuisine kind of approach. That you have everything on the table and you have a bit of this and a bit of that. If you watch the movies I’ve been doing, my first debut film was a paranormal thriller. Rang de Basanti was more of a political drama involving the youth. It was about the youth rebellion. Delhi-6 was about caste intolerance which has been troubling me a lot and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was about the division of South Asia into two nations, India and Pakistan, and how this young kid who witnessed the massacre of his family, who doesn’t have shoes to wear, doesn’t have food to eat, doesn’t have a room to sleep in, how he goes on to break world records. The whole thing is about human inspiration - he fights his own demons and his hatred for the nation where his folks were massacred. So I’ve always gone with one single thought, and I’ve never tried to do a potpourri of things. Mirzya is at its root a love story but a bit complicated one. It’s difficult to explain because you just cannot explain love, I could try to, but I know I’ll fail miserably.
The film is shot in Ladakh, known to be a visual, beautiful landscape. How does the landscaping and the visual side of the film fit into the main picture?
The film is based on the folklore of Mirzya-Sahiban, so I wanted to picture a folktale as it came to me. It wasn’t set in the past, it’s not set in the future, it’s set in your imagination. The landscape had to be ethereal, it had to be larger than life and it had to be cinematic. That part of the cinema is played a silent movie. I wanted it to be as pure to cinema as possible, so some of the film is silent some has talking talking, which is the present day. In the folklore world, I didn’t see my characters speaking. I couldn’t feel them. Whatever they would speak in, it breaks the illusion and I wanted to heighten the illusion.
There is a voice there, the voice of the narrator, in the form of singing but in the contemporary story there are people talking normally.
It’s difficult terrain to work in did you have any problems filming?
Ladakh is a tough one. You have a window of about three to four months, otherwise it is shut to the rest of the world. Getting there is difficult too as you can only take a plane there, but we had to transport fifty horses and there was a cast and crew from all over the world.
There were mounted archers from Poland, stunt artists from Australia and England, horses from Rajasthan and Bombay. Even within Ladakh, we travelled another eight hours, almost until the border of China. We stayed in tents but I have to say I had an amazing crew and Ladakh was just breathtaking.
Sounds like quite an adventure and a rather fantastical setting.
Yeah. Every frame had to be a painting, as far as I was concerned, I was painting a picture there. It could have been oil on canvas but this time it was camera on celluloid.
People from all over the globe have a spiritual connection with India. Why do you think that is?
That’s an interesting thought. You know, if you look at the nation, let’s say for 5000 years, there has never been an instance where any army has gone out of India to conquer a new land. This is fascinating. Right from Alexander the Great, who came, fought, and left Sikandar and half of his army, and they kind of made India their home. Similarly, the Mughals came, they invaded India, but with open hearts after fighting the war, they said that the war is over they made their home on the land. It’s always been the case with whoever has come in, they make it their home.
India is a beautiful land. There’s sunshine, there’s water, there are rivers and mountains, deserts, oceans, it is a special place.
How much of India have you seen?
I’m travelling around it all the time. It’s amazing. I catch a train, I get on a bus, I take a flight, I walk, I drive. It doesn’t matter. India is one of the oldest civilisations in the world made up of many layers and deep cultural roots. It’s fascinating. I’ve spent so many years travelling but I still cannot claim to have seen India yet. I have just scratched the surface, it’s so vast.
Why did you choose to cast two newcomers for this particular story?
There are in fact four of them - two support and two lead who are all newcomers. After the script was written, if I were to close my eyes, I couldn’t imagine any known faces in the characters. So we took a fresh approach. A very world cinema approach rather than a Bollywood one. It just felt right to go with new talent. You can’t explain it or analyze it in so many words, but I think the loudest voice is the voice inside you. Normally we turn a deaf ear to it because it gets shut out by the noise around you, but if you true to yourself, you’ll find the answer and for me, it’s always instinct.
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Mirzya releases worldwide on 7th October 2016 and premieres at The BFI Londo Film Festival on 6th October.