An Exclusive interview with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra the man behind ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’
Q – When did you decide that you wanted to be in the Film Industry?
A – Honestly, I don’t kow. Its like, One thing lead to another. There was never a thought that I will become a filmmaker or direct films or tell stories. I just jumped into the flow of life and went wherever it took me. So now I find myself in the director’s chair.
Q – You are a Director , a Producer and a Writer. What is the most difficult thing to do amongst these?
A – See, They’re all interrelated. Its not that one is easy and other is difficult. I write because the stories come from within. When you make cinema, you want to write in pictures. Its different from writing novels and short stories and spoken words. You have to imagine pictures. So screenplay writing is different kind of display altogether. I produce because you have to produce if you want to tell the stories you want to tell. So that you’re not depended on anyone else to tell your stories by looking for a producer. So that is why I produce the films myself.
There’s nothing easy or tough about it. Its just about the kind of movies I’m making. Be it my first movie Aks or Delhi 6 , they are not normal Bollywood movies. In fact, you can call them ‘Un-Bollywood’. So that is the reason I produce. Its a job requirement. Its not that I enjoy it or its easy or difficult. I love direction. It comes to me very naturally. I have great fun when I’m behind camera, when I’m directing the actors, when I’m in the music studio with the music director , when I’m in the editing room with the editor. I love all that part. I think direction to me is not technical. Direction to me is story telling. I love telling stories. And making movies is the new way of telling stories.
Q – You started by making advertisement films. Now you’re here with Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. How has the journey been for you?
A – Actually I started by selling vaccum cleaners to housewives. I was a door to door salesman. Then I went on to do garment fabrication and after that into advertising. That took me to Japan and then I worked in a car factory, in a patrol pump, dealership, advertising. Then I came back to India, resumed in advertising and thats when I got chance to make inhouse advertisement films which worked out very well. I did it for Hero Honda. It had just launched which brought me to Mumbai. Then I got to make an ad film with Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, his first ever ad film which was for BPL. Then we became close, he became a mentor of my thoughts and then it lead to our first feature film, Aks. So thats the journey.
Q – Has Mr. Bachchan inspired you?
A – Of course, yeah. Not only in filmmaking, but in life. If you see his life, its so rich. Not rich in terms of money, He never gives up. He is so young in his heart. He is always changing. I don’t think anyone else has reached where he has. He just wants to keep trying and that is a very inspiring thing. Its his inspiring quality which is very wonderful.
Q – Everyone calls Mr. Aamir Khan ‘The Perfectionist’. And you’ve worked with him in Rang De Basanti. How was that experience?
A – We had a great time. I think we made a great movie together. In Aamir, I found a true friend. I have very few friends and Aamir is one of them. He’s always been there for me. Not only in the good times, but also in the bad times. The thing about Aamir is that he is such a great guy that when you think you have achieved your 100 percent, he thinks that there another 100 percent there to give. And yeah, you are right he is a perfectionist and such a wonderful person.
Q – You’ve won so many National Awards. How does that feel?
A – I feel very proud. So far, we’ve won six National Awards. Four for Rang De Basanti and two for Delhi 6. Its an amazing feeling. Its like you’ve won a gold medal. Its over and above anything. Another proud moment was being nominated for BAFTA. It was the first Indian film to be nominated. You know, awards are a way of people telling you how much they like you. Specially in awards like Oscars where there is serious competition. You are competing against the best of the world. So you feel good. It might sound cheesy but the truth is that the best award is if our work connects with the people. Somewhere if I can connect with people’s hearts, not in a superficial way but If I can reach our to your heart , then its so wonderful to have that connection. Thats the connection I’ve had with people and fans from all over the world. So thats the best award for me.
Q – How did you come up with the idea of making a biopic on the great legend Milkha Singh ji?
A – You know, its not a biopic. Its not a film on an athlete. Its a human story. I’ve grown up in Delhi, so I’ve grown up with the folklore and legend of Milkha Singh. All of us have. I knew about him. I’ve been in sports and I used to swim for Junior India upto the Asian Games camp. I would be in National stadium 8 hours a day. We were always told about Milkha Singh. We were told how hard he would train. If someone asked him to take 10 round, he would take 20. How he would pass out but then work really hard. How he would run every race like there’s no tomorrow. He would collapse after every race. They had to give him oxygen and take him to hospital. So that was one fascination towards him. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is not a biopic that shows Milkha Singh’s achievements. It depicts how a child who lost his family in the partition of India succeeded both in life and athletics by sheer will.
That is the story we are trying to tell through the film. He was from Multan which is now in Pakistan. During the partition, He saw his mother being killed brutally before his eyes. His sisters and father were also killed. Women and children suffered a lot during that period. He himself narrowly escaped death. He himself was about to be killed but he narrowly escaped death. He lived with Refugees and struggled to feed himself.
He heard that there was a race and the person who participates and wins will get a glass of milk every day. For that glass of milk, he took part in the race. He even went to jail. Then he later on joined the army too. His parents were killed in Pakistan and when the most important race of his life was held in Pakistan, he refused to go there. The Prime Minister of India requested him to go as it was a matter of the nation’s pride. He had undergone through the trauma that he didn’t want to go to the place where he lost his family. But he went there and won that race. And thats when he got the title of ‘Flying Sikh’. Pakistan gave him that title. His life story is so motivating and moving. Milkha Singh’s undying spirit drew me and his human story attracted me.
Q – You were a swimmer yourself and represented India. Did that have any influence on you while making this film?
A – Yes it definitely did. I was a swimmer for Junior India. And also went upto the top 13 selection camp for the Asian Games. So that really had an influence on me. Plus I had grown up hearing about Milkha Singh. So yeah, it inflenced me a lot.
Q – Is it true that you lived and spent with Mr. Milkha Singh while preparing for the movie?
A – We spend a lot of time in Chandigarh. Yes, I practically lived with him. Not at his home but me and Prasoon Joshi, who penned down the script spent a lot of time with Milkha Singh. He told us about his life and where he spent his childhood, how he lost his family, how he came to India and how he became what he is today.
Q – You have filmed this movie on location. Are there any disadvantages of that?
A – Almost 90 percent of the movie has been shot on location. We made a film about a real person. Hence, we had to shoot on locations. to show and depict his life, we had to shoot on location. There aren’t really any disadvantages. These kind of movies are shot on locations.
Q – How was working with Mr. Farhan Akhtar for the first time?
A – Farhan is exceptional. It was a great experience. Farhan is a great actor. He is looking very fit and good in the movie. He worked very hard for the movie. He gives his 100 percent in everything.
Q – The music of the movie has received a very good response. Why did you think that Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy would be perfect for the movie?
A – They have done a fantastic job in the film. I wanted to work with them from a very long time. I know them from way back. Ehsaan had composed music for my first ad film. Loy and I know each other from my student days in Delhi. Shankar’s first music score for an ad film was for me my first ad film.
Q – What was the reason for choosing Sonam kapoor to play the character of the love interest in the movie?
A – Sonam is playing the character of a Punjabi girl who is also a victim of the partition. You know, women and children also suffered a lot during the partition. Specially the women. I love working with Sonam. And I’ve worked with her before in Delhi 6. Even though she’s an international diva who advertises for Loreal, She is looking very beautiful in the movie in the punjabi girl look.
Q – Do you think ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ will make today’s youth more aware about Milkha Singh Ji, given that today’s generation doesn’t know much about him?
A – Yes definitely. It will. It will make them more aware about Milkha Singh.
Q – What were the challenges that you faced while filming, if any?
A – The only challenge I faced was my own mind. You see, in these kinds of movies you cannot add what you want or how you want it. You have you show what exactly happened. You cannot add your own story into such movies. So the only challenge was my own mind.
Q – We’ve heard that the crew of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag got invite from Pakistan. How do you feel about this?
A – Yes, we got invite from Pakistan. It feels really good. I’m very glad about that. Makes me feel happy.
Q – Do you think this movie will inspire the audience to go into Sports more?
A – I don’t make movies to inspire audience. If it does then its good. If it doesn’t then also its fine. I make movies to connect with people.