At the Centennial festival, veteran director Ketan Mehta said he was watching his debut film, Bhavni Bhavai, after 30 years. Dedicated to Asait Thakore, an “Indian Shakespeare” who was the inventor of Bhavai, a Gujrati folk form, Mehta recalled German playwright Bertolt Brecht saying art should be a tool of social transformation.
From Bhavni Bhavai (1981) to Rang Rasiya (2008), you have some recurring themes in your films.
It is this: when a people rise up, they can change the system if they want.
Bhavni Bhavai was a scathing attack against the caste system, a comment on the quality of our independence.
When I look back, all my films have been about freedom and its various aspects. Mirch Masala (1985) was about personal freedom, a woman’s right to say no. Sardar (1993) was about political freedom. Mangal Pandey (2005) explored the beginning of the idea of freedom. Rang Rasiya, on the life of painter Raja Ravi Verma, was about creative freedom.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is acting in your next film, Mountain Man. What is it about?
It is based on Dashrath Manjhi, the man who broke a mountain for love. For over 22 years, this poor man worked with a hammer and chisel to build a passage through a hill in Bihar, reducing the distance between two places for the convenience of people.
Why do stories of the heroics of a single man impress us? Your earlier films had an ensemble cast.
It was a different age. Individualism is a change that has happened over time. But our society is going through a churn again.