It is time to tell our stories to the world

  • Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
  • Updated: Oct 04, 2014 12:14 IST

Change is constant. Change is amazing. It suddenly feels like a new Nation has been born. India has voted for change, for hope. India has voted for India.

What is this new fragrance in the air? Where did it drift in from, engulfing us? Most importantly, where is it leading us?

Our movies have always reflected change: The changing socio-political-economic situation in the country. The Reel has always bounced off the Real. Whether it was the "cinema of hope and inspiration" in the '50s or the birth of "escapism" in the late '60s (when the hero started dancing and still continues to; before that he never did), the cinema that "raised a voice" in the '70s, the cinema that reflected the confusion and chaos of the '80s and '90s, or the breaking free of shackles reflected in the movies of the past decade.

As a writer and a director I wonder, what stories will we tell now?

We are now standing on the threshold of a new frontier in films and there are no rules governing what we can or cannot do. It's a time of evolution and revolution, a time of transformation, in which the theatre of technology has embraced a new era. What we see, and how we see it, has changed.

Story exposition is shown rather than told; characters are revealed through behaviour, not dialogue. Time present and time past have merged into a compelling storytelling device. Clearly a time for us to change, then.

As it is said in Indian philosophy, "the inside and outside are one". The thoughts, feelings and emotions that are inside our head are what create the fabric of our experiences. These are the experiences that we need to share with the world now.

Technological changes have brought about a change in our classic traditional narrative. Linear storylines like those of Mughal-e-Azam, Mother India or Guide, which were expressed in long expository scenes, have become more visually stylised - without losing, and in fact enhancing, the cinematic experience. Non-linear storytelling, somewhat of a rarity even a decade ago, is fast becoming a part of the film lexicon.

There is also much conversation now about India going Global.

If I set aside the textbook definition of globalisation, its implications on trade and FDI, migration and employment, exchange rates and remittances; if I set aside the merging of the national economies into the international economies, then I am left with the socio-cultural merging.

The worldwide export of Western culture or the globalisation of Western culture has been possible due to the mass media, whether radio, books, recorded music, films or television.

For Indian entertainment to go global, we are then talking about a combination of economic, technological and, most importantly, socio-cultural forces.

The impact of this on the way we create, distribute and experience cinema is going to be tremendous. Technologically and economically healthy, a future-ready India will soon put us centre stage, which will enable us to share the experience of being Indian and all the art that emerges from that, all of it ready to be taken beyond our borders.

We will need to carve out a new path for ourselves, as the old one will only lead to old destinations, and we have been there and done that.

I am in the business of making films, not cars. A film is not a red station wagon that can be replicated a million times over just because one model was successful. Each film must be a new invention. If we are to scale up the industry and break the glass ceiling, we have no choice but to enable and empower small town India, village India, the new urban India; to tell their stories, for that's what the world will be interested in. That's what the world would like to see - not an American idea made in India, but an Indian idea made in India.

It is time to tell our stories to the world.

The world will open its heart to our stories, irrespective of which Indian language we tell them in.

A year ago, I met people from one of the largest Japanese film corporations. They told me they liked Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and were interested in showing it in Japan. Not just because as a country they like sports films. They said there was also an emotional connect for the Japanese as they try to rise above earthquakes, tsunamis, a nuclear disaster and a flagging economy - a struggle that they felt was reflected in the never-say-die spirit of Milkha Singh, who got back on his feet after every fall.

The Japanese could feel the pathos and identify with the struggle of the young boy who witnessed the massacre of his parents, was a victim of Partition, grew up in a refugee camp without a pair of shoes and went on to conquer the world.

They loved the actor with long hair tied in a bun on his head, who ran international races despite his demons, never giving up.

They also like our songs and dances, though they could not identify with a singing and dancing Milkha Singh.

I was happy to edit an international cut of the film for them, removing some of the trappings, and it worked liked magic not just for them but for me too, and

the Milkha story will now be seen by fresh eyes.

This is our opportunity. The world is waiting for us. Let's go out there and make friends by telling our tales to the world.

A film is not a red station wagon that can be replicated a million times over just because one model was successful. Each film must be a new invention. We must empower small- town India, village India and the new urban India, and tell their stories.

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra is a noted National Award-winning filmmaker, who has helmed path-breaking films such as Rang De Basanti (2006) and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013).

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