Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra: Sports as an expression should not be underestimated
India is celebrating the stupendous performance of its athletes at the Tokyo Olympics. But, is it enough to be applauded? Yes, believes Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, the man behind films such as the National Award-winning Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), and more recently, Toofaan.
“Sports as an expression should not be underestimated, and we should not bracket it as sports itself. Sports develops citizens; it teaches them courage, the value of hard work and most importantly it teaches how to fail and bounce back! So it’s very important that we give it not just the due respect but also correct environment and resources, for this country of a billion people and more. Every child should have an opportunity to express himself through some sport. And every grown up should have some opportunity or facility... People are very stressed out, they are working so hard... and if you don’t have that small place to play around in your colony — proper facilities I’m talking about — then what’s the point of calling ourselves a society?” says the filmmaker.
“Sports is not just a let out; it builds your character,” he elaborates, “It’s not that ki sports just stress reliever hai, and in today’s day and age toh it’s making a lot of economic sense. Sports is watched on TV all across the world. There are billions and trillions of money involved. And why not? It’s amazing to watch it, and your time is spent correctly.”
One would like to believe that Indian parents no longer discourage their children from making a full-time career in sports. But Mehra, who recently released his memoir, The Stranger in the Mirror, disagrees. “I don’t think so. I don’t think we have crossed that line yet. You see Vandana (Katariya)’s story, and how she scored a hat-trick in the quarter finals of hockey. Everybody around her said ‘no’. Only her father believed that his daughter should play. And look today, she’s the pride of the nation!” he says.
But mention Nethra Kumanan — the first female sailor to represent India at Olympics, and how her parents allowed her to quit schooling to participate in 2014 Asian Games — and Mehra accedes stating “It’s a good example”. “What’s the big deal of dropping out of school? I don’t know... Society has to change, ho gaya Indian Indian... we have to be global citizens now. That’s where the true patriotism is; to be a true global citizen, and to care for humanity. Look at the pandemic, the way the world has fought, and how scientists came together to invent a vaccine in record time. That, to me, is true patriotism now! It’s about coming together, but that’s in my own naivety,” he smiles.
Author tweets @HennaRakheja