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Aruna Raje clears a logjam

With her next film Aruna Raje is set to move up a few notches in the Mumbai industry's pecking order, says Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Jul 02, 2003 19:48 IST

Aruna Raje has always worked with established stars and yet her films have never been a part of the Bollywood mainstream. But with her next directorial venture, which is an yet-to-be-titled whodunit starring Manisha Koirala and Karan Nath, the fiercely individualistic filmmaker is probably set to move up a few notches in the Mumbai industry's pecking order.

The upcoming film, to be shot entirely in Mauritius in a start-to-finish two-month schedule, is being produced by Venus Records & Tapes, clearly not the sort of production house that invests in the kind of offbeat, socially relevant cinema that Raje is associated with. Although the film's budget is yet to be revealed, it will definitely be more expensive than any production she has helmed.

"Things are changing in Mumbai," she says. "The formula, as we know it, isn't working anymore. Hindi film audiences have become more demanding than ever before." That is probably the reason why mainstream production houses like Venus, who have hitherto backed strictly routine fare, are looking to meld the talent of a niche director like Raje with the mass appeal of a popular thriller format.

"The definition of entertainment is certainly changing," argues the film editor-turned-director. "A wider variety of films are being made today as the industry has begun to realise that films do not have to be mindless to be entertaining."

Raje has subscribed to that view all along. Starting of in the late 1970s and early 1980s in partnership with her then husband, Vikas Desai, she made critically acclaimed films like Shaque and Gehrayee. The two films garnered positive reviews and attracted a certain degree of popular attention. But the going got tough thereafter. To her credit, however, Raje did not throw in the towel in the manner that some of her like-minded contemporaries did. Her commitment to the kind of cinema she believed in did not waver.

Even after her break-up with Vikas Desai of the Aruna-Vikas team, the spunky lady continued to make hard-hitting films like Rihaee, which featured Hema Malini and Vinod Khanna in a drama that explored the plight of women who have to grapple with loneliness when their husbands leave their villages in search of work in a city, and Bhairavi.

Raje has sought a way out of logjam on her own terms. She has, in recent times, been looking for subjects and themes that could lend themselves to a blend of elements of stark realism and ingredients from conventional Hindi cinema.

Last year, she announced two films in quick succession - Khajuraho, starring Raveena Tandon and Pooja Batra, and Lal Batti, in which Shilpa Shetty was supposed to play the deglamorised role of a sex worker. But both films have been shelved at least for the time being. Raje is, therefore, a somewhat worried woman. She asks: "Why can't a Mumbai filmmaker tackle issues of contemporary relevance? Is it necessary to peddle fluff all the time?"

True to form, even as she plunges into the Venus production from the first week of July, she has in mind a film that would study the impact that communal conflagrations have on women. "I would like to set the film in a big city slum inhabited by both Hindus and Muslims and show that women are the worst affected when communal riots tear people apart. I would like Shabana Azmi to play the pivotal role," she reveals. Raje is, however, aware that finding funds for a project of this nature will take some doing.

Is that why she is now opted to direct a whodunit? It is in the context of the difficulty that Raje has been facing of late in getting desired projects off the ground that Venus's decision to back her next film must be seen. It would be interesting to watch who is forced to make the compromises - the production company or the creator of the film? Or will the two find a happy meeting point?

First Published: Jul 02, 2003 09:59 IST