Evoking social consciousness

Amrita Prasad
Friday, 1 March 2019

Ahead of Mere Pyare Prime Minister’s release, filmmaker and screenwriter Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra talks about the issue of open defecation and crimes against women

If you have watched the trailer of Mere Pyare Prime Minister, you may have seen  how beautifully the children emote their feelings — love and hopelessness, joy and sorrow. Although the kids are from the slums, their bright smiles, their determination  their courage and innocence win your hearts. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mere Pyare Prime Minister tells the story of a slum kid who travels to the capital  with his friends to meet the Prime Minister, after his mother is raped. The film, which also talks about the need of public toilets, is scheduled to release on March 15. The film stars Anjali Patil, Om Kanojiya, Atul Kulkarni, Makrand Deshpande, Niteesh Wadhwa, Rasika Agashe, among others, and is the only Asian film which was screened at the Rome Film Festival.
 
Recently, the film was trending on Twitter because Indians thought that the film deserved to go to Oscars. When we asked Rakeysh about his reaction, he said, “You know how Twitter behaves, it has its own way of getting things picked up. People have reacted very well to the trailer and they feel that we are eligible for Oscars. But for that to happen, the film needs to release first and go all over the world and then it will be eligible for the Academy Awards.”
 
The story revolves around four children living in a Mumbai slum. One of them is eight-year-old Kanhu who writes a letter to the Prime Minister after an ugly incident happens with his mother. It highlights the relationship between mother and son with Anjali essaying the role of the mother. Although the title of the film hints that it is about our PM Narendra Modi, the film, according to the Bhaag Milkha Bhaag maker, is far from being political. “When you have a title like this — Mere Pyare Prime Minister, one thinks that it has something to do with politics, but the film explores the social issue of rape and the whole idea of giving respect to women and dealing with the situation in a more humane way than showing law and order, justice and revenge. Just three days after the film’s trailer was released, it received a lot of love and is still growing steadily and that piece of communication does clarify that is not a political film but has an important social agenda,” clarified Rakeysh. 
 
The filmmaker says that the children and their simplicity is the key to the film’s story which is set in a slum in Ghatkopar East and is entirely shot on location. “We didn’t create any film set. Also, very early on in the creation, we took a decision that we will work with the cast and supporting cast from the slum itself as much as possible. We auditioned the kids (not all of them from the slum) and the rest of the supporting cast from the slum itself. After they were selected, workshops were held for a period of 40-45 days and they were prepared according to the requirement of the film. We shot them in the slum and that’s how everything came about,” he explained.
  
For Rakeysh, who has made films like Delhi 6 and Rang De Basanti, working with kids is the most joyful experience. “Kids are pure and innocent and they don’t play the part but become the part. The challenge was that they should believe in the story we were telling and then they should trust you, so it was important for me to win their trust. Once we became friends, everything kind of rolled out,” he added.
Talking about the film’s subject, which talks about the issue of open defecation and other social evils resulting from it, Rakeysh said that it is a real issue which the country is facing. “It is an issue that we have taken head on and trying to solve it, but there are miles to go before we sleep. There are some shocking figures coming from United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) mentioning that 50 per cent rapes in India happen when women are forced to defecate in the open. It is important statistics for me and that inspired me to tell the story. That said, the government has already taken the initiative to provide safe toilet facilities to people and it would be wrong on my part if I say it hasn’t. There is a whole lot of awareness now,” he added.

There have been films like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Halka which also took up the issue of open defecation. “Open defecation is the device that we have used to address a more serious issue like rape and crimes against women. It isn’t just about the lack of toilets, it is about bringing up the issue of how we look at women and their safety — it promotes the idea of social consciousness. Woh kehte hain na ki hume apni mansikta badalni chahiye (we need to change our mindset), the film is about that,” he said. 

Talking about the current situation in the country — tension between India and Pakistan, Rakeysh, who will be working again with Farhan Akhtar for his upcoming film Toofan, said that the country is facing a delicate situation right now. “We should go by what the government thinks is right and we must support it and refrain from increasing the noise necessarily. This is the time to stay united and internalise what’s happening, and come together as a nation. We must respect what the government is doing,” he said.

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