To know the pulse of India is an experience exuberant. Being Indian doesn’t always mean one has to live in India for the whole of their lives. There are many who live in faraway land who understood the pulse of India in a better possible way. India in a Day, director Richie Mehta is such a super soul, who took an effort to capture a day in the life of 1.6 lakh Indians along side Anurag Kashyap and Ridley Scott powered by google. It is not the tag of a movie director, or the crowdsourced movie ‘India in a Day’ that prompted to interview him. It is the passion and sense of being an Indian that he carries in his heart amazed me. He is India’s proud movie maker. Read more about him in the following lines.
For people who don’t know much about you, who are you?
A film writer/director, my family is from India, I was born in Toronto, am now living in London, and working between all three worlds – and loving it. I’ve made 4 feature films, three in India (“India in a Day” being the latest).
Richie Mehta running Poor Man’s Productions, ‘Rich and poor’; a fantastic oxymoron. Tell us something more about it?
Ha! It’s my production company based in Toronto, with my producing partners Steven Bray and David Miller. We’ve made my first two feature film “Amal” and “Siddharth” together under that banner. It was originally formed for insurance purposes, when we needed a location for a short film I was doing. I was a student, and we needed a company to take the liability in case we burned a location down while shooting. It was supposed to be temporary, but now it’s my home base in Canada for much of my work, past and future.
And of course, as students, we were poor. That hasn’t changed much! It was a shadow of a company, as I said, for temporary purposes, and thus the idea of a “poor man’s” company. But now it’s taken on new meaning.
India in a Day, where did the idea began and take us through the journey of materializing this big dream?
It materialized between Google and Scott Free Films in London, as they had previously done “Life in a Day” 6 years back, the first truly crowd-sourced film, comprised of footage from all over the world, shot on one day. Now it was India’s turn, and they came to me (I was lucky!). Their dream became mine, and vice versa, and I felt like I had been training my entire life to do this film. I then called Anurag Kashyap to join us in this crazy experiment. He was enthusiastic about it. I went to India immediately, did call-out videos, Anurag helped greatly with press, as did a few other wonderful Indian directors – Zoya Akhtar, Shekhar Kapur, and R. Balki. We also had a team in Delhi that did specific outreach all over the country, and Google was great at spreading the word through their channels and networks. Come Oct 10, 2015, it was shoot date, and we started receiving thousands of videos from all over the country, via Google. That footage was then sent to Scott Free Films in London. I went back to London on Oct 11, and started working with the amazing editor Beverley Mills, and our assistant editing team. We worked for the next 9 months to watch footage, form the thematic threads and narratives, experiment, discuss, debate, and finally, settle upon what we feel is the best version of the film. Stephen Warbeck (music composer and Oscar winner for “Shakespeare in Love”) came on board to write the music, and we completed the film in June, 2016. And here we are!
What is the real India according to you; a land of values, Slumdog, a land of mystery or something much different?
I think a land of all of those, but you cannot underestimate the mystery element. It’s proven to be so nebulous. I’ve tried to understand it my entire life, but cannot. I don’t think anyone can, it’s too dense, too vast, epic, varied, and illusive. I think people who live there for their entire life think they know it, but I suspect they know their own experience of it, their daily routine and perceptions of the country. But to wrap ones head around it all – the billion people, the landscapes, languages, the contradictions, the issues, the beauty. I think I’ve spent years making films that try to find the compassion and warmth amongst the people, despite them having every reason to be suspicious and hostile towards each other – that’s just one positive I can gleam out of the millions of stories and themes.
400 hours of footage, how did you manage to select what is the best and what is not?
Yes, I would say we did. And we really worked hard to ensure this. We watched everything, checked, double-checked, and really tried to find the right context for everything. I think most would agree on what the amazing stories were, and then it took work to connect them all together.
How did you turn out to be a film director, when did the passion for movies start?
The passion began as far back as I have memory – age three – when I realized that Han Solo and Indiana Jones were the same person. I was playing Lego, watching star wars, and realized I had seen this fellow before, but he looked different. I realized it was the same person, playing a character. After that I was hooked. That we can create experiences for others to have, and emotionally affect people, appeal to their deepest sense of purpose, make them question themselves. It’s magic.
You favorite movie makers and why?
Peter Weir – his entire body of work feels hand-made (despite the massive scale), with a sense of purpose, a desire to challenge audiences, and treat them like they’re intelligent, caring, and curious. And each viewing of his films, over and over, yields more treasures.
Richard Attenborough – his sense of grandeur, his care for people and for humanity, and his attention to detail. And “Gandhi”
Warren Beatty – “Reds” is an outright masterpiece, and has the internal debate between the power of the artist vs. the drive to change the world. It’s basic questions like these that I think propel a lot of us forward in the communication world, but this film tries to address it, all the while steeped in humility for the power of it’s subject.
What are your up coming projects, any main-stream movies in near future from your production house?
Right now I’m working on a project about policing in India, and trying to explore the issue of law and order. It’s a big one, and has taken much of the last 3 years to research, outside of the time I took away for “India in a Day.” I’m also working on a musical I want to do in India (a different kind of musical!) and a film in China. All are based on experiences I’ve had.
India in a Day: How did audience/viewers react?
So far, wonderfully. They seem to have taken a sense of ownership to it, which is appropriate, since it was entirely shot by Indians. But it also seems to have given people pride in what India is, and can be. And I hope, inspired people to consider deeply what direction we’re going in, as a country and race, and why.
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Richie’s Love, I cherish . Thank You!
“I love the idea of sharing experiences and stories, and doing it in a sophisticated yet accessible manner. Not enough people are doing this, and I applaud what you’ve created here!”