Ours is a country of free thinkers: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra.


The film is not political at all and has nothing to do with elections. We finished shooting it in 2017 and it appeared as the only Asian film at the Rome Film Festival in October last year. It is all about finding the right window to release it. We initially wanted it to release on October 2 Gandhi Jayanti last year as it is inspired by Gandhi. However, I left it to Pen India Limited the film releases on March 15 is a great window for a film of this size as we won’t be steamrolled by any big films before and after. This is a story that needs to breathe and grow.

The film is about a lot more than just public defecation. Around seven years ago, when I was returning from a late-night shoot at Film City for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, our car was passing by a slum in Goregaon. As the car took a turn, the headlights bathed around a dozen women defecating in the open and all of them got up in a jiffy. It was embarrassing for me and I couldn’t begin to imagine how they must have felt. It was shocking and that image stayed with me. Post that, I came across a figure from UNICEF that 50 per cent of the rape cases in India happen when women go out to defecate.

 I got a chance to visit the Sabarmati Ashram where I realised that a lot of Gandhi’s work had gone into sanitation and making toilets. That being said, the film is not a toilet story. It’s an inspiring story of an eight-year-old boy and his relationship with his 24-year-old single mother and how he wants to protect her. It shows that the boy will not stop at anything, even if he has to knock the door of the highest office in the country.

The first step was to find the right children and to find the right boy to play Kanhu. We had a shortlist of a dozen kids, mostly from the slum. Working with children in general is a learning process. They are teaching me how to direct, I am not teaching them how to act. They are so innocent and there is so much of trust.

 The children of a nation should be protected up to a certain point but after they are 18, they are adults and are conscious enough to make their own choices. Things like bad language, drug abuse or nudity should be permitted in films, provided they retain the essence of storytelling. I spent six months as part of the Shyam Benegal Committee in making a law for the government and we got a High Court judge to rewrite the Cinematograph Act. Union Minister Arun Jaitley came to Mumbai to met all of us and asked us what we thought. I told him to take the scissor and throw it in the ocean. This is a country of free thinkers. We have a long way to go but we will get there.

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