It's not difficult to be a storyteller in Bollywood
The unsung hero of new-age cinema in India, Rahul Bose, is preparing for an emphatic comeback. He has been touring cities, meeting the press (only for limited time), interacting with fans, as a build up to his much-awaited release Poorna.
The only difference this time is, Rahul has donned the role of a director, and is playing a key role in the film. It’s the story of Poorna Malavath, a young tribal girl from Telangana, who became the youngest girl to conquer the summit of Mt Everest in 2014, at the age of 13. Though Rahul has directed one film earlier, Everybody Says I'm Fine, his debut that won him the runner-up John Schlesinger Award for best directorial debut at the 2003 Palm Springs International Film Fesival, this is the first time that he directs a biopic, more importantly a full-length commercial film.
"I was offered Poorna as an actor, but when I heard the story, I was struck by the achievement (of this girl). Perhaps it’s one of the greatest stories of this country in this century, that's why I decided to produce it and direction just flowed," reveals Rahul. From shooting in extreme weather conditions – tribal areas of Telangana where the temperature soared as high as 45 degrees to shooting in Sikkim in thigh deep snow, it’s the scale of the film that’s the most exciting, shares Rahul. “The sequences look almost like the Mission Impossible sequences,” he shares.
But before he decided to turn director in 2001, fans will also remember Rahul’s debut in English, August, the first independent Indian English film released in 1994. After which the actor was seen in similar projects such as Bombay Boys, Split Wide Open and others. “Those films set the precedence of a new wave in Indian cinema. They upped the game for mainstream Bollywood by giving the audience sleeker and smarter films, talking to an urban audience. This trend was picked up by Hindi filmmakers who made movies like Jhankaar Beats, Pyaar Ke Side Effects, Chameli and others in which I acted. But the genre left less space for me to do other roles. I think even movie producers thought I was an urban face and
didn’t quite fit the roles of a gangster or a rural hero, roles that were trending in commercial cinema back then,” remembers Rahul. Though he may have been typecast, Rahul’s work in Mr & Mrs Iyer, The Japanese Wife and such projects earned him a different set of audience, “there are no regrets. I worked in quality films, in art house cinema and I also worked in Dil Dhadakne Do because I was keen on working with Zoya (Akhtar). I played the roles I got and I am happy.”
Apart from films, Rahul is one of those celebrities who have been vociferously vocal about social issues. It was during the preparation for his role, that of a drug peddler, for the movie Split Wide Open, in the slums of Mumbai that Rahul realised how different life is from the world he belongs to. This prodded him to get actively involved in social causes. Even through Poorna, the actor-director is attempting to send a message about the girl child. “I knew this was an extremely astonishing story. This 13-year-old girl could’ve died
due to biological reasons while she was climbing, anything could’ve happened. But it’s her grit and determination to be able to rise above the four fire rings of – being born a girl, born poor, in a society that lacks education and being a tribal – which is really amazing! The film explores these various layers that stop a girl from stepping out,” he explains passionately.
In Bollywood, where good stories always get lost in the tumultuous song-dance-drama formula, it seems like the actor might be trying a long shot with his directorial venture. But Rahul strongly differs, “I don’t think it is difficult to be a storyteller. Aamir (Khan) has been doing it all his life barring one or two films. It’s just that filmmakers are lazy to push that limit. But on the highest scale where you spend a lot of money and make a film you have a storyteller like Aamir and at the lowest rung, there is Aparna Sen
who makes budget films but is a fantastic storyteller,” he says.