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    I never said anything about Mangal Pandey: Yash Chopra

    [Interview by Subhash K. Jha]
    Tuesday, September 27, 2005
    Well-known filmmaker Yash Chopra, the distributor for "Mangal Pandey - The Rising", is upset over statements attributed to him saying that the 1857 Indian revolutionary was not a freedom fighter.

    "It''s very upsetting," says Chopra of the Sep 21 media report, which quoted his counsel as making the statement on his behalf during a hearing in the Delhi High Court on the film.

    "Can you believe I''d say something like this? I have never said a word about Mangal Pandey to anyone. I''ve the highest regard for our freedom fighters and that includes Mangal Pandey," Chopra told IANS in an interview.

    According to Chopra, though "Mangal Pandey" was the costliest film that Yashraj Films marketed, the distributing company had nothing to do with the film''s content.

    "If this is the outcome of supporting something politically and historically significant, then we at Yashraj Films might as well continue to believe in ''Bunty Aur Babli''," the filmmaker said in the interview.

    Excerpts:

    Your alleged statement about Mangal Pandey not being a freedom fighter has raised a hornet's nest.

    Can you believe I'd say something like this? I have never said a word about Mangal Pandey to anyone. I'm no authority on historical matters. Why would I concern myself with something I've no knowledge of? I've the highest regard for our freedom fighters and that includes Mangal Pandey. If today we call ourselves a free country it's because of people like him.

    Such unwarranted controversies must come as a blow to you?

    "Mangal Pandey" is one of the costliest films we've marketed. But Yashraj Films had nothing to do with the film's content. We're only the distributor. The first time I saw "Mangal Pandey" was Aug 11 at INOX in Mumbai. How can people put such damaging words in my mouth? People who know me would never believe this!

    It's very upsetting. There're people involved in the legal battle over "Mangal Pandey" - Ketan Mehta, Deepa Sahi, Bobby Bedi, Farrukh Dhondy, Rani Mukherjee, Aamir Khan - I am certainly not one of them. Mera kya issey lena dena (what have I to do with it)?

    I had no say in its creation. I never attended a day's court session in Delhi about "Mangal Pandey". Where do I come into the picture? If this is the outcome of supporting something politically and historically significant, then we at Yashraj Films might as well continue to believe in "Bunty Aur Babli".

    Now after "Mangal Pandey" you have another historical film "Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara" coming up for release?

    That shouldn't get us into any controversy. It's a very emotional story of a father and daughter. We took on its marketing and distribution because it's produced by dear friend Anupam Kher. If we don't back a small and significant film such as this it would be totally lost in the crowd of big ones.

    We're ready to withstand the lack of profits, as long as such films reach the right audience. Please don't punish us for believing in good cinema. We're backing "Maine Gandhi..." all the way because I truly believe in the Gandhian ideology. Even courtrooms have his picture on the wall. I hope we won't be discouraged from backing films like "Mangal Pandey", "Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara" and my "Veer-Zaara".

    You sound upset.

    If someone says or does wrong he should suffer for it. But I didn't utter one word against Mangal Pandey. Ketan Mehta and Aamir Khan made the film. I think they should be questioned about the rights and wrongs in it. If a film says 'Yash Chopra Presents' only then am I responsible. My film, whether good or bad, is my responsibility.

    Have you lost money distributing "Mangal Pandey"?

    See, we haven't recovered our costs in India. In Britain, we'd be losing money. There they released the film as "The Rising". Thereby the audience lost both the traditional Indian audience from Manchester and Southall, who thought it was an English-language film, and the potential British audience, who thought it was anti-British.

    How could "Paheli" be nominated over more deserving films like "Black"?

    I can tell you, the choice for the jury was extremely difficult. The films were of really high calibre. We had resolved that we'd have discussions only after all the screenings. We had bargained for an hour's discussion. We went on discussing for an hour and half. We took into consideration every aspect. All of us in the jury wrote down our recommendation, almost like a citation. We were absolutely unanimous in the selection of "Paheli".

    Was the decision to elect "Paheli" unanimous?

    Yes, absolutely. We definitely feel this film is very high on cinematic excellence, directorial competence, it's deeply seeped in the Indian ethos and true to the Indian concept of fine arts, costumes, art designing... performances are also outstanding.

    I cannot tell you why "Black" was not selected. But let me tell you, it was a bloody tough competitor. It was rejected outright by some jury members for being a copy of some foreign source. But I vehemently defended it. If a film is inspired by a true event it doesn't mean there cannot be two versions of it. The jury understood my point of view. Then some jury members argued that "Black" was rejected outright by Cannes. I convinced them that our decision shouldn't be governed by any international competition.

    Was language the clinching factor against "Black"?

    I wouldn't like to comment on that.

    Was "Paheli" selected because it panders to the foreigner's view of Indian ethnicity?

    Indian culture alone is not everything. There was another beautiful film in the running called "Uttarayan". You've to have a very composite look while selecting. We saw all the films.

    But "Paheli" was neither a critical or commercial success in India.

    We weren't perturbed by that. We've seen some fine films in the past not getting their due. When we did our job, we did it with a clean conscience. We had our own judgement and creative faculties to rely on. We are as capable of assessing as any member of the press. I insisted on a press conference because an afternoon paper carried a malicious and salacious article on the Oscar nominations hours before our decision was taken... How dare they talk like this? Three members of this year's jury, including me, were part of the jury that had elected "Lagaan". The press owes us an apology.

    But someone like Harmesh Malhotra hardly seems qualified to decide what goes to the Oscars.

    Have you spoken to him ever? He's such a cogent coherent speaker. When you've chosen someone you've to look at his overall competence.

    But where does a man who made "Nagina", "Pathar Aur Payal" and "Ankhiyon Se Goli Mare" show any aesthetic sense?

    Bhaiyya, ek business hoti hai ek aesthetics hoti hai (Brother, there is something called business and something called aesthetics). When he was in the jury we should respect that... we should discuss films, not jury members. Harmeshji wasn't there today during the final decision. He fell ill seriously. We were keen to have him. But he requested me to assume the position of the acting chairperson. We were all collectively and absolutely sure "Paheli" was the right decision.

    How could "Paheli" compare with "Black" on any level. Look at Mr Bachchan's performance in "Black"...

    He's outstanding even in "Paheli". He was assuming a completely new character. Let me repeat, it was a very tough competition. We had to exercise caution about our judgement. We couldn't select a film that could be rejected later on at the Oscars.

    Please explain.

    When we send a film we didn't want it to be rejected on account of some legalese or loophole.

    You mean "Black" got the boot because it has portions in English?

    You know my high opinion on "Black". We've discussed it earlier. Some people who tried to keep it down for being copied were firmly told to keep quiet.

    "Black" is not a copy of "The Miracle Worker".

    These are lobbies working... Finally it's every individual jury member's subjective decision that determines the final decision.


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