In Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra‘s Rang De Basanti, Daniel Craig auditioned for the role of the British jailor who walks freedom fighters Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev to be hanged, but he was unable to appear in the film because he was also being considered to be the next James Bond at the time.
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Mehra, who has worked in advertising, said he wanted to develop international cinema and wanted the backend to be meticulously handled.
He was able to get the help of executive producers David Reid and Adam Bowling, who had previously worked on two cult classics: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2001). (2000).
According to Mehra, the London-based team was so taken with the script of Rang De Basanti that they rented their homes and moved to India to set up the picture.
“They were responsible for casting Alice Patten and Steven Mackintosh for the parts of Sue and James McKinley, respectively.”
In his memoir, ‘The Stranger in the Mirror’, Mehra recounts that one of the people who auditioned for the character of James McKinley, the young jailor who walks Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev to be hanged, was none other than contemporary James Bond, Daniel Craig.
Daniel Craig was the primary option for the part
“Daniel Craig was my first choice but he requested if we could allow some time as he was also being considered to be the next James Bond. The rest, as they say, is history,” director of critically acclaimed films like Rang De Basanti, Delhi-6, and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag commented.
Peter Gabriel was to make the music
He also mentions how he was close to hiring Peter Gabriel, a founding member of the British rock band Genesis, to work on Rang De Basanti, but something inside him told him that A R Rahman should be the one to do it.
“The music of RDB was the soul of the film; the songs AR created became de facto national anthems,” he says.
Memoir – ‘The Stranger in the Mirror’
‘The Stranger in the Mirror’, co-written by marketer-author Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta and published by Rupa, is full of vignettes from Mehra’s life, from her days in the ‘chai-biscuit’ hostel to the metaphorical champagne popping.
Waheeda Rahman, AR Rahman, Manoj Bajpayee, Abhishek Bachchan, Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor, Raveena Tandon, Ronnie Screwvala, Atul Kulkarni, R Madhavan, Divya Dutta, and Prahlad Kakar are well-known names in Indian cinema and advertising whose first-hand accounts are included in the book.
A. R. Rahman wrote the foreword, and Aamir Khan wrote the afterword.
For the first time, QR codes are included in a book to improve the reading experience. Readers can scan the codes in the book to access a specific scene or song from the film in question.
About Asian Games in the memoir
Mehra also talks about his love of sports and how he came close to making the Indian swimming team at the 1982 Asian Games.
“I was the youngest on the team, and made it all the way to the final training camp for the contingent that trained for the Asian Games.”
“My teammates eventually took bronze at the Asian Games in Delhi in 1982. Though I never made it to the final national team for the Asian Games, sports was a way of life and continues to be,” says the director, who has directed sports-themed films such as Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and his most recent Toofaan.
His collaboration with A.R. Rahman
“One of the greatest joys of my life has been to be inside the recording studio when AR is creating a song of mine, not because I feel the need to guide but because I enjoy seeing his creative genius at work,” he says about his collaboration with A R Rahman.
“AR understands something very fundamental: there’s only one truth when you’re making a film – that you’re making that one film. Music, editing, cinematography, art direction, wardrobe, lyrics, actors etc. all have to tell that same story. They all have to serve the film and the director’s job is to remind each artist of the one vision that everyone is working towards,” Mehra said of the Oscar winner, with whom he has also collaborated in Delhi-6.
Connection with the Bachchans
Mehra also talks about how he wanted to introduce Abhishek Bachchan in a film named Samjhauta Express, but it never happened.
Jaya Bachchan called Mehra just before the first scheduled meeting in Ladakh to tell her that Refugee, not Samjhauta Express, would be Abhishek’s first film.
Mehra was “extremely dissatisfied and crestfallen,” declaring that he would never go on the Samjhauta Express. He burned the script and all of the research, location photos, and clothing trials in a blaze built on his terrace with a BBQ stove.
“I understood the decision (Abhishek’s) rationally. My script involved Abhishek playing a Pakistan-sponsored terrorist in his first film, which went against the grain of how Indian audiences perceive their hero… I couldn’t help but wonder: what is the right launch pad for an actor with a gargantuan legacy like Abhishek?” he writes.
Later, the filmmaker and Abhishek Bachchan, the son of famous actors Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan, collaborated in Delhi-6, which was released nine years after the actor’s debut Refugee (2000).
How he uses mirror is movie-making
Mehra also discusses how mirrors have always attracted him during the creative process.
“There is a movie outside the movie I am making. I don’t even know how I will frame my next shot. So, I let go of the feeling of wanting to know. Suddenly, the creation becomes seamless.”
He claims that mirrors are more than just a tool to check one’s make-up since they disclose the inner workings of one’s soul. In films like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Mirzya, and Rang De Basanti, he utilised the mirror.
In Delhi-6, he says, “I have used the mirror to express my anger and anguish at society at large”.