Raja R. Bundela
One Man Open to Any Number of Challenges
What would the world do if there were no men (or women) who had the unique ability of handling several opportunities and challenges at the same time? Raja R. Bundela is one such man who inspires this question. He was a young man full of ambitions and ideas in a place like Bundelkhand. He joined the National School of Drama, studied cinema at the FTII, and came to Bombay to try his talent as an actor. He started with theatre and worked with some of the stalwarts like Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri. Films were the next step and he found the opportunities and made the best use of them. He was a co-founder of a theatre group. He founded his own film production company, Prayaas Productions, he got into politics and has a favourite cause, to have an independent state of Bundelkhand. He is truly a man who can walk several paths at the same time. He has produced “Pratha”, one of the first films of Irrfan Khan. He has directed “Alex Hindustani” and is now eagerly waiting to see the release of “Dil To Deewana Hai” which he has directed in spite of his many pre-occupations but his love for cinema towering above everything else. Raja R. Bundela, a very busy man talks from New Delhi. Excerpts…
From acting to production to direction….how has the journey been?
After passing out from NSD and then a stint at the Pune Film Institute (FTII) we had to survive. Those were pre- TV days where there was no money but lots of passion. I was a co- founder member of Majma group along with Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah, my NSD seniors. Later I joined Nadira Babbar’s ‘Ekjute’ and then joined my wife Susmita Mukherjee, who had started ‘Naatak Company’. During this time I was also busy acting in cinema notably in films like “Aadharshila”, “Brijbhoomi”, “Swarg”, “Shola aur Shabnam”, “Vijeta” and “Swati”. But I was not happy with the way my work was going so I formed my production company ‘Prayaas Productions’ in 1994. We did a lot of work for Zee, Sony, Nepc, etc like ‘Scandal’, ‘O’Maria, ‘Yeh Shaadi Nahi Ho Sakti’, ‘Miltey Hai Break Ke Baad’ and ‘Rajpath’. While directing the award winning TV serial ‘Mujhe Chaand Chaahiye’ for Zee, my colleague decided to move on to cinema and that is how I landed directing the major chunk of the show.
Your first film was “Pratha” with Irrfan Khan?
Yes, way back, before Irrfan Khan had become Irrfan Khan (laughs). It was a social subject about religious corruption and he played the crooked temple thief. The film was received well commercially as well as critically and went to several festivals.
Tell us about your Hollywood film ‘That Game Of Chess’
It was a wonderful opportunity I got to direct a film in the US. It was a small budget independent film but because the crew had worked in Hollywood, it was called a Hollywood film. The story is about a boy who gives three commitments to his father before setting off from India that he will stay away from wine, women, and excessive wealth in the line of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideology. How he fails and how a foreigner brings him to track forms a major part of this crossover movie.
‘Dil To Deewana Hai’ is releasing next week. What stalled the movie?
Hats off to my dynamic producer Deepak Sharma for being able to release the film after an intense struggle. I always believe that if one producer is allowed to survive, he will create food for thousands of families. So many films are ready, lying in cans, unable to see the light of day but we are happy our movie will be out in the world soon. It is a love story set in Malaysia where there is intense conflict between first generation immigrants and their children. It stars Raj Babbar and Zeenat Aman. Tahir Hussain Sahab liked the subject for his stepson Haider Khan whose innocence and charm was needed for the role. Sada, the dusky south Indian heroine of ‘Aniyan’ is paired opposite him.
You were in the Congress, than changed to BJP?
After the death of my leader, the baton fell into my hands. Despite seven rivers, Bundelkhand has no power; there is 48% illiteracy, 63% migration, 1181 farmers’ suicides last year alone, that giving out freebies in the name of development will not solve the issue. I joined the Congress and lost with a tiny margin during the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. I believed that like Telengana, Vidarbha, Poorvanchal, Bundelkhand would get Statehood. I èven formed my own party ‘Bundelkhand Congress’ but we did not stand a chance with our limited resources. Then I too became part of the Modi wave, the incorruptible iron man with dreams of a better India. Though I work within the framework of the party as a worker, I still work for my mission of a separate statehood for Bundelkhand.
We have heard that you have made a film called ‘Alex Hindustani’ with Om Puri, Kulbhushan Kharbanda. When is that releasing?
The famous historian Ayodhya Prasad Kumud shared with me a real story of the son of a political agent who worked in pre Independence Bundelkhand, and how the young British lad got so convinced with the Indian struggle for freedom that he took on the mighty British Empire to earn himself the name of Alex Hindustani. I am looking for a distributor but like we all know it is far easier to make a film than sell it especially if it does not meet the commercial parameters.
We have heard that along with your wife you have started some art school in your village?
My wife and I have created a small art village in Orccha, Bundelkhand, MP, set on six acres of land on the banks of the Betwa river. We are trying to retain traditional arts which are in danger as there is a lot of migration due to lack of employment. We are also planning a film hub which will cater to small 1 CR budget movies made in Awadhi, Malvi, Bundeli and Chhattisgarhi, languages.
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