Rajkummar Rao, that darling of independent cinema, has been having a pretty good year in the mainstream as well. Apart from his film, Newton, being India's official entry to the Oscars, the 33-year-old actor stars in the just-released Bose: Dead/Alive, a web-series produced by Ekta Kapoor's ALTBalaji streaming service, set around the life and legend of Subhas Chandra Bose. With Hansal Mehta as creative director, the Pulkit-directed series also stars Naveen Kasturia (from web-series Pitchers) and Patralekha.
News18.com caught up with Rao, Mehta and Patralekha to discuss the series, Bose's life and times, and the future of our entertainment.
"I watched a lot of documentaries and read a lot of books on him, including his autobiography. Of course, the external transformation was a matter of putting on some weight, and shaving off most of my hair," said Rao, who didn't use prosthetics to help get him into the character of Bose. Speaking exclusively to News18.com, Rao spoke about his long-held admiration he held for Netaji and how grateful he felt for the opportunity to be able to play him.
While Bose Dead/Alive covers Bose's documented life, it also ventures into the realm of speculation and explores the still widely-held belief that Bose didn't die in a plane crash, but continued to live incognito for many years after World War II and India's independence. Hence, the title. But it also hopes to afford us a look at the man behind the myth.
For instance, the show hopes to address the impatience Bose felt with the slow progress of the freedom struggle and his desire to gain India her independence, sooner than later. "He was frustrated at the politics in play as well as the cautious way Congress was going about getting independence. That's why he formed his own party, despite having been a Congress president, and that's how the All India Forward Bloc came to be. He wanted independence for his country, and that frustration was very human. That's what we want to show," said Mehta, adding that scenes or lines from the film shouldn't be taken out of context.
One of those scenes will surely be Bose's meeting with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in Germany. "There was a definite motive behind Netaji meeting Hitler, and we've answered that in the series. People sometimes take issue with the fact that he did meet Hitler, and we're not denying he did. There are pictures documenting the meeting. But he had some very solid reasoning behind why he met Hitler; he didn't have that meeting for the sake of it, and we will show that reasoning on the show," said Rao.
Indeed, the makers say that there are many scenes in the series that explore the ideology and thinking of Bose to help clarify the actions he took and decisions he made. Rao feels that series like these, in fact, provide a great platform from which to address issues that we've so far avoided talking about. "You also have to remember, that when making the biography of a great man, there will be a lot of grey areas. Every great life has patches of grey in it, and it's when we don't explore those grey patches that they become dark," said Mehta, adding, "Gandhiji's biopic was great, but it presented everything as black or white. So it's only when you start exploring those grey areas that you realize the justifications behind certain decisions."
Given the investment of time, money and talent put into this web-series, do the makers think that the way we consume media is changing? "I think the content being created has really evolved; Bose will be a fine example of that. I think after seeing this show, filmmakers will realize this is a beautiful way of story-telling. 'Sacred Games' is coming out, Kabir Khan is also involved in a digital content project; all our big directors are getting into this medium so I think things will really change, and we'll see some great content and stories being told," said Rao.
Patralekha chimed in, saying, "Because there are all these great directors and writers creating such quality content for us performers, the field has really opened up. Now you get to work with the people you want to work with and produce some great work. And as a performer, I really don't care what the medium is, whether TV or movies, or digital, because it's about the content."
Speaking about the perceived threat streaming services pose to media like TV and movies, Mehta is quite optimistic. "I think the entertainment space will be shared. No medium will get replaced, but they'll challenge each other. Like in the US, it was the TV networks that created great series like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, or more recently, The Night Of. Meanwhile Netflix is working with the likes of David Fincher and creating phenomenal stuff like Mindhunter. So nothing's going to suffer. They'll just challenge each other to greater heights," he said.
So stay tuned, dear reader.