Ketan Mehta, the creator of monumental epics on such creatures of history as Mangal Pandey, Sardar Patel and Dashrath Manjhi, was all set to start his career’s most ambitious bio-pic.
No one had attempted a film on the Rani Laxmibai aka Jhansi Ki Rani, the warrior queen, who battled for her selfhood and country with a baby tied to her back. Ketan was up for the challenge. He had pencilled in Kangna Ranaut for the title role in Rani Of Jhansi: The Warrior Queen. Then, it all fell apart.
Ketan is still trying to recover from the blow that Kangna dealt with his most ambitious dream. “Ten years of my research information data and creative inputs on the project. I had shared it all with her. How was I to know it would all be vandalized so mercilessly? What she did was to hijack ten years of my hard work,” says Ketan remarkably cool, as he relives the nightmare.
Kangna Ranaut translocated the entire project to producer Kamal Jain and director Krish without Ketan Mehta’s knowledge or consent. “In February, I was in hospital for a minor surgery. When I came out, I got to know of Kangna’s doing through the media. No, she did not inform me that she was not doing my film. As far I was concerned, we were fully into the pre-production just weeks away from going on the floors, when she did this,” says Ketan softly, still unable to fully process the enormity of the betrayal.
“On how many levels is this unethical? It is ten years of my hard work and research which I shared with her without hesitation as one would with an ally in a creative partnership. She just decided that she wanted to take my project to another producer Kamal Jain, thereby, effectually sabotaging all my plans.”
Ketan says he already had a co-producer on board. “Rani Of Jhansi was planned as a English-Hindi bilingual with Gurinder Chadha as the British producer. It was going to be the first full-fledged Indo-UK co-production. Where when and how did Kamal Jain (who now produces the film) come into the picture? I’ve no clue. Only Kangna can answer that question.”
Ketan can only wonder at the levels of unscrupulousness revealed in the relocation of his project to an unauthorized source. “It is a really lowdown thing to do. I had to take legal recourse not because I wanted to stir up some action, but, because it is important for me to stand up now when so much of my reputation is at stake. She cannot do this. I don’t know what level of ambition impels her to this level of unprofessionalism. But, if I kept quiet about it, I’d be encouraging an unsavoury practice.”
The brilliant filmmaker, known the world over for his masterly portrayal of oppression and women’s empowerment in Mirch Masala and Maya Memsaab, now faces the biggest challenge of his career.
“I’ve to prove to myself and to the audience that such a setback won’t stop me from making my film. I will make Rani Of Jhansi. Maybe this incident was meant as a warning that I was perhaps not going about it the right way. Now, it’s time to gather all my inner strength and make my film. I can’t allow Kangna to take away ten years of my life,” says the determined director.