By Hindustan Times
I spot him from afar, a magnet for all the cinema buffs, who either consist of film students showing off their knowledge about 'new wave of Indian cinema' or the genuine fans asking for autographs.
Seeing him at ease among so many admirers, wittingly asking their queries, it's difficult to imagine him as a young lad from old Delhi in awe of Amitabh Bachchan. He has come a long away and he accepts it with both humility and an unabashed pride.
He has just promised me an interview if I buy him cold coffee.
What a bargain!
The Bollywood director is in Delhi to attend the Hindu Literature festival. Om books International is all set to publish the screenplay of Rang De Basanti and he can't hide his excitement.
"I'm very happy that Om International is publishing the screenplay of RDB. I was hoping a lot of people will read and see what was on the screenplay and what's on the film, it would make an interesting read. I hope I can do that with more movies in future," he is telling me this over coffee outside American Diner at the India Habitat Centre.
"I'm very excited about my new film, Bhag Milkha Bhag, it's a story of human spirit based on the great Milkha Singh. I've grown up reading folklore about him, and always wanted to do this. We will start shooting in February next year."
Mehra's next directorial venture, based on the Indian athlete Milkha Singh, is in its pre-production phase. It stars Farhan Akhtar and Sonam kapoor in the lead roles.
After casting her in Delhi 6, Mehra has again roped in the young star for his next. Sonam has said in earlier interviews that he is her favorite director. Do you feel the same?
"Sonam is a really special girl, I have worked with her during Delhi 6 and we have a very good working relationship as a director and actor. She is a very talented girl and with many facets to her acting. I'm looking forward to directing her again."
Mehra became an inspiration to many after his youth-centric film Rang De Basanti caught the fancy of the masses and won a BAFTA nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film at BAFTA Awards.
But his last film as a producer Teen Thay Bhai, didn't ring the cash registers or win critics' approval. Did he ever regret making the film?
"I didn't' direct the film, I produced it and I have absolutely no regrets! Mrighdeep Lamba , the director came up with this wonderful script where three brothers are bent on killing each other. This is what happens in real life, brothers are always fighting with each other over property or personal issues and I found this to be a very interesting concept. I would love to make more such movies, Mrighdeep is very talented. "
With so many young directors donning the director's hat, where does he think Indian cinema is headed?
"I'm not a future forecaster", he retorts saucily, "all I can say is that I hope more youngsters come on the scene and make me redundant and mind you not the New York Film Academy returned but the small towns that can make film about our land."
After winning both Filmfare Awards and National Film Awards for best director, he became a household name. Along came another social satire Delhi 6 and he was right at the. But he still remains the Delhi boy in awe of his contemporaries, "I really admire my seniors, Mani Ratnam and Shekhar Kapur, they are just beautiful people," he says.
Mehra is inquisitive and earthy as an interviewee but you do have the sense, all the time you are asking your artless little questions, that he might be thinking of a new movie idea while expertly answering questions. As my camera decides to conk off midway he is quite a sport and fiddles around with it to figure out the cause.
"The card is full, we'll have to do without it," he says with a knowing look. And I take out my pencil and pad.
With Bollywood's renewed obsession with over-the-top brainless films like Bodygaurd, does he also see himself making a masala film?
"I don't see myself making the typical masala films at least in the near future. And they are not brainless films as is the critical perception. It's just a different genre, a comic genre with larger than life heroes. Indian audience is hungry for mythological superhero character where the good guy kills twenty villains with one blow. It's basically pulp cinema. I tried to make Rang De Basanti within the parameters of popular pulp cinema to make it palatable for audience. It worked."
As I swallow such a direct put-down, I try to focus on what he is wearing: a printed blue kurta, jeans and sneakers with arty Ray Ban spectacles. Typical, I decide moving on to the next question.
So what's the status of his ambitious project Paanch Kauravas starring the Bachchan family? "Oh! Paanch Kaurvas has been renamed - 'Raja and the legend of the flute.'" Will it see the Bachchan father-son duo come together again? "Well, I don't write my characters keeping any actor in time as it limits the character. For me casting comes in the end. And yes, I would love to work with both of them, it's too early to say anything right now."
At this we end our chat and I see him getting into an Audi, and I hope that his disdain for the New York Film Academy educated is genuine.