Rahul Bose is a cool guy, you have to admit. He might not be conventionally good looking, but the man has always been quite charming on screen. He has worked in films in various Indian languages, taken risks and believed in projects that most actors would not have done and he makes it a point to work hard. Then there’s that big, bright smile, which wins you over, but also has a touch of “Don’t-mess-with-me.” He’s fit, too, thanks to his lifelong dedication to rugby. If he had been taller, Bose would have been a bonafide sex symbol, in the manner of some mainstream Bollywood actors.
The kind of films he chose to do in the 1990s were offbeat and risqué — English, August, Bomgay, Bombay Boys, Split Wide Open and his directorial debut, Everybody Says I’m Fine! Actors would rarely choose such films at the start of their careers. Then, with films like Mr. And Mrs. Iyer, Jhankaar Beats and Chameli, Bose solidified his position as the “thinking actor” and the “thinking woman’s sex symbol” and other such tags with which the industry tries to define exceptions. Bose was an exception from the very start of his career. He worked in regional films with stalwarts like Aparna Sen and Buddhadev Dasgupta, but also did films like the surprise hit Pyaar Ke Side Effects (with Mallika Sherawat) and Chain Kulli Ki Main Kulli. Most recently, he was seen in Dil Dhadakne Do, as Priyanka Chopra’s asshole husband. You hated him in the film, which meant that it was a job well done.
Bose is not necessarily a versatile actor, but what he brings to the table is presence, charisma and a total lack of inhibition. He seems to be the director’s darling, always ready to be a part of any story, however outrageous it might be. In an industry that is quite prudish, Bose has never shied away from nudity and intimacy on screen, for example. He does not just pretend to be open minded – he selects projects to support that claim. Recently, he has also become the brand ambassador for Oxfam India, and at the MAMI Film Festival last month, he moderated a panel on women in modern cinema and discussed gender perceptions in the movies. In an industry where men (and women) shy away from making strong comments on the subject, it is refreshing to find a man who is ready to do so. I thus begin with a question that most men in the film industry dread.
Are you a feminist?
Of course I am!
Almost everyone in the industry tries to avoid that question.
I don’t know whether they understand what it means. For me, it is treating people equally, regardless of their gender. That is what I believe in practising. As long as I make it a point to treat everyone with the same amount of respect, thoughtfulness and depth, that is all I am interested in.
How do you comment on the wage disparity that exists in the film industry globally?
I think that it is just a shame and it is appalling. What should we do about it? See, I am happy to raise my voice against wage disparity in any profession. I haven’t met very many men who take pleasure in getting more money for the work they do than women. I think it is a more entrenched patriarchal reaction. I know, for sure, that in the films that I do, we get paid equally.
Also, why do you think we have so few women filmmakers and storytellers?
I don’t know why there have to be male or female storytellers to tell stories that are gender sensitive. I don’t think that is necessary. But having said that, the fact that we don’t have that many women writers, or directors, or cinematographers, is honestly not something I can comment on. I can only ask to see the ratio of women to men in other fields and see why they do not choose to join this industry. It would be very interesting to see the results. It would be an exercise in understanding social attitudes towards cinema, and if there is any kind of resistance. I would understand that there might be, but I don’t know enough about it.
We often hear that ‘cinema is an influencer of gender perception.’ Why do you think Bollywood is still goofing up?
I do think that the item numbers have vastly reduced. Hindi mainstream cinema might be getting it more and more right, but there are different layers of cinema. And one layer of cinema, which you have in Hollywood too, are these misogynistic, crass films. To say you can’t make them would be illiberal, but to say that those films should be encouraged is also not right. The point is, funding should dry up for films like that – which means that they should not be seen. If those films don’t do well, then nobody will actually fund them.
Are there any films that you regret having been a part of?
I certainly think Maan Gaye Mughal-e-Azam was a misstep, because the story seemed like a dark comedy and the actors were wonderful — there was KayKay Menon, Pawan Malhotra and Paresh Rawal — but the writing fell apart and the treatment did not work out at all.
And which of your films are your favourites?
I would pick The Japanese Wife (directed by Aparna Sen) and Kalpurush (by Buddhadev Dasgupta).
Do you think, as an industry, that we have the economic and psychological wherewithal to support women-centric films? We often hear accusations against distributors not wanting to pick such films up.
I think so, absolutely. See, people will always look for films that they think will work, but they will also go for films that have a fine, gripping narrative with great performances. So there is space, definitely, and that space is increasing every single day.
What are you working on these days?
I have just finished directing and producing a film called Poorna. It is the story of the youngest girl in history to climb Mount Everest — so it passes the Bechdel Test and all the other tests (laughs). It’s a true story of a girl who is a tribal from Telengana, so yes, it’s a biopic.
And what are you reading these days?
I normally read two to three books at a time, but at the moment I am just reading Patel, a biography by Rajmohan Gandhi.
And how’s the rugby going?
I stopped playing for India in 2009, and I was only playing for my club and socially, but I tore some cartilage recently, for the fourth time, so I am in recovery. But yes, I will be back soon.