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'ESIF is deep, dark, sexual, funny...'
Rahul Bose awaits India's verdict on his first film as director

Vivek Fernandes

"The performances are phenomenal, the soundtrack by [Ustad] Zakir Hussain is mind-blowing, the look by Aradhana Seth (production design) and Anaita Shroff (costume design) is fantastic. We have had India's finest technicians, from Resul Pookutty (sound designer), Suresh Pai (editor) and Vikas Sivaraman (director of photography) working on the project," says Rahul Bose, not once repeating his adjectives.

His PR skills are in overdrive. But with the release of his directorial debut July 26, he has reason to blow his trumpet.

His English feature film, Everybody Says I'm Fine opened to standing ovation at the Jerusalem Film Festival July 19 and July 20. Over the past year, it has won much acclaim at film fests around the world --- Vancouver, Toronto, Milan, Philadelphia and London.

Bose, 33, a known face on the parallel Indian cinema circuit, made his mark as an actor as Agastya Sen in Dev Benegal's English August (1994) and Split Wide Open (1999), and Kaizad Gustad's Bombay Boys (1996).

Today, he is a frenzy of activity as he waits, fingers crossed, for India's collective verdict on his film.

He is also praying that an international carrier finds his suitcase that they misplaced as he was returning from New York. "All I owned was in those two suitcases I took with me. Now that they have lost one, I won't have clothes to wear to the premiere [of ESIF]. I have to buy a suit or something."

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His inspiration for the film, he says, came from a man he used to meet at the gym but who refused to recognise him when he offered him a lift at a bus stop. "Life is too strife-ridden already without you having to fit into some fancy shadow. I learnt that I would rather be loved by five people for the person I am, rather than 500 people who are in love with the myth that I created." It took 10 hours a day for 33 days to mull over that thought and come up with the script of Everybody Says I'm Fine in December 1999.

"I grew too attached to the film. I knew that I could not have anyone but myself direct it. I created a record of sorts by finding funds for the entire project in 29 days. I heard Viveck Vaswani was interested in promoting new talent so I narrated the story to him. He read the script later and loved it. After three months of intense pre-production we began a 45-day rehearsal. Then, we began shooting."

Koel Puri stars as Nikki in Everybody Says I'm Fine He continues, "I had seen most of the cast's work before. But we auditioned for the two roles of the college kids. Shahrokh and Junelia went through a minimum of 30-40 screen tests before I made my decision."

How difficult was it directing and acting (Rahul plays Rataneshwar Gangophyaya aka Rage, a struggling singer performer in the film) at the same time? "It is fashionable to say it was difficult, but with today's video assist, it really wasn't so. As a director, however, you need to be equipped with certain decision making skills --- to decide what the set must look like to the font size on your premiere invitation cards. I have to encompass the macro and micro and be able to shift from making one decision to another in a minute. Otherwise, you are doomed," Bose replies.

What Bose found daunting, however, was post-production, "I sat at the editing table for three months after the film was complete and snipped off 49 minutes of the film. You have to be completely ruthless with yourself," he says. He even rewrote the ESIF script four times.

His efforts seem to have paid off. The film will be the second Indian movie (after Aamir Khan's Lagaan) to be released and distributed to mainstream American audiences by Panorama Entertainment. The soundtrack of the film by Zakir Hussain released by Hussain's Moment Records will also be distributed through a Universal Music label Verve across the US and Europe.

Boman Irani and Rehaan Engineer in Everybody Says I'm Fine Bose also seeks to dispel some beliefs: "I am perceived to be this intellectual guy. I am not, really. Neither is my film. It is just that I'm well read, I suppose. I was through with the William Blakes and Walter Scotts by the time I was 11 years old. Then Harold Robbins came along."

He jests. "Yes, ESIF is dark, deep, sexual, surreal, bitter, funny, even hysterically Bollywoodish at times. Above all else, it is emotional. It is more heart than brain. A basket of values."

Speaking about his only film stint in Hindi cinema with Govind Nihalani's Thakshak, Bose says he is open to Bollywood, but has not found anything appealing. "I was given two offers as hero for films --- one seemed perfect, but I could not do it with my schedule. When ESIF was being made, I did act in two other films --- Aparna Sen's Mr and Mrs Iyer and Sujoy Ghosh’s Jhankar Beats. I barely get three hours of sleep. I do not have the time to go see a film in ages --- the last Hindi film I saw was Lagaan. I really ought to see (Farhan Akhtar's) Dil Chahta Hai and (Ram Gopal Varma's) Company."

Bose has not had a day off since the past eight months. "But every Saturday, I take half the day off to play rugby and catch a few drinks with the boys," he says. Bose captains India's rugby team that is now preparing for a tournament in September.

Koel Puri and Rehaan Engineer in Everybody Says I'm Fine Mr and Mrs Iyer, India's official entry to the competitive section at this year's Locarno film festival, has Bose and Konkana Sen as the title characters. Talking about the film, Bose says, "Aparna Sen is an intelligent person and Konkana has the potential to be the best actress in the country in her age group. The thought of working with them was very interesting."

Bose is also gearing up for a film with Anant Balani called Big City Blues. He is cast as a Bengali yet again (after English August, Split Wide Open and ESIF) "Guess I'm stuck with that!" he quips. "But I am only half Bengali; one-fourth Punjabi and one-fourth Maharashtrian. Bet you didn't figure that one out!" he laughs.

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