Ketan Mehta is a film director, who has also directed documentaries and television serials since 1975.
One of the later entrants to the Parallel Cinema movement, Ketan Mehta used elements of popular cinema — colour, dance, music, comedy and a declamatory style — in order to tell his subversive tales condemning social inequities and critiquing traditional morality. Noted critic Iqbal Masud described him as “the most talented representative” of the new generation. It all started with his debut film Bhavni Bhavai (1980) in Gujarati, where he employed a traditional dance-drama form and juxtaposed two stories across different eras using the same cast of actors to speak of oppression of the poor and socially marginalized by the powerful pillars of society.
Born in Navsari, Gujarat, Mehta was schooled at the Sardar Patel Vidyalaya in Delhi and later studied economics before graduating from the Film and Television Institute of India in 1975. He started working for the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) programme launched by the government in 1976. His work for the Ahmedabad television on the theme of ‘untouchability’ to raise awareness had a tremendous impact on viewers, but at the same time, it mired him in a political controversy.
His first Hindi film, Holi (1984), set in a college over the span of one day talks about the deterioration of the educational system to the point of robbing the youth of their vitality. But it was Mirch Masala (1986) that really earned Mehta popular and critical acclaim and even got a decent release in the US. The film, which opened after Smita Patil’s death, featured one of her finest performances as a spirited woman in a pre-independence village who takes on the might of the maniacal subedar, played by Naseeruddin Shah, and hides in a masala factory where the old Muslim guard, played by Om Puri, is her only ally.
In Hero Hiralal (1988) Naseeruddin Shah played an autorickshaw driver obsessed with the movies who falls in love with a light-eyed actress, portrayed by Sanjana Kapoor) From this film onwards Mehta moved firmly in the direction of the popular form and even cast rising star Shah Rukh Khan in a couple of films like Maya Memsaab (1992), an adaptation of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, in which the title role was played by his wife Deepa Sahi, and Oh, Darling, Yeh Hai India (1995). In the biopic Sardar (1993), written by noted playwright Vijay Tendulkar, he tried to apportion the Iron Man of India his share of the limelight for integrating states and princely territories into the Indian nation in the wake of independence. He attempted another, more extravagant biopic in Mangal Pandey: The Rising (2005) with Aamir Khan and Rani Mukerji, which opened to mixed reviews and a minor political storm.
Rang Rasiya (2008) based on the life of 19th Century painter Raja Ravi Varma was first screened at film festivals, and went on to be released several years later, in 2014. Apart from his film and television work, he directed two successful series, Mr. Yogi and Captain Vyom for Doordarshan. Mehta also runs a Maya Digital Studio dedicated to CG animation and visual effects.
His most recent work was in the film Manjhi: The Mountain Man (2015) which starred Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte.