Ketan Mehta: It was heartbreaking to not do Freedom Radio

The Indian film industry was ablaze with the anticipation of a unique biopic that was to capture the life of Usha Mehta, a notable freedom fighter and the originator of Congress Radio during the Quit India movement. Her nephew, the distinguished director Ketan Mehta, had harbored a timeless ambition to bring this unsung hero’s tale to the big screen through the movie ‘Freedom Radio’. Collaborated with producer Anubhav Sinha, they stepped into film-making terrain in May 2022, only for their cinematic vision to dissolve before their eyes.

The upcoming premiere of ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’ on Prime Video, starring Sara Ali Khan and produced by Karan Johar’s powerhouse, has dampened the spirits of the ‘Freedom Radio’ team. This movie, set for release online on March 21, retells a similar chronicle of the valiant Usha Mehta, compelling Ketan Mehta and Anubhav Sinha to withdraw their project from the filmmaking landscape.

The emotional toll on Ketan Mehta was palpable as he discussed the shelved venture. “It was heartbreaking when we decided to not do Freedom Radio,” he expressed. Mehta outlined the painstaking journey he undertook while scripting the biopic, a process steeped in sentiment and nostalgia, as he navigated through Usha Mehta’s personal diaries and his own memories accumulated over 15 years of shared kinship until her passing.

The fervor with which Ketan Mehta embarked on framing the storyline is a testament to his profound connection to the narrative. He envisioned an intimate portrait of his aunt—a figure whose achievements had largely receded from the public consciousness despite her pivotal role in India’s independence saga. Usha Mehta’s revolutionary voice through Congress Radio resonated with the subjugated Indian populace, something that Mehta hoped to encapsulate in ‘Freedom Radio’.

The unofficial race for exclusive storytelling rights between ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’ and ‘Freedom Radio’ exacerbated the situation. The former gained momentum with the release of its teaser in January 2023 and the unveiling of a motion poster at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa the previous November. Amidst the promising buzz for Johar and Khan’s portrayal of Usha Mehta, who received the Padma Vibhushan in 1998, questions arose regarding any collaboration or consultation with the Mehta family during their production. Ketan Mehta concisely clarified, “Not at all,” indicating a complete absence of interaction.

The path that lay before ‘Freedom Radio’ now seems ensnared in uncertainty due to the crowded narrative space. When queried about whether the project has been permanently scrapped, Mehta revealed, “I’m not making it for the time being.” He lamented the missed opportunity to present a “richer film” given the personal knowledge and independent perspective that he and his team possessed.

The emotional journey for Ketan Mehta underscores a valuable lesson in the realm of creativity and perseverance. In the unforgiving world of filmmaking, the convergence of similar ideas can often halt projects in their tracks, leading to the painful decision to set aside labors of love.

As the world eagerly awaits the premiere of ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’, a lingering curiosity persists over what ‘Freedom Radio’ might have offered—a portrayal steeped in familial bonds and firsthand anecdotes of a freedom fighter’s life. For now, the story of Usha Mehta via the lens of her nephew remains a profound ‘what could have been’, a poignant echo of a voice that once rallied against oppression, now waiting to be heard through the cinematic tributes it inspires.

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