Vijaya Raje Scindia, one of the most well-known members of the Gwalior royal family and the Bharatiya Janata Party politician, is the subject of Gul Bahar Singh’s Ek Thi Rani Aisi Bhi. The biopic features Hema Malini in the lead role, and maps Scindia’s political career and her estrangement from her son Madhavrao Scindia (Rajesh Shringarpure) after the death of her husband Jivajirao Scindia (Vinod Khanna). Vijaya Raje Scindia entered politics as a member of the Congress party, but later switched to the Swatantra Party and then moved on to the BJP, where she served as vice-president till 1998. She died in 2001.

In an interview with Scroll.in, Singh spoke about making a faithful adaptation of Mridula Sinha’s biography Rajpath Se Lokpath Par, which was narrated to her by Vijaya Raje Scindia, and steering away from political statements. The film has been produced by the Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia Smriti Nyas trust and Zee Classic and will be released on April 21.

How did the biopic come about?
The biopic is based on Mridula Sinha’s book Rajpath Se Lokpath Par. Mridula Sinha is the Governor of Goa and also a prolific writer. I have known Sinha for a long time. I made a short film for Doordarshan on one of her novels, Jyon Mehandi Ko Rang. When she wrote Rajpath Se Lokpath Par, we discussed it and I decided to make a film based on the book.

The basic plot is the relationship between a mother and her son. Ek Thi Rani Aisi Bhi is not a political film. I have no interest in talking about political parties. I have treated the film on a humanist level, where the story is centred on the personal relationships between members of the royal family. We have touched upon her career as a politician but that is not the central theme of the film.

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Ek Thi Rani Aisi Bhi (2017).

Did you face any challenges in assembling your actors for the lead roles?
Although I have never met Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia, I met her daughters, Vasundhara and Yasodhara, her relatives, and some people who worked closely with her in Gwalior. We looked at a lot of photographs and video footage. After we discussed at length, I suggested that we take Hema Malini for the role. After a photoshoot with Hema Malini, we knew she was perfect for the part. Vinod Khanna plays her husband, Jivajirao Scindia. He agreed to take up the part a few days after narration. Assembling the cast for the production was quite easy.

The film has been in the making for several years.
Yes, we started the project in 2009. It took a lot of time to research the subject. Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia’s daughters had to be consulted several times and since they are very busy politicians, it was a task even for them to take time out for the film.

For me this film became like Mera Naam Joker [Raj Kapoor’s 1970 film] which also took six years to make. Another factor was that I did not have regular producers on this project. Ek Thi Rani Aisi Bhi is produced by the Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia Smriti Trust, so the process was a little time consuming.

Did you face any problems with the Central Board of Film Certification?
When the film was shown to members of the Censor Board, we were worried about their approval. We were waiting outside the screening hall for a long time when someone came out and summoned me. The members told me that they thought it was a clever and intelligent film. Without mentioning the names of any political parties and showing their flags, we were able to steer clear of any controversy. We had asked for a U certificate but were given an A certificate for the use of some slang words and a little gun violence.

What is your background in films?
Actually, I am a self-made man. I have assisted only on one Bengali film as an assistant director. After that, I started making films on my own. My first short film Weeds (1980) was about street urchins. I kept making many other shorts and documentaries, which won several awards. My children’s film The Goal (1999) won the National Film award and Dattak (2001) was also shown at many international film festivals. I make Bengali films in Kolkata, where I currently reside.

What are you working on next?
I am working on another biopic about another important historical figure, but I cannot give you the details now.

Gul Bahar Singh (left), Amitabh Bachchan and Goa Governor Mridula Sinha at the trailer launch in Mumbai.
Gul Bahar Singh (left), Amitabh Bachchan and Goa Governor Mridula Sinha at the trailer launch in Mumbai.