Fact of the matter

Fact of the matter

Fact of the matter
He’s not made a vacuous film yet. Somewhere in the late 90s, after making films like Damul, Hip Hip Hurray and Parinati that dealt with real issues but had no mass connect, Prakash Jha decided that his films must serve their purpose — that is, connect with the masses to highlight the social issues. His first such film was Mrityudand (1997) that initially did not make the commercial grade even as it was universally applauded.

However, Jha hit a winning streak with Gangaajal (2003), followed by Apaharan (2005) and Raajneeti (2010). His cinematic mission continued as he made films like Chakravyuh, Aarakshan and Satyagraha, though they again did not set the cash registers ringing. “I want to entertain people, but my films cannot be removed from reality,” he notes. “Today, Mrityudand is still cherished, while Chakravyuh is seen on pen-drives in Naxalite strongholds!”
The cop fixation

Naturally, Jha seeks the connect with his latest release Jai Gangaajal. He is writing Raajneeti 2 and is also planning to direct his first non-political subject in over a decade. He explains, “There are so many cop movies, but Gangaajal’s name is taken in a separate breath. My Gangaajal hero Ajay Devgn has starred in two huge hits as an idealistic policeman — Singham and Singham Returns. But, despite this, real cops talk about my film first. I was recently invited over to the National Police Academy in Hyderabad by its director, Aruna Bahuguna, to talk with the probationers. Everyone there has been shown Gangaajal, and they feel that I am sympathetic with the police force, which I am.”

Jha sincerely feels that the police are a much-maligned entity. “I challenge anyone to be a traffic constable waving his arms even for a day, which he does all his life!” he says passionately. “Do you know that when a constable does security duty for a politician, his family only knows when he has to report for duty but cannot say when he will come back home. And this is so even if he is running a fever, or having high blood pressure.”

The director stresses, “There is no profession that is so demanding physically, and yet open to abuse, due to the few black sheep in the police force that are created by the system itself!”
He refers to a sequence in his forthcoming film Jai Gangaajal, in which a minister publicly insults the protagonist female cop and asks her to shut up, saying that she is talking rubbish. The next day, she is transferred and the media is silent. In another sequence, a cop’s dignity is abused and he just protests with a token, tepid remark. Female cops are given positions precisely so that they become tools in the hands of politicians.

And so Jha examines what happens when a female cop revolts against becoming a pawn and decides to set things in order. “That is why I have called this film Jai Gangaajal — I had decided that whenever I make a film on police, I will show them in the proper light and the film’s title will include this word that implies purification,” he declares. “The thought in both the films is the same — of a crime-free society. The setting is different, as are the era and the issues, especially the relationship between the heroine and the public.”

Keeping it real
And why did he choose Priyanka Chopra, a question that seems superficial in view of the fact that Jha usually chooses top stars to enact dramatic roles (Shabana Azmi, Madhuri Dixit, Kajol, Bipasha Basu, Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone, Kareena Kapoor Khan) in his film. But Jha, who has always been known to extract excellent performances from each female and male star, Amitabh Bachchan down, and even the smallest actors in his films, smiles and says, “We were planning to work together for four to five years. Priyanka would meet me and say, ‘Kar lo kar lo, Kareena, Katrina, Deepika, sab ke saath kaam kar lo — hum tho kuch hai hi nahin (Go on, work with all of them — after all I am a nobody)!’ That’s her way of talking. And what a great actor! She was big when I signed her, but in six months, she has shown tremendous growth,” he says in an admiring tone.

He adds that she was quick on the uptake after a detailed briefing that Jha likes to give all actors. “After I answered her questions, from the very first day of the shoot, she just sailed into the character of Abha Mathur.”

Jha has also made his acting debut in this film. How difficult was it to act in and direct a film simultaneously?

“It was a bit difficult, but I had set my heart on it. You see, the most exciting and challenging part of a film is writing it, till everything, the flow, characters and drama, are in place. My characters and their ideals represent ideals, values and society, not individual problems. I do a minimum of 12 drafts per film — you can see the files of the manuscripts in the cabinet behind you. For Jai Gangaajal, the figure was 16.”

He goes on, “But I still wanted to do something new here. And my character of a weather-beaten, cynical DSP who has seen it all, the best and the worst, and knows that he will never go higher in the hierarchy, was perfect for me even age-wise.”

How did Jha put in 12 songs, making his movie almost like a musical? We even heard that it was the musical Priyanka’s idea. “Well, after the edit, we found that some scenes had a certain quality that had to be emphasised, especially the farcical element within them. So we decided to add songs in the background with that purpose.”

These are exciting times for cinema, Jha feels, with unusual subjects being tried out. “People actually wanted me to cast a hero opposite Priyanka. But where was the need?” he wants to know. For good measure, Jha has been producing several films under his banner that have yet to score as successes. “I liked the scripts, thought they were good films, but my judgements so far did not match what audiences wanted. However, I had a few interesting films coming up,” he says.

Will he ever turn a politician? “Not at all, I love being a respected filmmaker,” smiles the filmmaker. “Yes, I contested elections as it was the only way to become a Member of Parliament and show what I could do for the people. But that area too is full of crafty politics!”

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