A voice for change

reflecting reality

A voice for change

Prakash Jha’s new film Raajneeti top-lines Nana Patekar, Ajay Devgn, Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpai, Katrina Kaif, Ranbir Kapoor and — in a cameo — even Naseeruddin Shah.
Releasing on June 4, it is his second multi-star film in 13 years. Caught up in pre-release hassles (the team is going all over the country to promote the movie), Jha steals a few minutes to speak about life pre-Raajneeti, currently and in the future.

We suggest to Jha that his career has so far had three stages — the hardcore art film stage (Damul, Parinati, Hip Hip Hurray), the point at which he went commercial with Mrityudand but clearly did not have his heart in films like Bandish, Dil Kya Kare and Rahul, and thus pleased neither the masses nor — but for Mrityudand — the critics. And then the third chapter — his intense look at politics through films (Gangaajal, Apaharan) that did decent business besides winning fair critical endorsement. Jha finally seems to have found his groove, even though the range is restricted. And now we have part three of this chapter, Raajneeti.

“I would say that your statement is a fair analysis,” Jha declares with a whimsical grin. “The second chapter began when I gave up the support of the NFDC (National Film Development Corporation). I learnt a different language of cinema, scenes, dialogue and even stories, as I thought that my films should have a wider reach. With Mrityudand, the transition film, I adapted to the language. The challenge was in still being able to say what I wanted to, happily, to a much bigger audience.”

Why then did he shirk away from the bigger audience earlier? “We all had these concepts of purity of cinema and the art form. We would look at cinema as a corrupting influence,” admits Jha. So why was he uncomfortable during the second chapter? “I made some mistakes while making those films. I wouldn’t make them if I were to make those films now!”

He stresses, however, that film-stars for him are less about commercial value and more about being good actors. Jha explains, “I have not cast anyone according to their image. Stars become characters in my film, and the added advantage is that when I work hard on them, they work hard too. For example, Ranbir Kapoor is the scion of a political family and is studying in Harvard without any interest in his family’s profession. He is madly in love with an American girl. But life takes him elsewhere. For the audience, every member of my lead cast in Raajneeti will be a surprise package!”

Comment on society
Jha denies that he is on a trip of making only ‘message’ films. “I assimilate any story that is interesting, and my films are my way of looking at society and all that’s happening. Message to nikal ke aata hai! Raajneeti is a story about Indian politics and the few people who control the destiny of a few million. The film is about ambition, power and the way people get sucked into it.”

About the oft-repeated cliché since the film was announced that it is based on the Mahabharat, Jha says that Raajneeti explores social patterns. “I would not say that my film is based on the epic. I explore why something has happened, why things go the way they do and remain the way they are. You see, you interpret and you understand. To pre-empt another common question, this has nothing to do with my attempt at contesting elections from my home state of Bihar. But yes, I did get to see and know a lot more at first hand, and that is needed to convince others about the state of affairs and changing things that need to change. My films are in the realm of reality. Let’s just say that I am an observer and commentator.”

Jha has managed a casting coup by getting scene-stealers Nana Patekar and Naseeruddin Shah in the same film when at least two earlier attempts had failed for various reasons. Do they have any sequences together? “Of course,” says Jha, who has worked with both the stalwarts previously.

This being Jha’s fourth film with Ajay Devgn, how has their relationship evolved? “I don’t think I have analysed our relationship like that,” says Jha. “We enjoy being with other each other. And professionally, we believe in each other. We respect each other’s work, outlook and cinema.”

With Rajneeti being a ‘different’ sort of commercial film, the marketing strategy seems to be novel too, with contests and polling and so on. “The producers decide these things,” says Jha. “I think that the film should engage the youth who will shape the nation’s future.”

What about the film’s unique ‘first’ in Hindi cinema — the Hindi title-track written by Gulzar and composed by an American, Wayne Sharpe, who has scored the background music of his last two films? “He composed an apt tune for which Gulzar-saab wrote the lyrics,” responds Jha. But the rest of the music is a surprise too, with multiple composers coming in. “I have an ensemble cast. So I thought that I could have a multiple cast in music too!” says Jha, smiling.

Jha’s next film, Aarakshan, tackles the issue of caste reservation in our society and stars Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn and Katrina Kaif. “Again, I am playing the observer and commentator!” he quips. And what is happening on the production front? It’s been a while since he produced films directed by others.

“We are working on some projects,” he says. “Turning 30, a woman-centric urban story directed by my long-time assistant Alankita Srivastav, is complete. Gul Panag and Purab Kohli star in the film.”

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