Prakash Jha continues to place issues that matter in the popular imagination. Up next is “Chakravyuh”, a tale of friendship set against the Naxal movement
As the political atmosphere turns volatile, its impact is showing on the big screen as well. Leading the charge is good old Prakash Jha, who has suddenly become prolific. Last year it was “Aarakshan”, next month it will be “Chakravyuh” and next year it will be “Satyagraha”; suddenly Jha’s variety of cinema has got a fresh lease of life at the box office. If “Chakravyuh” brings the Naxal issue to the forefront, “Satyagraha” focuses on the upheaval in the middle class in the light of Anna’s movement.
“When we were in college, in the early ’70s, everything was very romantic. Left ideology was elaborately discussed and a classless society was the goal. When I started making films — at the time of ‘Damul’ — I was aware that the society we live in has such a big divide between haves and have-nots. And as the country progressed, this divide also increased. Today, we need to tackle this subject because now the Naxalite has come to our neighbourhood. It is no longer happening in some distant jungle. When 200 districts of the country are Naxal-infested, you can no longer ignore it. It is important to discuss it. Even the Prime Minister has admitted that it is the gravest internal threat the country is facing. We have mentioned it in the film.”
Opinion is deeply divided on the issue, and Jha thrives on such subjects. “Stories emerge from where there are two points of view. Anjum (Rajabali, his co-writer) has been working on this story for more than a decade. He first narrated it to me in 2003. I had told him that we would make it one day. But then we got busy with ‘Rajneeti’. There is the State’s side, which is fighting through the armed forces, and then there is the Naxal point of view dedicated to safeguarding the tribal interests. Both are caught in a cesspool. If you don’t get the mines and minerals, development is at stake. On the other hand, evicting these helpless people is propelling an armed revolution. Basically, it is mines versus our own men. The CRPF guy who is posted there doesn’t know who he is killing. If he won’t die from Naxal bullets, the malaria parasite will kill him. I spoke to officers on the ground and the response I got was murge lada rahein hain (sort of rooster fighting is going on).” Jha says today it is hard to distinguish between a politician and a businessman.
“This is the new development. They are hand-in-glove. These are national resources but it seems the government is forgetting that there is something called human resource as well.”
Well, all this is the subtext. On the surface, says Jha, it is the story of two friends played by Arjun Rampal and Abhay Deol. “When one of them moves to the other side, his outlook changes. When Arjun asks Abhay, ‘You also talk about picking up the gun,’ Abhay replies, ‘Gareeb ko gareeb rakhna, zameen chheen lena, isse bada atankwad koi aur nahin ho sakta. And this is what your elected government is doing.’ This is the crux.”
Infiltrating the guerrillas is an age-old strategy of the forces, and Jha has weaved it in the storyline. “Be it kidnapping of a district magistrate or the intellectual support from a section of the intellectual class, you will find many real life instances that you have read in newspapers. Om Puri is playing a character inspired by Kobad Gandy.”
Jha knows he is treading a fine line, so he balances it out by highlighting the flaws in the Naxal movement. “The core ideology remains the same. It is still a fight for land and the rights of the poor, but now a whole lot of aberrations have come. The way they procure their arms is questionable. An entire tribal population is busy just fighting the government. Kids don’t go to school. And their slogan that in 2050 they will fly their flag on the Red Fort is nothing but utopian.”
But then there is also an item song shot in the jungles of Pachmarhi. “Song and dance are important parts of tribal culture,” reasons Jha. Agreed, but it has been reduced to “Jheenga lala ho” in Bollywood idiom. “I am always careful about these things. My sensibility is to tell an engaging and entertaining story within the realm of reality. The film should keep entertaining and also manage to convey its message,” he reassures us.
Controversy follows his cinema. Already, the song “Birla ho ya Tata, Ambani ho ya Bata, apne apne chakkar main sabne desh to kata” has got into trouble with the CBFC. “It is symbolic. The newspapers are replete with corporate corruption. Four-day-old companies are being given coal blocks. Why can’t a film suggest towards the same? Anyway the song has been cleared after we put a disclaimer.”
Last time he almost chickened out after intermission, but this time Jha promises that the film will definitely point towards a solution or at least create a desperation that something must be done now.
“Reservation is a constitutional fact. I couldn’t have argued whether it should be there or not. What I showed was the commercialisation of education, a dark side of our education system, which has cropped up because of the reservation policy. The political leaders fuelled unnecessary controversy before the release. Once the film got released there was no controversy, but the film’s business suffered.”
Turning to “Satyagraha”, where he is once again working with Amitabh Bachchan, Jha says he wants to understand the compulsions of the middle class. “Why the middle class has suddenly become so agitated throughout the world… whether it is the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street or the London riots… I want to discuss this phenomenon. Now the middle class talks about corruption, but it is the one which made it proliferate. It pays money to break the line, gives donation to get a child admitted in a good school, but when the economic environment turned hostile, when its kids could not get the private jobs and it could not pay the EMIs, it started feeling throttled. We are on the cusp of a historical change. Let’s see what comes out of it. I am very excited.”