A week before presenting “Raajneeti” in people's court, Prakash Jha fields some difficult questions on his biggest film till date.
He is a painter who loves political canvas. “This is for you to judge. I see myself as an observer of societal equations,” says Prakash Jha, whose “Raajneeti” is making more news than the country's realpolitik. Jha laughs, “Main khari baat kehta hoon (I say the bitter truth) and people don't like it. They don't realise that it's in their own interest. I have tried to see the development of democracy in the country without getting judgemental.” Is it possible to touch Indian politics without sullying your hands? “I think it is if your intentions are clear. I don't want to bring down anybody. Here I have drawn from the characters of Mahabharat and have put them in a modern setting,” says the man from Bihar who came to Mumbai to be a painter but changed tracks when one day he visited the sets of Bollywood pot boiler “Dharma”.
It is ironical that the world's most robust democracy rarely finds reflection in Hindi cinema. Once in a while there is an ‘Aandhi' and that is about all. “I can't say about others but I have always found politics relevant and topical. Till now I was focusing on Bihar because I know the state well. ‘Raajneeti' has national dimensions.” This brings us to the biggest controversy surrounding the film: The resemblance of Katrina Kaif's character with Sonia Gandhi. “I never said it. It's a concoction of the media.”
But he was the one, who started the promotion of the film by releasing the stills to the media where the similarity between the two is quite apparent. And when the controversy erupted, he changed the promos. “At first I was introducing the characters, now I am giving a glimpse of the story.” Or was the shift because of pressure from the ruling political party? “I am not facing any pressure. Katrina's character doesn't come from abroad as people are conjecturing. She is playing the daughter of an industrialist. It is my interpretation of Draupadi.” Jha is letting out too much to clear the air! Still he is facing Censor's scissors. Is his past haunting him? “I don't think so but yes there were objections. We were given an ‘A' certificate with cuts by the revising committee. We moved to the Tribunal and it has passed it with ‘U/A' with minimum possible cuts. I am satisfied.”
There is talk about certain members furious about a scene depicting the misuse of electronic voting machines. “It has been cleared now with directions to beep out a few words. But I must say some of the people who were in the revision committee had come with an agenda. They don't know that in an attempt to please their leaders they are actually doing harm to their image. Truth wins after all.”
He admits it is his biggest film. “A big investment has gone into the film and I want the film to do well.” One of the offshoots of the new wave, Jha has come a long way. Once known for searing documentaries and films like Damul where a potent thought was not baked on million bucks and didn't require a publicity storm to make a dent in the mind space. Today he is feeling the corporate pressure. “It is a choice I made when I decided to make Mrityudand. I don't say this was the only way out but something I felt was right in the circumstances,” says the multiple National Award winner.
His critics say “Raajneeti” is his way to get back at the political class, after he failed to find a place in the system. He fought two Lok Sabha elections but failed. “I wanted to be in politics to serve the people but unfortunately I couldn't make it but I am not bitter about it. I have friends in all parties. And as I said I am not passing any judgement on the political class. Like all fields, here also we have different kinds of characters…black, white, grey…and when power and money come into play moral dilemmas surface, sometimes greed takes over. The film is a reflection of it.”
In multi-starrers the challenge lies in balancing star egos with the script and when you have mavericks like Naseeruddin Shah and Nana Patekar and stars like Ajay Devgn and Ranbir Kapoor in one film, the task becomes all the more difficult. “It is indeed difficult but when you work for four years on a script, you don't have to pacify your actors. There is no need for compromises. Also I have a rapport with them and they believe me.” But the range is amazing – from Naseer and Nana to Arjun Rampal and Ranbir Kapoor. “It is all according to the demand of the script. I had cast Ranbir just after ‘Saawariya' when the media had not dubbed him as an actor to watch out for. Rampal was the first actor I signed because I could see a brash young politician in him.” His best praise is reserved for Katrina Kaif. “I was touched by her perseverance to get into a demanding role. The way she worked on her Hindi was beyond my expectations.”
But why did he choose an actress of foreign origin with broken Hindi when she has to play an Indian character…. “Her Hindi is quite straight.” And the attempt to ask for votes in the name of her slain husband? “That's just a coincidence.” The questions remain and Jha expects us to be patient till the release but he is surely not saying goodbye to controversial truths. Next on his agenda is a film on caste reservation.