Director Piyush Jha talks about his film “Sikandar” which is releasing this Friday

Five years ago, a young director tried his luck in direction with a comedy film, the Om Puri-starrer “King of Bollywood” which sank without a trace. He seemed to have realised his folly and stayed quiet for some time. Meanwhile, he donned the actor’s hat with “Saas Bahu Aur Sensex” (2008). He quickly took a U-turn. With his second film “Sikandar” releasing this Friday, he is testing the choppy Bollywood waters again. This time the subject is, however, serious. It has adolescents as lead actors — their innocence, its loss and regain, the film’s subject and Kashmir is its backdrop.

Piyush Jha narrates his experience of making the film, and also the reason why he ended up making it. “I travel a lot. During my trips I don’t go to see monuments but to meet people on the street, at roadside dhabas, local vendors and so on. On one of these trips I happened to go to Aadu village in Kashmir where I met school going kids. The children, I realised, have similar aspirations everywhere; they want to play cricket or football, become Shah Rukh Khan and are mostly gadget savvy. The kids in Aadu were no different. When I interacted with children elsewhere I was almost shocked to find that they think of Kashmiri kids as gun-toting, dangerous guys. Through my film, I decided to change this perception.”

“Sikandar” that stars Paarzan (of “Parzania” fame) and Ayesha Kapoor whom we saw playing Rani Mukerji’s childhood role in “Black”, is about an aspiring football player (played by Paarzan) who on his way back from school finds a gun hidden under a tree. The discovery changes his life. Ayesha, his schoolmate, plays his conscience keeper.

Jha promises the film will be full of surprises with several layers, twists and turns and an unpredictable end. “Where does the gun come from, what will he do with it and similar questions will keep the viewers intrigued,” he says.

To play the role, Paarzan, now 16, and a first year commerce student in Mumbai’s H.R. College, trained for three months in Urdu — the way Kashmiris speak it — and also how to walk and dress in a typical manner, as well as to play football. And Sri Lanka-born Ayesha who is still not home at with her Hindi, too was put through an Urdu workshop. These children, says Jha, weren’t a liability on the sets. “They have no stage fright. Their past experiences and a willingness to take up challenges made my job easy. I have also taken a boy called Mehrajuddin whom I met in Aadu village. He was singing ‘naat’ (Quranic verse in praise of Prophet Mohammad) in his school assembly when I saw him. His voice has a certain ‘ruhaniyat’ in it. I have used the same ‘naat’ in the film as a background score.”

Jha’s Rs.4 crores film shot for 35 days in Pahalgam, Anantnag, Aadu and Betaab Valley (it got the name after the film “Betaab” was shot there) has some meaningful songs like “Dhoop Ke Sikke” penned by Prasoon Joshi and the famous Faiz Ahmad Faiz ghazal “Gulon Main Rang Bhare Bade Nau Bahar Chale” in two versions. The film’s major attraction, Jha says, is its spectacular cinematography by Somak Mukherjee (of “Ugly and Pagli” and “Pankh” fame).

Having two young actors in the lead has its issues too. It is being labelled as a children’s film. Asserts Jha, “It is not a children’s film. It is a film for the grown-ups with children as the central characters.”

Keywords: SikandarPiyush Jha