Prakash Jha talks about how his stories are inspired by social issues and the power of his brand of cinema
He is one of those rare filmmakers who chooses to make provocative political cinema within the mainstream commercial format and has succeeded in making to make it profitable at the box office. Be it Gangajal, Rajneeti or Aarakshan, Prakash Jha’s films have often been in the eye of the a storm. With his latest film Chakravyuh, starring Arjun Rampal, Abhay Deol and Manoj Bajpayee slated to release in October, the filmmaker talks about what powers his brand of cinema, controversies and challenges.
How have you managed to make your kind of issue-based socio-political cinema work with the masses?
Every film has to have a story. When I have one that doesn’t fall into the usual format of commercial cinema, I have to fashion and package it in a language for an audience expecting to see an entertaining film. I shifted to this style during Mrityudand... I had come from pure cinema, or parallel cinema, with films such as Damool, Parineeta... But then times change and you have to compete with the market. So I started learning the language of commercial cinema, constructing a scene, writing a dialogue or taking a shot, adding music or having stars in my film...
Like everyone else, I see and observe how Government policy works, what a caste riot does, what land distribution system has done to this country, what the new education policy is about… I find all things that create ripples in society most interesting. And I try to find stories in them. Every script is the work of several years. I want my films to reach everywhere. For the first time, my film Rajneeti did phenomenally well overseas. Even Aarakshan. People who watch Dabbang are the people I have to reach. I have an audience that is loyal to me and one has to push that number higher.
Does this mean a simplification of good versus evil?
I have never defined who is good, bad or ugly... I treat characters the way I see them, the way they fit into my story.
You have always chosen sensitive subjects, so how do you make them palatable for the masses?
Whenever I deal with a social subject, there are always different points of view. It becomes difficult sometimes. I have been fighting the battle for Aarakshan. I went to the Supreme Court when they banned my film and won an order. Now no state government can ban a film which has been passed by the Censor Board. I had filed a suit for compensation against three State Governments that banned my film. It’s never happened before that a film that was banned demanded compensation. The Supreme Court has issued notices to all state governments.
There was criticism that Aarakshan strayed away from the issue of reservation without taking a stand or providing solutions.
I had people who said that but I really marvel at their intelligence. By the interval, the matter of reservation had already been resolved because the Supreme Court judgment had been announced. It has become part of our existence, the gospel truth and there is nothing you can do about it. You have to live with it. Now, if people are thinking that I will create a situation and settle the matter, that is absolutely absurd. But I wanted to deal with the new kind of reservation that is taking place in society — the commercialisation of education breeding a new caste of people who have the money. This actually has corrupted the education system. You pay money, you get a degree and you can start earning money. Knowledge is out of it. People will realise the importance of my film when they see that those who have the money are the ones who are doing better as far as social life is concerned. Aarakshan would have worked had the release not been fractured and if it hadn’t come under violent controversy.
So controversies don’t always help?
Controversy generates curiosity. It definitely helps and it would have helped for Aarakshan too but the ban, the threat, the violence... There was police outside theatres in Mumbai. And if you lose the first weekend, everything is ruined. It never scares me. But I don’t set out to create controversy. I set out to create curiosity.
Your writer Anjum says he wrote Chakravyuh first in 1995. What do you seek to do with this film?
He narrated it to me in 2003. We were aware of the Naxal movement since our college days. When we finally decided to work on it last year, we went to those areas and updated ourselves with the current situation and got the screenplay done. More than 200 districts are affected. The situation on the ground is volatile. Anjum and I feel that the problem is not limited to the Maoist operation within the jungle. It is important to address the issue and awaken the society. And there was a great story of two friends that had to be told.