face-to-faceWhat's it like to deal with serious issues without getting clinical?harshikaa udasitalks to Prakash Jha about the making of his upcoming filmAarakshan

He kept audiences waiting forRaajneeti(a good five years afterApaharan). But this time, filmmaker Prakash Jha is rather quick, what withAarakshan set for release soon. “I have managed to makeAarakshan within a year. It is a first for me. The subject had been in my mind for the last four years. I think it needed telling now, and everything fell in place. In fact, my next film too is going to be a quickie. It will be released next year. I am charged about making films and I think my best time is now,” he smiles.

Jha's films have always been issue-based, but withRajneeti(June 2010) he stepped into an altogether different circuit. A political thriller,Rajneeti boasted a stellar cast and a canvas large enough to put a regular commercial pot-boiler to shame. Jha made no bones aboutRajneetibeing purely commercial. Point out that this stand must have changed withAarakshan, and Jha denies it. “No, why should it?” he asks. “My film is as commercial as it can get. The issue is serious, but likeRajneeti, I'm not getting preachy with this one either.”

Aarakshan, a movie about reservation in education, stars Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Manoj Bajpai and Prateik in pivotal roles. The story is about a principal who builds an institute of higher education, his best student, a Dalit played by Saif, the student's love interest played by Deepika and a rich man's son played by Prateik. The film revolves around the transition that takes place in each of their lives when the issue of reservation raises its ugly head.

Money power

“I believe my film is about emotional trauma, not just the clinical issue of reservation. It is about money power that is all prevalent and abused and misused in competitive education. Competition is healthy but where do students go when each of them is standing, probably, a mark apart. Add to it the casteism angle and you have one tangled mess,” says the director passionately. “Nobody studies pure science any longer, everyone wants to specialise and that is giving impetus to the parallel education industry. The situation is so depressing that the teaching profession is left to those who didn't make the mark to vocational courses. No wonder they don't enjoy the job and this consequently leads to poor education. It is a vicious cycle.”

The film also deals with the issue of reverse discrimination where students without caste certificates fail to secure admission as they don't have the financial muscle. “It's a worse situation for these guys. Neither by birth nor by money are they qualified to get a professional seat. I wanted to highlight the opportunism of the ‘education mafia',” adds Jha.

Jha knows that comparison withRajneeti will be there, especially given its blockbuster status but he feelsAarakshanhas more teeth than his previous effort. “Rajneetiwas a huge show; a big spectacle. You just got glimpses into the characters' lives because there were so many of them. It didn't really have an intense storyline and it didn't take you on a journey with the characters.Aarakshanis very different in its focus and issues.”

Involved actors

Asked if he can be ‘accused' of only roping in stars for his movies now, Jha says it's a business compulsion. “I now make films that are expensive. Costs have increased in terms of production, post-production and promotions. It is imperative that I employ well-known actors so that my films are watched by everyone out there. I want them to reach the villages,” he says, adding, “But my stars are always involved actors. I have Amitabh Bachchan, Saif, Deepika, Manoj; all of them are stars in their own right. But each gives my films more than 100 per cent. For instance, if you see Deepika's performance in this film, you will be blown.”

Jha is particularly thrilled about roping in Amitabh Bachchan for his central role. “I had narrated the story to him four years ago and he was very impressed and readily agreed to do the film. He was looking for an issue-based role and in his long-standing career this is the first time anyone has ever offered him this!” says the director. “He would always keep us on our toes. If the call time was 10.30 a.m., Mr. Bachchan would be on the sets at 9.30 a.m. when the boys would be putting up the lights. I would ask him to have his breakfast and he would insist that he would have it on the sets. He never ceases to amaze me.”

Jha is also the chairperson of an NGO called Anubhuti that works for the betterment of the poorest of the poor in Bihar. Anubhuti has worked for the 2008 Kosi flood victims, has rebuilt an entire village providing pucca roads and houses and has plans to build hospitals in Hajipur and Muzzafarpur. Jha's Bollywood friends often come forward to help him in his efforts. “We had two premieres ofRajneeti, in Muscat and in Hong Kong. The entire star cast came to these paid premieres, the proceeds of which went to Anubhuti. I plan to do something similar forAarakshan,” he reveals.

Next script

The filmmaker says making films is his true calling and he has laid his electoral pursuits to rest. “I am ready with my next script on a very current issue and I can't wait to start it,” he says. The film is reportedly on the global ‘religion' industry and will feature Katrina Kaif as a sadhvi in search of awakening! Jha prefers to keep mum. “Please wait for some time and you will have the details,” he signs off, returning to his final touches toAarakshan.