Known for giving chilling thrillers in Hollywood and some touching reality-based films in Bollywood, director Jagmohan Mundhra continues his journey. He talks to Madhur Tankha about his experience as a film-maker, his upcoming films and more.
Making intelligent thrillers in Hollywood is his forte. To demonstrate his mettle in this genre again, internationally-acclaimed film-maker Jagmohan Mundhra has now come out with two Bollywood thrillers.
Jagmohan, who has been living in Los Angeles for the past three decades and has directed 30 films there, says even though he is often described as a Hollywood film-maker, he has directed some meaningful Hindi films that are still etched in film connoisseurs memories.
Stating that the Indian audience is still unprepared for foreign films, Jagmohan says Hollywood or Western films with special effects do roaring business across the country. We can see films like Superman and James Bond running to packed houses because they don't require an English-speaking audience. You just have to follow the act. But dialogue-driven films like Hurt Locker haven't done well in our country because only a small section of people have a good understanding of English.
Jagmohan's penchant for deriving inspiration from real life stories of people to make relatable films made him direct Apartment: Rent at your own risk. “I got motivated by authentic stories of youngsters who seek employment and accommodation in Mumbai. Even when I was studying at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai and did my Ph. D from the Michigan University in the United States, I saw youngsters sharing their apartments with strangers. The film addresses youngsters who want to carve a niche in today's shining India.”
Pointing out that dearth of jobs and lack of affordable housing makes youngsters pool their resources, the film-maker says he was appalled to see that so many youngsters end up sharing their rooms with strangers. “With no time for due diligence, appearances are all that matters and caution is thrown to the winds. The warning ‘never judge a book by its cover' is ignored.”
Describing his latest venture as a contemporary psycho thriller set in a metropolis, Jagmohan says the movie is fast paced and has some freshness to it. “I was clear in my mind that Neetu Chandra will be my reed ki haddi. She is a tremendous actor and I was bowled over by her performance in Traffic Signal. She also comes from a small town like I do and plays her character with a lot of conviction.”
Even though three producers were reluctant to cast Neetu Chandra as the female protagonist because they wanted someone more established like Kangana Ranaut who has demonstrated her skills in psychological thrillers, Jagmohan refused to entertain the idea.
“I wanted freshness to the role and did not want to work with a yesterday's star but tomorrow's star. Moreover, big stars take a lot of time and Nari Hira (producer) was clear that the film had to be completed within the stipulated budget. So I changed three producers as I had a lot of conviction in Neetu's ability to lift the film with her performance.”
To make a film work at the box office all the actors have to be rightfully cast. As distributors are normally wary of promoting a film that has a female protagonist, Jagmohan roped in television actor Rohit Roy who agreed to give dates for the role despite some male actors having reservations about it.
Describing his recent film Chase as a Hitchcockian thriller, he says it is about an innocent man who witnesses a murder. “The film shows how this man retaliates when he is pursued by powerful forces.”
Known for making thrillers like The Jigsaw Murders, Halloween Night and L.A. Goddess, Jagmohan makes socially-relevant films if a subject or real life incident motivates the film-maker in him to go the whole hog.
But the film-maker lost a great deal of money while making Kamla, which was based on a real life incident and had established actors like Shabana Azmi and Deepti Naval.
“The audience was not enthused by the film. Amitabh Bachchan's Muqaddar ka Sikandar was the talk of the town. The financial setback got me back to Hollywood. So I started making films with the intention of making myself financially sound. Every film taught me something new. Craft is not subjective and I honed my skills while directing thrillers.”
Jagmohan was moved to tears after hearing the real life story of Bhanwari Devi of Rajasthan. I was pretty convinced about the need to make a film on the fight of a poor woman for justice. Bawandar depicts the personal trauma, public humiliation and legal injustice that Bhanwari Devi went through, while pursuing justice in the courts. I succeeded in casting Nandita Das, who was apprehensive to work with me because of my reputation of making thrillers.
Jagmohan is not one of those who chase stars to make them sign films but he was pleasantly surprised when Aishwarya Rai expressed her desire to work with him after watching Bavandar. “Aishwarya saw my film while she was in London shooting for Mistress of Spices. She congratulated me for making a sensitive film and then I cast her in Provoked: A True Story.”
The versatile film-maker is keen to make a film on Congress president Sonia Gandhi. “Though I have succeeded in removing apprehensions in the party about the reason why I want to make this film, I am yet to get an approval from Ms. Gandhi. It is the best possible script and I want to make the film on her before I hang my boots.”
Jagmohan's much hyped Naughty at Forty starring Govinda has been lying in the cans for a long time, but he is optimistic that the film will soon be wrapped up and released. “It was Govinda's idea to make this film. Though I am an expert in making sleek Western movies, he was convinced that there could be a meeting ground. So I set aside my prejudices and made the film with an open mind. Sixty per cent of the film is complete.”