‘Pareeksha’ is a touching, personal story of a rickshawala’s dream’: Prakash Jha

Discussing his upcoming movie ‘Pareeksha — The Final Test’, filmmaker Prakash Jha discusses tolerance and the many societal, institutional blocks preventing equal opportunities in education for all children

Updated - August 05, 2020 03:17 pm IST

Published - August 03, 2020 06:17 pm IST

Prakash Jha

Prakash Jha

The new National Education Policy — 2020 has set off a torrent of debate on its various aspects. While States like Tamil Nadu opposed its three-language model, the policy has also attracted reserved praise for promising to invest upto 6% into education.

How much of it is rhetoric remains to be seen, but filmmaker Prakash Jha is a believer. For instance, the 6% promise gets him excited; Jha says that it could pave the way for a “transformed education system” with universal access and equal opportunities for all children. “Education is the most important aspect of development. I’ve seen to what lengths people go to be able to put their children in school. It is important that there is commitment to invest this 6% on the Government’s behalf,” he adds.

The National Award-winning filmmaker’s upcoming film, Pareeksha — The Final Test , too deals with education; more specifically, it is the story of a poor man’s unbridled desire to provide his son with education and opportunities on a par with the children of elite families he is acquainted with. It is based on a real story the filmmaker learnt of through an influential, former top cop in his home State, Bihar. Pareeksha had its premiere at the International Film Festival of India in 2019, and is set to stream on Zee5 from August 6.

“This is a very personal story. When you hear them, it kind of touches you. Here is a father, a rickshaw- wala , who doesn’t understand what the education system is. He just has a dream that his son too should go to the same school as the rich kids, but he makes mistakes, and takes a path that is irreversible in the course of it,” he says.

Bridging divide

Adil Hussain plays the rickshaw puller, Bucchi Paswan, while Priyanka Bose and Sanjay Suri play supporting roles. Jha notes that he relies on gut instinct — or “hunch feeling” as he calls it — when zeroing in on actors for his films. “I knew Adil from before. I was convinced that he was the right guy to play Bucchi by the time I was done narrating the story to him. Adil, Priyanka and the boy who plays their son (Shubham), they really do look like a family,” he says.

Adil Hussain (L) with Prakash Jha while filming ‘Pareeksha’

Adil Hussain (L) with Prakash Jha while filming ‘Pareeksha’

Other actors in the film are based in Ranchi and possess a theatre background. Once casting is done, Jha insists his actors undergo a two-week workshop. “I have a meticulous process. I talk to them, I read with them a lot and answer their questions,” he adds.

While education sits at the front and centre of Pareeksha ’s plot, Jha acknowledges that it is impossible to uncouple the underlying caste and class concerns when offering a critique of any social issue. “That luggage (caste) will always be there. The only thing that will bridge the divide is good education because one carries their social equity no matter what in our society. The deficit in social equity can only be gotten past with equal opportunities in education, jobs and recognition,” he says.

But caste hegemony and class differences are often the biggest obstacle that stands between people and an unrestricted access to education and opportunities. “One must navitage their path through that because there is no other way. You cannot change the mindset of a society that has lived like this for centuries, and which is getting more polarised now,” he adds.

The filmmaker, who is not new to controversy, is known for such films as Gangaajal , Rajneeti and Aarakshan among others. One of his production ventures, Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017), evoked an uncharacteristic response from the Central Board of Film Certification; the CBFC banned the film at first for absurd reasons like being “lady-oriented” and for containing “audio pornography”.

So, asking Jha to comment on freedom afforded to filmmakers could well be poking at the bear, but he gives a measured response that is at the same time critical and a reflection of the times we live in.

“Tolerance has always been very low in our society. Never forget that in India society is stronger than the State. A single person or a group of individuals living on the fringes, if they are unhappy with something, the society allows them to protest and the system does not cog it. That is the beauty,” he says, before adding, “They can come and stop Sanjay Leela Bhansali shooting or they can come and stone my office. I have never had an easy time. This is nothing new; so we as filmmakers need to navigate our films or messages through this.”

‘Pareeksha — The Final Test’ streams on Zee5 from August 6.

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