Cast in a different mould!

Prakash Jha uses the tools of mainstream Bollywood to reveal the lopsided nature of our education policy.

Updated - August 21, 2016 08:47 pm IST

Published - June 16, 2011 05:08 pm IST

Prakash Jha. Photo: V. Sudershan

Prakash Jha. Photo: V. Sudershan

A painter who loves to reflect his socio-political concerns with the hues of mainstream Bollywood, Prakash Jha is back with another burning issue, “Aarakshan”. Mandal Commisson Report sounds like a thing of the past when corruption has become the leitmotif of civil society; Jha says the film is set in contemporary times, though his script was ready for four years. “It is timely because the Supreme Court verdict came only in 2008.”

He goes on to add that reservation policy is the pivot but the underlying comment is on the skewed education system which got a defining blow when Mandal Commission report was adopted. “The issues are co-related. When the general seats reduced, the private coaching networks cropped up. Cities like Kota emerged as the centres for coaching. Names like Mahesh classes became common. Coaching is a 40-50 thousand crore industry. Private universities, capitation fees are all by products of a distorted education policy. Buying a seat has becoame a normal practice. Nobody wants to study pure science, humanities, literature, everybody wants to do managerial courses or engineering and medicine. Where are the research scholars? Teaching profession has no value any more. Those who could not compete in other areas turn to teaching. All these things are so inter-related that they have been incorporated in the script,” says the Brahmin from Bihar, who chucked the family trend of joining Indian Administrative Services to try something different. He was about to join JJ School of Arts before cinema hooked him for life.

Never judgemental, Jha says his idea is to present all possible faces of the problem. “Public is smart enough to find its solutions.” Jha puts lack of political will as the main reason behind the state of affairs. “It is all about the greed for power. For short term gain we are creating a more unequal society. The divide is increasing. That's why I say it is India vs India. India is perhaps the only country where people are protesting to be called backward. Today it is Jat and Gujjar, tomorrow it might be somebody else.”

In the film, Jha's counter to the problem is a teacher played by Amitabh Bachchan. “He is neither in favour nor against reservation. He is pro-education and that's the way it should be. He has an open verandah where every student is welcome. He is maligned, humiliated for his views but he fights back with the only tool he has: education.” Jha says Bachchan was the only choice for the role. “I went to him when he was shooting for ‘Deewar'. He immediately liked the idea. It took four years because new developments happened in between and I like to go for as many drafts as possible so that every issue is ironed out and I have answers to all the questions of my actors. On my sets, every actor remains in the character. That's why I have been able to finish shooting two days ahead of the scheduled close.”

A product of the New Wave, Jha sounds mellower these days. He has alloyed his hard hitting ways with the needs of the market. “Raajneeti” was a successful example. “When the open market threw us out of the system, it became a matter of survival for people like me. I preferred to swim. When I was making films on a budget of 15 lakhs, I was not concerned whether they found theatres or not. I was happy with the awards. Not any more.”

New wave-length!

It includes surrendering to marketing scoops like ‘Deepika Padukone learns to make chapatti for “Aarakshan”.' It is hard to digest from a man, who gave us “Damul”. “See, when you accept a system, you have to accept its laws and by-laws as well. I have also released the first look on the Internet. I am told it works! The film will compete in the same market where a ‘Ready' makes a dent easily. Stars take a serious issue to a larger audience and the subject demands it. I don't believe that I can make anybody act. I cast only those stars, who fall into my scheme of things.” Even if they don't know the language well? Saif Ali Khan has admitted that he was the odd one out when it came to speaking chaste Hindi in the film. “That's why I do extensive workshops before the shoot. Language is not the only criterion. Saif brings a certain texture that I wanted in the character.”

In a sense he is smartly using the tools of the market-driven industry to raise some serious issues. “It's up to you to interpret but what's wrong with that?” Jha's smile resurfaces.

Is he satisfying his political concerns through cinema? “I have never subscribed to any political ideology. I wanted the job of a Member of Parliament but that didn't happen. By the time of next elections, it will be too late.”

Right from his documentary days, Jha has rubbed the Central Board of Film Certification the wrong way. “I am much calmer now. I don't want to say anything that's unpalatable. I have learnt if you present an opinion, there is bound to be a counter opinion.” Like the recent protest where a Dalit organisation questioned the casting of Saif Ali Khan, a nawab in real life, as a Dalit.

“I am trying to make them understand that their argument – he is a nawab, he should not play a Dalit – amounts to discrimination, something they are fighting against all their life.”

Is it something in our genes that we find a controversy with every creative work? “I find it healthy. A contented society ceases to grow.” Jha likes the tag of argumentative Indians.

Jha is not done yet. When the country is seeing news sides of its spiritual gurus, Jha says he is researching the spiritual side of the society. “It will take time. My next film will deal with the perception of development. Who is really developing? The 9-10 percent growth rate is limited to the 15 per cent of the population of the country. Mobiles have penetrated into the villages because some corporates saw big money in the business but where is the basic infrastructure.”

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