Prakash Jha is back! Come August 12 and the maverick director’s ambitious venture, Aarakshan, will hit the theatres. Once again, his film is straight from what we see in our society and this time touches upon the sensitive issue of reservations that had sparked off a debate in the 80s. Amidst mobile conversations and SMSes, Prakash Jha shares his take on cinema with Parag Maniar.
Aarakshan is about the reservation issue that had gained momentum in the 80s. What had made you touch upon the topic now? Isn’t it too late?
Late why? It still has relevance in our society! The whole caste system is quite intense in our society. It continues to haunt us in many ways. What has happened to the whole issue of ‘Aarakshan’ in the past twenty five years is something that one needs to reassess! Ironically, it has also rise to a new menace, which is the commercialisation of education system.Every parent along with their child suffers from this anxiety and stress, during the admissions in school and colleges. But more than this Aarakshan is a moving story about a group of people – i.e. a principal, his students and his family and his relationship with the society which is what interested me to make this film.
Does the film offer a solution to the whole issue?
It is not the question of a solution. It is the question of trying to understand the situation and present it emphatically. If we understand the problem and the symptoms and the pains we have been going through, the solution will come through the understanding.
Is there any other socially relevant issue you feel strongly about?
I am an observer. I try to read the way the society progresses and adapts to the new systems, laws and ideologies and it is my job to assimilate and understand and see if I can bring forward the equations in form of a story. That is what I keep doing through all my films.
Do you think Aarakshan will spark off a controversy like your earlier film Raajneeti?
I make films. I don’t make controversies. When people have an opinion there is bound to be another opinion on the same thing. People had a problem with Saif Ali Khan, a Nawab in real life, playing the role of a Dalit. So they express their views and we try to address it. That will continue to happen.
Okay, do you keep the commercial aspect in mind while planning a film?
(Jokingly) No I only plan how to blow up all the money (laughs). If I had millions to blow why would I think about the financial aspect of filmmaking? How can you do any kind of business without thinking of the returns… without thinking of the subject that will engage people and bring them to the theatre, of course, you have to plan creative as well as the commercial aspect before making a film, which is what I do.
Would you say that Aarakshan is a high budget film?
It has cost what it should have cost. I don’t know whether it is a high or a low budget film. It has big stars, great locations and the crowd that it needed. Yet, I have absolutely made it within the stipulated budget. We didn’t over shoot or go over budget. In fact never have I gone over budget with any of my films.
Do you feel that for any subject to have wider audiences reach; one should cast a mainstream commercial actor?
If the subject is expensive and if you want it to reach the masses on a large scale then roping in a bigger star definitely helps. Also, a much wider box office opening is very important these days and having a star most of the time ensures that. When I thought of getting into mainstream cinema, it became imperative that there was no way I could make a film without competing in the market especially those days when there were no multiplexes. Today, you can at least make a small budget film and get it released, although marketing the same is very expensive. Back then we had no option. I remember when Mrityudand was released simultaneously with Subhash Ghai’s Khalnayak and Mohra starring Akshay Kumar and Raveena Tandon, that had the famous song, “Tu cheez badi hai mast”, all competing in the same market. We wanted to do a slightly different kind of cinema but the packaging had to be done in a commercial manner to lure the audience to the theatre and it did worked. Same strategy was adopted successfully for Gangaajal, Aparahan, it worked big time with Raajneeti.
How was it working with Amitabh Bachchan considering that this was your first film with him?
Superb! Amazing! He is an inspiration. That man is still so hungry for work. Always ready and on time fully alert and trying to do his best. Every single day was a pleasure working with him. I remember, after the day’s shooting would wrap up, he would give me a call in the night and ask, “Do you think I did that scene properly? Are you sure…!” Once it happened, that he said, “Can I do that scene again?” this scene was showing Amitabh Bachchan conversing with a journalist. It was scene that we had shot a few days ago. And we did re-shoot it. So it is always inspiring to be working with such people.
People say that Nadiadwala stepped in because he had Bachchan’s date for Power and were utilized for your film. Is this true?
We had scheduled this film four years ago. It was decided that after I finish Raajneeti this film will be made with Mr Bachchan by me. Firoz Nadiadwala chose to be a part of the film because he has been trying to work with me for the past ten years. He had Mr. Bachchan signed in eventually and Nadiadwala remains the producer of the film that is executed by Prakash Jha productions.
Okay, how was it working Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone?
Very talented actors! I was surprised with the keenness and the intensity that he worked on his character. He wanted to know about the whole system and his character. He is playing a Dalit and by the time we started shooting he was completely absorbed in his role. Deepika is extremely professional and very hard working.
He has an amazing desire to do the best.
Interestingly, Aarakshan has three generations of actors. Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone and Pratiek. Do they have a completely different approach towards their work?
They all have the same desire – to do their best! These days when I come across actors, they are all very focused. During Raajneeti every actor knew his job so was the case here. If you really get them ready for the character, they all give their best. These days you cannot afford to be lazy. You can’t survive if you are, that is due to the highly competitive market. The young generation of actors have a desire to excel which is good for all the directors.
Filmmakers have started announcing release date even before they have shot a single scene. Why?
This is to show, that there is no uncertainty these days. One plans everything meticulously and sees to it that it is actually executed and completed as per schedule.
Having produced films like Khoya Khoya Chand, Dil Dosti, Yeh Saali Zindgi and Turning 30, is there any other film in the offing as of now?
No… not right now.
What are you planning next as a director?
There are a couple of subjects ready but which one to start with we have not decided on that. I can’t reveal anything right now. Within a month or so, before the release of Aarakshan I will make the announcement.