Team Jai GangaaJal – director Prakash Jha, actors Manav Kaul and Rahul Bhat – speaks to Team Box Office Indiaabout the new film that has Priyanka Chopra playing the central character of a cop
Box Office India (BOI): What made you plan a sequel to Gangaajal?
Prakash Jha (PJ): It’s not a sequel firstly. A sequel is when you take forward the story or you use the same name or same characters. It is a film in the same genre, which is the relationship between society and the police, which Gangaajalwas about too. But then there was Shool, Sarfarosh and all those films that were also of the same genre. And that’s why I am not calling Jai GangaaJal a sequel – it’s a fresh story.
The problem of the story, which we call the hook, is completely different. We are not taking the story forward; it’s a new set-up, new town, new period and a new set of problems. But then you will ask me why name it Jai GangaaJal? So the reason is that the soul, the essence of the film is the same that was there in Gangaajal also. The light at the end of the tunnel is that we will have a crime free society. In Jai GangaaJal also we have the same thought, because that’s what we live by, that’s what we hope for.
In Gangaajal we had the Bhagalpur blinding incident, and the whole situation was woven around that. In this one also I have something as dreadful as the Bhagalpur blinding cases. That’s what creates dilemma, that’s what turns into mob justice and that is what alters the viewpoint of my protagonist played by Priyanka Chopra. So Gangaajal and Jai GangaaJal have a similar meaning, but we did not use ganga jal literally in the film. So that is the similarity in terms of name. Otherwise it’s a completely different story.
BOI: Prakashji, introduce us to both the actors of your film, Manav Kaul and Rahul Bhat.
PJ: Manav Kaul is a super talented actor. He is a theatre artiste, a theatre director, he writes plays and many other things. He has been in the performing arts for a number of years. He plays the role of Babloo Pandey, one of the most crucial characters in the film. It’s a very different kind of negative character, one who is convinced about what he is doing. He is also an emotional man – he cries, he laughs and gets hurt emotionally, so he is very human.
Rahul does a special appearance in the film. I needed a vehicle to say what I wanted to say in the film. It’s a character of a social activist. Not like a typical social activist but somebody who has given up everything in his life – for instance, he is a topper at IIT, topper at MIT, has some thousand dollars-worth job in the United States, but he has left behind everything and come back to his district. He finds a cause to fight for – the cause of farmers and their land. And through him I am able to convey the few things I want to say.
Eventually it is a dramatic story, an emotional journey of Priyanka Chopra’s character. We all try to tell a story and make it interesting and engaging. If people want to take something away from the film – like they might want to take Rahul’s character back home – that will be a bonus for me.
BOI: Both of you had one release this year – Wazir (Manav Kaul) and Fitoor (Rahul Bhat) – so where does Jai GangaaJalstand in your career?
PJ (Cuts in): Right now, in the middle, as I am sitting in between them! (Laughs)
Rahul Bhat (RB): (Laughs) When you work with Prakash Jha it definitely will fall somewhere in your career graph. And knowing him and his kind of films, we know it will be a successful film. For any actor it’s a pleasure when someone like Prakashji offers you a movie.
Manav Kaul (MK): I was very excited when he offered me the film. It’s also very important film for me. Wazir released recently and it worked very well for me. For me, this story is about friendship and betrayal and the story revolves around this very dramatic situation where there are three characters I interact with, and I feel I have never done something like this.
BOI: How would both of you describe Prakash Jha as an actor?
RB: That you have to ask the ‘director’ Prakash Jha. He was like a junior actor on sets, and we were like, ‘You might be a very big and a good director, but you are a junior actor on sets.’ And he agreed. (Laughs)
PJ: I was junior to you all and that’s why I agreed. I used to ask Manav to give me good guidance, but he would beat me with a hockey stick. (Laughs)
BOI: But what made you cast yourself in this role?
PJ: I am also wondering…
MK: When the first trailer was about to release I was very excited and I knew people across India, my friends, and my theatre friends would call me about it. So in a way I was waiting for the calls to come in and they did, but only to say, ‘Yaar, guru, Prakash Jha toh bahut sahi lag rahe hai yaar!’
BOI: Your films are never about only a hero and heroine; they are always about characters, people who stitch the story together. And you have always made such films and now we can see other makers also doing so. So as a filmmaker, what change do you see in the process of filmmaking? And because you have been making issue-based films, how do you manage to not repeat any of your characters or incidents?
PJ: For me, society as a whole is the biggest hero and you know what the most important visual element in my films is? It’s the dust. He (Manav) noticed it and pointed it out to me. But the fact is that ever since the beginning I never liked to have a very clean and crisp frame. So when we shoot an action sequence, I ask everyone to run around and once the dust starts rising, I start shooting. I don’t like clean frames. In Gangaajal, Ajay Devgn was not the quintessential hero, or not even the stereotypical hero as you see in Hindi cinema. I am not telling a man-woman story and when you pick up a social structure and try to dramatise it, it becomes very challenging. It takes me years to write a script.
Gangaajal was written 12 times, Jai GangaaJal was written 16 times, so the more you write, the more brainstorming it requires, more incidents and more stories come out. There is more assimilation of what you have heard, all that you have seen, all that you have experienced, all that is happening in society and then you keep on writing. That’s how it works.
MK: I always say his films are like a web, everything is interconnected; every character is connected to each other. Each and every character is so important in his films and everyone plays a very important part and creates the whole drama.
RB: (Cuts in) He has been making films ever since films like Mard and Coolie were being made – he made these kinds of films even then. Of course, times have changed and it is more relevant now. But at that time to come up with the kind of films he made must have been very difficult for him.
PJ: It’s difficult even now. I keep writing till I come up with fresh stories, fresh ideas. I keep writing with the thought that it should be able to engage the audience, it should be also entertaining in a way. For Gangaajal nobody comes to me and says, ‘I have seen Gangaajal.’ They always come and say, ‘Maine Gangaajal paanch baar dekhi, dus baar dekhi.’ So there is a competition going on among the viewers themselves. So obviously there is something which engages them. I don’t have violence in my films, I don’t have adult content in my films, I don’t have love songs in my films, it’s not that my hero jumps or cars go flying. All my characters are working in the realms of reality; they are common men whom you can relate to.
But what I think holds them is the comedy. You don’t realise it, but there is dark humour in my film. You don’t realise it, but situations and people around us are comic. So in Jai GangaaJal, why do they appoint Abha Mathur? The minister of the town realises they need a weak person. So the minister calls her and briefs her that I am appointing you in my territory, I will take care of you. He says, ‘Main aapko apne zile mein rakh raha hoon par aapko kuch karna nahin hai wahaan pe. Golden posting hai tumhare liye. You don’t have to do anything, just go and chill.’ So there is dark humour in the line where you are posting a police officer saying that the officer doesn’t have to do anything.
The first time that Abha comes to the town, the minister’s people are putting up posters because of which there is a traffic jam and her car gets stuck, so she walks right up to where they all are standing. She is in her civil clothes, so no one realises who she is. She asks a few people what is happening, but no one even answers her. Then she says, ‘Close this down’ – that’s when someone from the crowd comes and tells her, ‘Yahaan vidhayak Babloo Pandey ka kaam ho raha hai, koi rokta nahin hai, aap apna kaam kijiye’ and she says, ‘Main apna hi kaam kar rahi hoon.’ By then other officers notice her and realise she is the new police officer. Then Manav arrives and welcomes her with flowers. That’s when she asks him ‘Aapke party mein sab aise hi log kaam karte hain kya?’ and he says that the man on the light post who was putting up a poster is from his party and these people do whatever he asks them to do, be it killing someone or beating them up, they never argue and just do what has been asked of them. Then he says, ‘Politics mein aaj kal gentleman milte kahaan hain? Aapke jaisa naukri toh hain nahin ki ek baar IPS complete kar lo aur 35 years tak koi nahin hila payega. Yahaan har paanch saal mein kursi chhin jaati hai.’ So he might be a corrupt politician, but he is sincere in his work and keeps a straight face throughout.
Isn’t this comedy? A politician is saying to an IPS officer that the she has a cushy job. Isn’t that humour? Whatever is happening at JNU or Patiala House at this time, isn’t it all comic? So whatever is going around, I continuously look for stories in all the current social happenings and try to bring the reality out and that is what will engage you. You as an audience might not feel or see it initially, but I as a director connect the dots.
BOI: Manav, how did you prepare for the role?
MK: For this film I actually didn’t prepare myself. He has spent three years on this script. I was offered the film when he had written the 12th draft, so for three months we met regularly to discuss things. By the time he gave me the 16th draft, I was shocked. The entire script had a new touch, the way of writing had changed. I usually try to follow my director’s vision. And here I was spending time with Prakashji, so I somehow got into his vision as to how he is looking at my character. Before we started shooting he would brief us about the scenes and then he would ask us do it by ourselves. So he gives liberty to his actors; he does tell you the scene, but then he allows you to do it your way. I tried to interpret my character in my own way and tried to surprise him.
After giving my shot, I would look at him for some acknowledgement for having given a good shot, but by then he would have already moved on to do another scene. He never reacted to any of my scenes.
PJ: Tum apne shot mein khoye ho, par mujhe agla shot lena hai! (Laughs)
BOI: Now that the film is ready, Prakashji, how happy are you with Priyanka Chopra playing Abha Mathur? Were you surprised with the way she portrayed the character?
PJ: There is nothing surprising, because I deal with actors differently. If I am casting somebody, I am casting that actor for his qualities. I trust him as an actor and now for him to trust me as a director, I need to be prepared. All that I have gone through, all that I have imagined, all that I have researched or I have done for the character, all that is the past of that character, all that the character goes through – I have to deliver all these queries to the actor if he/she asks me. So I actually start working with actors months before we start shooting.
We do have sittings and workshops, even if an actor has a special appearance or two scenes in the film. It might be only two scenes, but a good actor leaves a good impression in those two scenes too. So we talk about the story and the background. It might only be a scene, but when you discuss it with your actor, he then starts thinking about it. Maybe it has happened with him or his friend, his father, or he has heard similar story. So then the actor connects the dots.
BOI: As you mentioned, you had written 16 drafts till you were satisfied with the final script. So do you go by the script, or do things change on sets too?
PJ: No, never. Whatever I have to change, I change before; on location nothing gets changed in my films. I would love to do workshops with actors before we start shooting, with all of them together for six to eight days, but when you work with big stars, their dates are usually gone. I always encourage my actors to ask as many questions as they can – Shabana Azmi used to ask me 100 questions every day. Madhuri Dixit is not used to asking questions, but I would encourage her to do so; I would have conversations with her, like which school has she studied in, where was the school, was it a private school or a government school… Basically there was no connection between what she was playing in my film and these questions, but I did it to create information subconsciously, so that while playing the role she would not have any doubts. And the actor should behave in a certain manner; I don’t know how the actor will behave. That’s what an actor brings to the sets on his own. I trust the actor, I have given him the information and the actor creates his own magic. All I do as a director is to block the scene technically and sort the technical rehearsals.
Priyanka is amazing, she gets into the skin of the character. I showed her references of the young IPS officers whom I had met, then I spoke to her and gave her feedback. So the actor will bring the mannerisms to the character with his own interpretation of what he has grasped from me. If I start directing on sets, all the actors will start behaving like me – which is what you see in many films, but I don’t work like that. Paise diye hain yaar tumko, tum karo acting!
BOI: The film has several songs, how did they fit in?
PJ: Yes, there are 12 songs. They were not there initially, but after editing the film I realised there was a different undercurrent, a subtext in the film. Like Manav is on trial in court, setting ho gayi hai, there is a conspiracy happening on how to get him out of jail. So how is that happening? And Abha Mathur tries to get him to jail, but he runs away. And she is running after him – it’s an easy kind of chase and he gets caught. But I thought instead of background music let’s use a song. So instead of dialogue there are songs: Purab tu bhaag jaaye, pashchim tu bhaag jaye, uttar tu bhaag le chhaan lenge aise jaise machhli ko jaal mein. Tetua daboch lenge ghus ke pataal mein. That goes on in the background. You know, once we started, we found some beautiful songs from Eastern India. So there are 12 songs in the film.