Actors Sanjay Suri, Tannishtha Chatterjee and director Brahmanand S Siingh talk to Manisha Karki about their upcoming film Jhalki, how it sets out to evoke several emotions in the audience and working with children
How did the story of Jhalki come about?
Brahmanand S Siingh (BSS): We were aware of this human trafficking and child labour scenario and a lot of work that Mr Kailash Satyarthi was doing and that’s when we thought that a film on this subject will go a long way to propagate awareness and help to address the cause. So that was when Prakash Jha and I wrote this story together. Then there were several ups and downs before we finally made the film. We shot it at the most authentic places where several corporate factories exist. Sanjay Suri and Tannishtha Chatterjee feature in the film but it is essentially the story of a 9-year-old girl’s search for her 7-year-old brother against the backdrop of human trafficking and child labour.
What was it about the story that caught your attention?
BSS: I would say any story that touches people makes a lot of things change and creates awareness. If you know how to tell a story and if you are a filmmaker, you have a huge medium at your disposal. So that was probably the trail. I have done another film and I have made documentaries before this. This is the first feature film but it was just a coincidence that it happened now. It could have happened earlier. (Laughs) I see it as an opportunity to tell a story to create awareness, manifest some change and impact society.
Tannishtha Chatterjee (TC): The script caught my attention. I wanted to be part of the film because I like Brahmanand›s work and for all the people associated with the film.
What can you tell us about your characters?
TC: I play a journalist in the film and she is instrumental. She facilitates things for Jhalki who is the protagonist, a 9-year old girl. You know her journey is of her search of her brother, so my character helps her search for him and then she also exposes the people who are behind this nexus. My character has a very strong presence. It’s a key character because it makes the journey of the protagonist easier.
Sanjay Suri (SS): My character comes at a point where this young girl who is looking for her brother who is a victim of child trafficking and child labour. I play the DC of my area and he has the power, so this girl comes to him seeking help. This character is shown as extremely busy and cynical about things but due to the workload and the world he lives in, he doesn’t really connect with human emotions immediately. But at the same time, he means well. So yes, he has shades of grey.
How did you auditon the kids?
BSS: We required a certain language in the film- an amalgamation of Bihari-Bhojpuri. So we tried to send our casting director into that zone where we have someone who has the ability to speak the language naturally, so that we could concentrate on the acting. But if we got someone with good acting quality, then we would concentrate on the language delivery. So here we shortlisted over 100 or 150 kids in the first round. Then we went on and on and then finally zeroed in on the one who got selected to play Jhalki. She was discovered in a park, from an NGO. We discovered that she has the fire, the poise and she has the ability to sustain. These were the factors that we were looking for in our Jhalki and that’s how she got selected. She has done a wonderful job.
Tannishtha and Sanjay, working with kids can prove to be quite a task, how difficult was it for you?
TC: I think the kids are so delightful, they are so natural and their innocence and their raw energy give so much to adults. I feel we learn from them because they are also unpredictable. (Laughs) Since Brahmanand comes from documentary background, he has captured the moments so well. When the boy recognises his sister is just a moment, but his expression is captured so effectively and it is so real that your heart goes out to him.
SS: The more time you spend in this profession, the more you can second guess your reactions. But with kids you can’t; they can bring something so fresh that you have to be very observant, very alert to go with the flow and that enhances a scene. They pick up very fast and they bring their own moments but of course, you need a patient director.
When you make a film with a strong message, how do you connect to the sensibility of the audience?
BSS: You have to have a good story and that connects with people. If you tell a story well it always connects whether you are telling it to your child at bedtime or you are telling it through a film. But how you are telling that story is always a dilemma; what works, what does not work is based on several factors. When you work at this scale, it should connect so that the film becomes a film about awareness, inspiration, courage and power. So I think it works at various levels. This is not an indulgent art film; it is simple enough for anybody to understand.