Friday, June 17, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Cast in a different mould!

June 16, 2011
Cast in a different mould!
Anuj Kumar

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

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

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


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