Wednesday, August 17, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Fwd: The challenge to Prakash Jha’s vision ( Sunday Guardian)


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Manju Rao <>
Date: Mon, Aug 8, 2011 at 5:27 PM
Subject: The challenge to Prakash Jha's vision ( Sunday Guardian)

The challenge to Prakash Jha's vision

Aarakshan is set to kick up great controversy upon its release this Friday. Minority groups argue Jha is biased, while he says he is an impartial observer.


ahi hoga, hans chugega daana ghun ka, kauwa moti khayega(the swan will pick the weevil, and the crow will eat pearl).

Prakash Jha has never been one to shy away from controversy. His latest film,Aarakshan, is no different — in fact it is almost certainly going to be his most controversial. The movie deals with one of the great dividers of modern Indian society: caste-based reservations in our colleges. The line quoted above is from the theatrical trailer that has been doing the rounds on television, and the inflammatory nature of this piece of dialogue — and many others — has not gone unnoticed.

No political party in the country has the power to reduce a single per cent of reservation, so who am I to do so? But yes, it has been 30 years since the Mandal Commission, and aarakshan is still dividing society  Prakash Jha

P.L. Punia, chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, has already called the movie an "anti-Dalit" film. "I've read about the film in newspapers, and some people came to me with complaints that the film could be prejudiced against the Dalit community," says Punia. "But my doubts were confirmed when I watched a discussion between Prakash Jha and Shiv Khera on a news channel. Jha said quite bluntly that he was against caste-based reservation in education, and that he would get rid of them if he could."

Saif Ali Khan (left) and Prateik Babbar in a still from Aarakshan

But Jha, a multiple National Award winning filmmaker, is adamant that he has never made such a statement. "I have never discussed my stand on reservation; it is impossible to be on one side on such a divisive issue. As a filmmaker, I see myself as an observer of society and its trends. I'm not here to make judgements. I have just tried to present the entirety of the facts in this film. Questions, if any, will emerge over time, in the rightful manner. My support or lack of support for reservation is irrelevant. It is here to stay and we have to adjust to it. No political party in the country has the power to reduce a single per cent of reservation, so who am I to do so? But yes, it has been 30 years since the Mandal Commission, and aarakshan is still dividing society."

Although Jha denies being against reservations, he does believe that caste-based reservation has paved the way for the commercialisation of education. "Reservation in government institutes like IIM, IIT and medical colleges has led to a decrease in the number of seats in colleges. This, in turn, has increased competition. Some saw this as an opportunity and it encouraged a parallel system of education to develop. The number of coaching centres is on the rise all over India and capitation institutes are flourishing; in fact, some of our politicians are even running their own colleges. Every year, when the cut-off percentages in colleges increase, this question comes up. The rich can go to private institutes or buy a degree, but there is no government subsidy or policy for those who are meritorious but cannot afford to go elsewhere," Jha says.

But Punia is not the sole opponent to Jha's take on this matter. Anoop Kumar, a Dalit students' activist who started the Insight India Foundation, says, "I haven't watched the film's trailers, but Jha has been making a number of irresponsible and apathetic comments in the media which I have read and heard. He recently said that casteism is because of reservation, whereas it is the other way round; reservation is because of casteism. If what Jha said is true and reservation is only limited to colleges, then why do Dalit students commit suicide, why are Dalit women raped in villages and why are Dalits harassed by upper castes?"

Kumar, who has made a series of startling, moving documentaries on Dalit student suicides in India's premier education institutions, says, "Reservation has given representation to the suppressed, an opportunity to the deprived and has broken the monopoly of casteism. But I'm sure Jha will not deal with these complexities in the film. He will only skim the surface of reservation as a topic; it will be a one-sided story and not the complete truth."

Anjum Rajabali, the film's scriptwriter, is amused by these allegations. "Those accusing the film of having an anti-Dalit or anti-anything bias haven't seen the film yet. Aarakshan has a humanist bias, it is biased towards improving education, it is biased towards being fair," he says.

he film stars Amitabh Bachchan as a college principal with strong ideals, torn between the supporters and non-supporters of reservation. Saif Ali Khan plays a Dalit in love with Deepika Padukone, who plays Bachchan's daughter. Prateik Babbar belongs to an upper-class family, while Manoj Bajpayee is the college's vice-principal, an opponent of reservation who also runs a coaching centre. Rajabali says, "The script includes a range of characters who reflect a wide spectrum of perspectives on the reservation issue."

(L-R) Prateik Babbar, Saif Ali Khan, Prakash Jha and Deepika Padukone on the sets of the film

This is not Jha's first political film; he has also made films like Rajneeti (2010), Apharan(2005) and Gangaajal (2003). Apharan is set against the backdrop of the kidnapping "industry" in Bihar, while Gangaajal, again set in Jha's home state of Bihar, examines the relationship between crime and politics.

But while the filmmaker refutes allegations of being biased in Aarakshan, this is not the first of Jha's films to attract controversy — it is a matter of record that of the villains in his films come from the marginalised communities of India, Muslims, Dalits, and other minorities. "Aarakshan has not yet released, so I cannot comment on what the film will be, but Jha does not have a great track record when it comes to dealing with SC/ST/OBC or minorities in his films," says Dilip Mandal, the author of books like Jatwar Janaganana (Caste Census), Jatiwar Janaganana Ki Chunautiyan (Caste Census and its Challenges) and Media Ka Underworld (Paid News). "The villain in Apharan was Tabrez Alam, a Muslim, whileGangaajal had Sadhu Yadav, a Scheduled Caste. Jha has deliberately taken the political combination of Lalu Prasad Yadav (Muslims and Yadavs). He tends to show Dalits and OBCs in a bad light in his political films and I wouldn't be surprised if he does it again."

"Films are a strong and influential medium. Millions, regardless of their background, watch these films, and history has seen this medium trigger political movements in Latin America and Europe. Considering the sensitivity of this issue, it could have a really harmful effect on college campuses in India, where students from SC/ST and OBC already face harassment and are looked down upon. It is important that the film is carefully reviewed by the Scheduled Caste Commission before its release," Mandal says.

But filmmaker Pankaj Butalia disagrees. "Political films cannot bring about such big changes in society, probably small changes in the long run, but they cannot suddenly change the mindset of the person watching it. If a Dalit supporter watches an anti-Dalit film, he will react, if someone who resents Dalits watches it, he will accept it. That's it. Bringing about political change through film is a slow process. If you watch certain kinds of political films for years or read a lot of political books, you will start accepting the change. But one film cannot change you."

Punia said he wanted to watch the movie before its release, but was denied permission. The Film Certification Board gave Aarakshan a Universal certificate with no cuts. "We wanted to watch the film and not come in the way of the Board. A summons has been issued to the chairman of the board; they approved it without showing it to us. We will watch the film on 8 August and if we find any derogatory scenes, we will ask for their deletion. If the whole film is objectionable, we plan to take serious action, even if it means stopping the film from being released." However, a Censor Board official, who refused to be identified, said only the Board can decide on such issues.

Despite the controversy, Jha is not worried. "Such protests have happened in the past too, sometimes after the release, but the final call is that of the Censor Board. Since they have passed the film, I am not scared."

Guardian 20 also discovered that Anjum Rajabali (the scriptwriter) is a member of the Censor Board, although he claims not to have any say in the process surrounding the film's release. "Members of the Film Certification Board have a responsibility to be sensitive. One has to be careful to ensure they are objective about the films being considered. I could have had no part in the Board's interaction with Aarakshan as I am an involved party. I distanced myself entirely when the board was reviewing Aarakshan," Rajabali clarifies.

Punia ends by saying he has no problem with Jha making films on sensitive topics. "Why doesn't he make a film on the SC/ST and OBC in Karnataka, who are not allowed into temples, or even about Tamil Nadu, where there are separate utensils for people belonging to lower castes? If he makes films on these issues, we would appreciate it more." As it stands, the much-debated film has been certified and will release on its decided date — next Friday, 12 August. Until then, this is a fire that will continue to rage.

"Rosa sat so Martin could walk; Martin walked so Obama could run, Obama ran so your children can fly"

with regards
(Helpline Coordinator)
Insight Foundation
125th 1st Floor Shapurjat,
Near Asian Games Village
Khelgaon, New Delhi- 49
011- 46695837
Dalit and Adivasi Students Helpline No - 09999 48 42 49 ( Mon - Fri, 10 am to 5 pm)

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