Thursday, August 11, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Q&A: Prakash Jha on ‘Aarakshan’

August 11, 2011, 11:46 AM IST

Q&A: Prakash Jha on 'Aarakshan'

By Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

Prakash Jha's latest movie "Aarakshan," which tackles affirmative
action in India's universities, releases on August 12.

The build-up to the release has seen plenty of controversy, after some
groups suggested the film was biased against Dalits, as members of
India's most discriminated caste groups are known. The state of Uttar
Pradesh, which is run by the Bahujan Samaj Party, which has a Dalit
support base, said late Wednesday that it won't allow the film to
screen there on the grounds that it could cause social unrest. The
state of Punjab also followed suit on Thursday, news channel NDTV
reported. Mr. Jha did not immediately comment on the developments when
reached on Thursday.

Courtesy Prakash Jha Productions
Prakash Jha's latest movie 'Aarakshan' tackles affirmative action
in India's universities.

India has always reserved state-run university seats for
underprivileged groups like Dalits. The film focuses on the dramatic
expansion of these "reservations" to other caste groups in recent

Mr. Jha spoke last month to India Real Time about his reasons for
taking on this issue and his evolution as a director. Edited excerpts.

IRT: What are your thoughts on the state of higher education in India today?

Mr. Jha: There's a parallel mafia of education running now. Many
ministers – in every state – have large stakes in colleges and
universities. When the number of seats [open to general candidates]
got reduced, competition increased and coaching institutes flourished.
There are so many colleges where you can simply pay and get a seat.
This caste-based reservation policy has created another caste
structure – those who have the money can get degrees.

Over the last 20 years, there's also been a stupendous rise in the
demand for managers and engineers. Hardly anyone in India wants to
study pure science, literature or history. Everyone wants to be an
engineer, or doctor or manager.

You'll see thousands of small towns inundated with management
institutes. We recently started a TV channel in Patna in Bihar and
during the hiring process we saw that every applicant had a management
degree, mostly from unrecognized institutes. Education in India is one
of the fastest growing businesses but it's also a big bubble.

IRT: When did you get the idea for 'Aarakshan'? Is it based on a true story?

Mr. Jha: I thought of the story around seven years ago. The characters
are loosely based on several real-life characters. We've all come
across these characters – I've had teachers who never bothered about
money. They would teach underprivileged students until the early hours
of the morning without expecting anything in return. I've tried to
highlight that aspect here.

What interests me is the societal changes that follow any kind of
government policy. Ever since the Mandal Commission report, the issue
of reservation keeps coming up. I've been taking note of the changes
in the education system because of this policy. [The Mandal Commission
recommended in the late 1980s that India expand educational
affirmative action—IRT]

'Aarakshan' is about a very principled and compassionate character
who's the principal of a private college where there's no reservation
policy. I narrated the story to Amitabh Bachchan [who plays that
character] quite a few years ago and he liked it.

IRT: In your early years as a director you worked with unheralded
actors. Recently you're casting glamorous ones like Katrina Kaif, Saif
Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone. Are you trying to make more glossy

Mr. Jha: It's the market. Eventually the market will drive society and
the market will drive Prakash Jha. When your films are accepted and
your popularity gets established, big actors want to work in films
that are different from the normal kind of films they do.

When you have the opportunity to have big actors working for you,
there's a larger-than-life aspect to the film. People often don't want
to see glamorous actors doing roles that are stark and realistic.

Also, I think I've evolved as a director.I'm working on subjects that
are definitely pan-Indian in nature. 'Rajneeti' [his last film] and
'Aarakshan' are about topics that have wide social implications.

IRT: Your films are known for their coarse Hindi that's largely spoken
in the north Indian heartland. Have you had to sacrifice that aspect

Mr. Jha: Every story needs to be set in a geographic location. Many of
my films were set in Bihar and are about local issues. But 'Rajneeti,'
'Aarakshan' are more pan-Indian. So the language can't be the same.

Also actors find it a little difficult to speak in that textured
Hindi. They need more rehearsals. Mr. Bachchan is really good with the
language – he enjoyed doing this movie. Saif had a little initial
problem but he worked extremely hard.

IRT: You entered politics a few years ago. What do you say to people
who say your movies are driven by a political agenda?

Mr. Jha: I don't think I'm a politician. I stood in an election in my
home state only because I felt the ruling MPs were not doing their job
properly. They don't align their constituencies and don't manage their
time and resources. I designated only 10 years of my life – from 50 to
60 – to try and enter the political system. I didn't get elected. So
that was that. Beyond 60, I have a whole lot of other things planned.
[Mr. Jha turned 59 earlier this year – IRT]

– Tripti Lahiri contributed to this post.


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