Eminent director Prakash Jha has created a niche for himself in Hindi cinema, with films on varied issues that have strong storylines. In Jha’s films, politics, policemen, gangsters, and corruption play important roles; yet his stories are emotional and are equally appealing to the general audience and to critics.
Apart from directing and writing his own strong social narratives, Jha also demonstrated his acting calibre in films like Jai Gangaajal and Saand Ki Aankh.
After his debut in 1984 with Hip Hip Hurray, he never looked back, and his films like Daamul, Gangaajal, Aarakshan, and Chakravyuh have been lapped up by film buffs. His recent offerings, Pareeksha and Ashram, a web series starring Bobby Deol, have strong emotional narratives too.
QPareeksha charts the hardships of life and class divide in education, a theme different from what you have dealt with so far. What was your inspiration?
The film is about the present time and how the education system is divided and not everyone gets equal opportunities.
The story is about a rickshaw puller who is working hard for his kids’ education. I know that rickshaw puller from Ranchi in Jharkhand, who ferries kids from bungalows and cannot have his own son sit beside the other kids in his own rickshaw. This is the reality of India.
At some point, he thinks that he can’t put his kids in the same situation, and struggles to educate them. And after meeting this rickshaw puller and his kids and talking to them, I saw so many things around, which inspired this film.
Throughout your career, you have chosen topics which not many would feel comfortable with. What made you take the risk?
I am not trying to bring about a huge social reform. I use my art to tell stories. When I find a story which should be told, I find a way to tell it. I don’t try to think on global terms, I just want to engage my audience with a story. I just tell a simple story.
Ever since you made your debut in the Hindi cinema as a director, most of your films have ended up attracting controversies even before their release. Do you feel threatened?
That happens only before the film has released. None of my films caused a controversy after release. That is because of the misunderstanding of the people, and you can’t do anything about it. If I have a story, I will tell it my way.
We have observed that you are not vocal at public appearances or on social media, unlike many of your contemporaries in the field. But your films are pretty vocal. Is the distinction intentional?
I think this is the way I prefer. If I have something to say, I will tell it through a story. What else can you do? When there are so many things going on around the world and people are debating, discussing and talking out of line, you have to control yourself. You can’t control others, only yourself; and that’s my way. I prefer staying calm.
It is being assumed that Ashram is based on the life of godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, a convicted rapist and murderer and of Asaram Bapu, charged with raping minor. What do you have to say about this?
This story was brought to me by MX Player (OTT platform) and it is about how the common man puts his faith in anyone who can easily influence him. I am a Hindu and I do puja every day and follow my religion and love all the religions.
But in this country, there are people who have exploited people who have placed their faith in them. This is the story of a criminal who is revered as a Baba.
It is not based on any person or a particular religion. It’s a fictitious story about people and their ideals which lead to their exploitation. We even released a disclaimer before the trailer was released, saying we respect our country and it is a pleasure to live in a country which has many religions, a vast culture, and spiritualism.
Once it is released, people will understand that it’s not about any religion or particular individual. There is not a single reference to a religion, colour, a statue, a god or anything.
You have been thriving as a director, writer, producer and actor. How do you see your film journey so far?
I live every day and enjoy every day. Every film is a first film for me. I consider every day of shooting as the first day of my debut film. In fact, some of my friends have told me that Pareeksha is like my first film.
I feel it is like that, because I am excited every day of writing, making films, and shooting. I am excited every day by new things in life.
QFor the last couple of months there has been a debate on the insider-outsider issue and movie mafias in the industry. Do you think they exist?
I haven’t met any mafia or gang in all these years. I work from my office and with people I want to work with, and I have not come across any movie mafia personally. You work hard and you grow, it’s that simple.
Does the Indian film industry stand by someone who needs support, especially when it comes to young actors and outsiders?
I don’t even know if there is any challenge in the industry.