Prakash Jha: Cinema is politics for me


Prakash Jha doesn’t talk to pontificate, like pseudo-intellectuals who want to give the right sound bytes. Rather his words bite. To those un-immunised to his mutinous cinema. One that is raw, sordid and ‘bloody’ real. He tells the truth through his stories. In his style. Torn tapestry and all; rustic and starkly Indian. Prakash Jha, the 10-time National Award-winning filmmaker is a masterclass at vacuuming the gloss, yet, making the fabric of his movies shine. In his office as earthy as his films, he tells us about the upcoming ‘Jai GangaalJal,’ and how he is confused about what Hindi cinema really represents. His phone rings, and a film distributor at the other end asks him if his movie has an item number. He says, “Main film mein acting bhi kar raha hoon, main hi item number kar deta hoon.” It sets the tone of our conversation…
What urged you to revisit the drama on the relationship between the police and society?
It was a dramatic requirement. I revisited the ‘Gangaajal’ territory again after 10 years because I know that society is changing and the political-social strings which hold it together, are undergoing a drastic movement. I was on a flight to Raipur, and coincidentally, the man sitting next to me was an illustrious cop from the Maharashtra cadet who I’ve known for years. During our conversation, I learnt that he has moved on from an active police position, to the vigilance department of a government financial institution. I was curious to know the reason for this change. He turned to me and said, ‘Hindustan mein ab policing nahin rahi. Nowadays, the police acts if somebody wants it to act, and stops if someone wants it to stop.’ He told me that today if an honest cop wants to get hold of a gunda, in spite of knowing the truth, he can’t arrest him. The moment he does that, more trouble ensues; from politicians and activists, to people in positions of power step in and the matter gets diffused. In the police department…kuch karo toh maare jao, na karo toh maare jao. When I made ‘Gangaajal’ (2003) the dictum was that every society gets the police it deserves. Today, according to me the dictum is efficiency is crime, inaction is virtue. And no, this film has no scope or space for an item number (laughs).
Do you think people react differently when a woman in uniform is in power?
We are at a time when everyone is talking about women’s empowerment, and a society in which women are leading the way. Khaki is considered to be mardaana. In the police force, female cops wear the same uniform. In this film, Priyanka Chopra mardaana naukri mein aake bigde hue mardaano ko motivate karti hai. She is tough as nails, but at the same time she doesn’t lose her femininity, or use a single cuss word. I don’t know if people are aware, but female police officers are always addressed as ‘sir’ by constables. They are never called madam. Sometimes, they are even called ‘Madam-sir’. In the film, my character also refers to her like that.
You are making your acting debut in ‘Jai GangaaJal.’ How was it switching between roles — of a director and an actor?
Ever since I made ‘Raajneeti’ (2010), I have been thinking that I needed more to keep myself interested and challenged. I have been preparing actors for years, so I am well versed with the process. Even while I am acting, the director in me never shuts down. I could be in front of the camera and shooting the most difficult scene, but I give the call for action, enact my scene and say, ‘cut’. I am aware of all that’s happening in between and everything that the camera is seeing. Also, I don’t like directing on set, I never tell my actors how to play out their parts. I focus on how the scene is being blocked and shot. Direction to me is like driving a car. You don’t have to prep to drive; it is a natural, automatic process. Once I was shooting an intense scene with Priyanka, I said ‘cut’ and asked her if the shot was okay. She looked at me and said, ‘It’s your job to look at my shot, not my job to look at yours.’ (laughs)
Prakash Jha’s ‘Jai GangaaJal’ has a strong supporting cast
Politics never ceases to intrigue you…
Yes, it is in my blood. I am Bihari, no. We, Biharis, are genetically manufactured for politics. We think politics, we talk politics. Even a Bihari rickshawallah can talk about Barack Obama. Personally, I am interested in observing and connecting facts about what’s happening in our society, and then assimilating that information to make stories. I never have a story ready, it happens while I start writing what I have observed and emotionally connecting with it.
In the past, you have contested Lok Sabha polls from Bihar. Any political aspirations, now?
None! Cinema is politics for me. The moment you get into human relationships, there is politics. When I see a relationship between a man and a woman — there is an undercurrent of politics. If we want to do anything with human management, there is politics involved. Even managing your own self is politics. In our life, there are days we are truthful, days when we are tactful. Politics is a part of our everyday life.