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Prakash Jha: No freedom to make political movies in this country

Veteran filmmaker Prakash Jha who has made socio-political movies like ‘Gangajal’, ‘Apaharan’ and ‘Raajniti’ opines that it is not easy to make political movies in a country like India as there is no freedom of expression. He said: “These movies are about politics and not political films. We don’t really make political cinema in India at all. People who have ideological fertile minds, don’t use cinema for communication. Pure political cinema which has freedom to say what you want to say, this is not the country to do that. There are historical, mythological and real reasons for that. If you try and name someone with whose sub-title a community associates, they will kill you. I keep facing it all the time at the time of my film release. In this country as far as cinema, literature and culture is concerned, there is no freedom of expression.” Jha was speaking at an interaction with writer-filmmaker Neeraj Ghaywan on Friday at Black Box, Kala Academy, at the ongoing 47th IFFI. The interaction was anchored by film critic, Sachin Chatte.
He also stated that he is not a flag bearer and just wants to tell a story through his cinema. For him cinema is a means of communication.
Jha while speaking about his journey towards becoming a filmmaker philosophically stated that he doesn’t know if his journey has begun yet. Jha who hails from Bihar mentioned that he ran away from college to go to Mumbai and learn art. Also to survive in Mumbai he did all kinds of jobs. At that point of time he met art director of the famous Mughal-E-Azam film, Aga Jani. “At that time I didn’t know anything about art directors. He then took me on the set of the movie ‘Dharma’ by Chaand. I watched the shooting without moving and at that time only I decided to make movies. With the help of Aga Jani I approached Chaand and worked as an assistant for him. I was his 13th assistant,” said Jha while speaking about his journey.
Jha then joined FTII, Pune in the film editing department and started making documentaries. His first documentary was interestingly based on Goa. “My first documentary was based on Goa. It was in the year 1975 and I met the then chief minister Shashikala Kakodkar. It was about the tourism of Goa,” he said.
Jha’s first feature film was ‘Damul’ for which he even won the National Award. “It was based on the story called ‘Kaalsutra’ and it spoke about the feudal system which I was aware about. It was funded by NFDC. After that my other movie ‘Parinati’ was also funded by NFDC,” said Jha. He further elaborated on how he had to struggle to release his movie, ‘Damul’ on Doordarshan even after winning the National Award.
Jha came into the limelight with his movie, ‘Mrityudand’ (1997) that starred Madhuri Dixit. Interestingly, he had no idea of signing her for this movie. “Actually, I had already signed Pallavi Joshi for this role. But at that time I met filmmaker Subhash Ghai, who heard my story and told me to cast Madhuri Dixit,” said Jha. He initially thought she would not do the role, but she readily said yes after listening to the story. He, however, confessed that he then re-wrote the script from market point of view and was criticised as having been sold to commercial cinema. But, according to him he had to make that choice if he had to survive as they were no takers for cinema considered as ‘art cinema.’ “I had to tell my stories in a language which would be understood by common people. If I can engage the mind of an audience for two hours then I’ve got it. The best promoter of films is audience. You have to keep them in the realm of believability,” said Jha.

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