(This interview with filmmaker Prakash Jha was published in DNA edition dated July 3, 2010.)
Film-maker Prakash Jha wears his politics on his sleeve, although he’ll tell you that his primary dharma is to narrate well-packaged entertaining stories. In Hong Kong for the premier of his latest film Rajneeti and a charity event hosted by Jade Group International to raise money for an NGO he runs in Bihar, Jha sat down with DNA’s Venky Vembu and talked of his fascination with politics, the Maoist insurgency, and the need for “all good people” to enter politics. Excerpts:
As a director if an intensely political film, how difficult was it for you to subject yourself to extra-administrative ‘censor’ authorities, particularly political parties?
This is the society I’m making a film about; it’s a society that still needs to find its roots. This is what our democracy is about: it’s still developing, but at another level, it is thriving. We haven’t fully attained those levels of freedom, or a transparent system.
Other films too faced problems: My Name Is Khan faced trouble from Shiv Sainiks. These parties try to whip up sentiments, but it doesn’t work. I try and detach myself from all that drama because this is a process we have to go through.
You’re not only an observer of politics; you contested two parliamentary elections in 2004 and 2009, and lost. Do you feel your understanding of politics is inadequate?
Firstly, I am not a politician. I contested elections only because I believe that people who can think right and who understand social dynamics should not be afraid of getting into politics. You need good people to come into politics, so long as they can make a difference in any way – by being a successful entrepreneur or even a film-maker. Politics and democracy have to be taken seriously and nurtured. But I have decided that I will not contest elections any more.
Are you giving up because politics doesn’t have the space for people like you?
I’m not giving up: I will contribute in other ways. I would like to go to campuses and universities and engage students and young people, and generally raise political awareness.
It’s true that I wasn’t elected, but I made a brave attempt, and very nearly won: that’s a ‘near-victory’ I savour. In any case, there will be other, younger people. By the time of the next elections, I will be 62 years of age, and there are other things I want to do – like learn to play the piano and learn to fly!
Active political life requires a certain amount of dedication, focus and time. If I had won in 2004 or 2009, my film-making would have taken a back seat, and I would have devoted 26 hours a day to politics. But now, my film-making will continue.
You’re involved with a charity, but doesn’t the ‘charity model’ itself represent a failure of governance?
I don’t look at this as charity, I think of it as my duty. Whether I’m a businessman, or an economist, or whoever, I have to support things beyond the public realm. That’s because public investments alone are never going to be adequate: they may create the infrastructure for growth, but real growth has to come from the private sector. It’s my way of taking responsibility.
The biggest socio-economic-political issue in India today is perhaps the Maoist insurgency. Is that a theme you’ll explore in a future film?
I’ve been studying it for a long time, but I need to get some real answers. It’s not an issue that lends itself to easy solutions.
But what do your political instincts as a social observer tell you?
When you have centuries of subjection, and when growth is not inclusive, you will face these social problems. I remember a passionate discussion that happened when the Mandal Commission recommendations on caste-based reservations were accepted in 1989. Students from upper castes were committing self-immolation, saying they were losing out on opportunities they deserved on merit. Backward class students said they were ready to fight on merit, provided they upper caste students would live in a basti, take a brook and clean the streets. So, without equality of opportunity, what’s the point of talking of merit?
Just look at the extremes in our society. Mukesh Ambani builds a 20-floor house just for himself. What does he sleep on? What does he eat? What does he think when he gifts his wife a plane on her birthday?
Are you suggesting that a high-visibility high-life is…
It’s wrong! These stories go to the Maoist areas. There has to be some moderation. It’s okay for you to have what you earn: I too want to live a comfortable life, and if you work hard, you need to eat well and sleep well. But, bloody hell, share it! Go there, create opportunities. Do something! Kya leke aaye hain? Kya leke jayega, yaar? (What have you brought with you, and what will you take with you?)
Today, if the nation adopts the whole Maoist area, the problem will go away. Those people there will feel that there’s someone who cares. Instead, you send your police, then your army…
You sound like Arundhati Roy!
Some of what she says is a little extreme, like justifying violence and so on. But some of what she says is right, just as some of what P. Chidambaram says too is right.
But my point is that it’s time for not only the government but also for citizens to understand that this is a human problem, a calamity, and that we have to come together and contribute in whatever manner we can.