Prakash Jha has been making thought-provoking films since 1974, completing over 25 documentaries, five features, along with numerous television projects.
His feature films include the award-winning Damul (1984), Hip Hip Hurray (1984), Parinati (1986), Bandish (1996), Mrityudand (1997), Dil Kya Kare (1999) and Rahul (2001). His documentaries include Pas de Deux (1981), the award-winning Faces After Storm (1982), Shree Vats (1982), May I Thank Sir (1983), Parampara (1986), Ek Aur Itihaas (1987) and Ek Abihbyakti (1988).
He is now directing Gangaajal -- The Holy Weapon. The film stars Ajay Devgan, Gracy Singh, Mohan Joshi, Mohan Agashe, Mukesh Tiwari, Yashpal Sharma, Ayub Khan and Anita Kanwal.
For the record, the film has 87 characters. In a start-to-finish hectic schedule at Wai and Satara, Jha took some time off to speak to Vickey Lalwani:
When and how did Gangaajal -- The Holy Weapon happen?
I have been living with the idea for a while. Although it is a socio-political drama, its core has a Hamlet-like dilemma of a cop who suddenly realises the enormity of issues at stake.
There are no easy solutions or recourse. He is caught in the crossfire between right and wrong. What may be right socially may not be right morally. This state of being of an individual in a volatile social landscape excited me as a filmmaker.
Why the name Gangaajal -- The Holy Weapon?
It is a metaphor signifying the act of cleansing. The title does not signify anything mythic but something astonishing, stark and powerful. One will have to see my film to understand this symbolism.
What is the film about?
It is a dramatic journey of an individual into the collective consciousness of society. It eventually becomes an intense meditation on the mechanics of crime and punishment.
Set in the small town of Tejpur touched by the Ganga, the film is not restricted to the issue of cleansing the system. It seeks to take matters beyond. It arrives at a bigger, broader dilemma, one that grips the soul of the protagonist, questions his logic and puts him in a scenario where he has to determine his heroism.
The film is said to be based on the infamous Bhagalpur blindings.
No, it is not about the Bhagalpur blindings. There are blindings [in the movie], but they form a small part of the story and are used more as a narrative ploy than anything else.
What effect did the Bhagalpur blindings have on you as a person?
You want me to say the film is based on the Bhagalpur blindings, but I am not falling in your trap, simply because your allegation is wrong. Anyway, the Bhagalpur blindings were shocking, no doubt.
Why shoot in Wai and Satara?
My story is set in a bustling township, a vibrant human settlement in the heartland of India. Wai and Satara fit the bill. Since they are close to Mumbai, it is convenient [for me]. I find a lot of cooperation from the locals. I am utilising a lot of local help in my shooting. I am surprised at the talent present. I have taken some local actors.
Why did you cast Ajay Devgan and Gracy Singh in the lead? Did they easily consent?
It is an unusual pair alright, but the choice of hero, heroine and every other artiste has purely emerged from the script. I am extremely convinced about the pair. Both were very excited after listening to the script. There was instant acceptance. Ajay is a volcano of talent; Gracy's potential has not been tapped.
Who else did you have in mind if either or both had refused?
One thinks about the second string only when there is some problem in getting the first choice. Thankfully, that situation didn't arise.
What is the estimated budget?
It is a large scale drama. We will not spare any expense to give the script what it demands. Production values will be extremely high.
It is a co-production between Entertainment One [Ardh Satya producer Manmohan Shetty's new production company] and Prakash Jha Productions. The estimated budget is in excess of Rs 100 million.
Where will you shoot as the movie rolls along?
The entire movie will be shot at different locations in Satara district, Wai and Panchgani.
Why 87 characters?
There is an ensemble of characters which collectively make up the atmosphere. This chorus of characters is from where the drama of the script stems from.
Eighty seven characters. Won't some get lost?
Writing a script means orchestrating the characters. I have done justice to this requirement. In the script, each character emboldens the other rather than weakening him. That is because of a very tight dramatic design. There were so many characters in Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding as well, but did anybody get lost?
When do you plan to release the film?
God willing, I will complete shooting by March and release it by July.