A graduate from the National School of Drama, Sanjay Jha worked as an assistant with several filmmakers like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Milan Luthria, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Mahesh Bhatt and Tanuja Chandra.
Then he met director Mahesh Manjrekar who asked Jha to direct his script, Pran Jaaye Par Shaan Na Jaaye.
The film previously titled Pran Jaaye Par Chawl Na Jaaye, is expected to hit the screens on April 25.
The debutant director tells Vickey Lalwani the experience of directing an ensemble cast of Raveena Tandon, Namrata Shirodkar, Diya Mirza, Divya Dutta, Rinke Khanna, Shweta Menon, Mahesh Manjrekar and Sushmita Sen.
How didPran Jaaye Par Shaan Na Jaaye happen?
I passed out from the National School of Drama. I always wanted to be a director. During my stint as an associate director, I met Mahesh Manjrekar. I never dreamt that he would give me a chance. It needs guts to pick up a newcomer and not only put your money behind him but also give him the reins.
What is PJPSNJ all about?
It is about 49 families who live in a chawl and go through life's struggles and happiness. Love, life, anger, joys, sorrow, togetherness are all what these families face under this one roof. The film mainly focuses on the specific lives of those women who struggle in this chawl.
Divya Dutta plays a woman whose husband is a jobless alcoholic. Shweta Menon's character works night and day only to come home and face abuse. Rinke Khanna plays the strong one even though her family is ridden with troubles. Diya Mirza and Namrata Shirodkar play women in bad relationships. Raveena Tandon plays the leader of these oppressed women. Apart from the unpredictable occurrences in their daily lives, these families have to guard their chawl from a powerful man who is keen on turn it into a skyscraper.
Who wrote the script?
[Mahesh] Manjrekar. Even the story idea was his brainchild. He has lived in a chawl and he knows. I still live in a chawl at Mahakali, Andheri [a suburb of Mumbai].
Your film boasts of an unconventional cast.
My producer [Manjrekar] and I wanted to do something unusual and realistic. Enough of illusions in cinema. My producer gave me the liberty of choosing my actors as per my characterisation. He clearly told me that I should not compromise. I could take anyone [actor] I desired. Having worked as an assistant director, I knew their [the actors'] acting potential. I went for them because each one fitted her role to the T.
I was not under the pressure of any distributor who wanted some scenes to be added or subtracted or some heavyweights to be taken. PJPSNJ is just what I wanted.
The look of the film is realistic to the core. I have made PJPSNJ for critical acclaim and not essentially box-office
We have heard that some of the actresses worked free for your film...
[Interrupting] Not some but all these girls worked free of cost. They were so impressed by the subject. They were sensitive enough to understand that we were making a film on some harsh realities of life.
Did you notice any rivalry between the actresses on the sets?
Each one wanted to outdo the other in acting. *Laughs*
How long did it take to complete the film? Where did you shoot?
We shot for only 29 days and completed the film. We began shooting in March 2002. A chawl set had been constructed at Kamalistan Studio. The entire shooting took place in Kamalistan.
Did you make your actors do any homework or did they just get into it sans make-up?
I do not believe in acting at the spur of the moment. I had many brainstorming sessions with the cast. Only when I was convinced that each of them had got into the skin of his/her character did I set the ball rolling.
What's Mahesh Manjrekar doing in the film?
I am not divulging. Let that remain a secret. He is a great actor. I was so happy for him when he won rave reviews for his performance in Kaante.
Tabu was supposed to play a role inPJPSNJ. Why did she drop out?
I have six ladies in this film. Most of them keep busy. To get the dates of all six together at a stretch was no joke. Here again, my mentor [Manjrekar] helped me a great deal. I would not have been able to rope in big stars like Raveena Tandon and Sushmita Sen.
Was Sushmita Sen added as an afterthought?
Yes. Sushmita was the final addition to the cast. It is a meaningful role. After the film was shot and ready, we thought we needed a sutradhar [narrator] to tie the various strands in the story together. She narrates the story.
The film was in the news on account of censorship problems. What happened?
The censors had objected to some portions. All's well that ends well. We were given two options. Take an A certificate or take a U/A certificate. We opted for the former, because the latter would have subjected [our film] to some cuts, which would have diluted the film.
Does that mean the crude language to which the censors objected has been retained?
Exactly! Why shouldn't it? That's a reality of the chawl system. I have not made a candy-floss romance. There is a love-making scene [featuring Divya Dutta] too. It has been retained to the extent I wanted.
Then doesn'tPJPSNJ cease to be a family film?
Good question. PJPSNJ is a family film. Every family needs to know that there are other families in every neighbourhood who live in tough conditions. Their despair and depression due to their low economic strata needs to be perceived and understood.
Why have our filmmakers ignored this segment of society? Your driver, telephone operator and peon might be residing in a chawl too. The chawl-dwellers cannot be separated from our society so easily.
But do you think children should hear such language...
[Interrupts] Actually, children are doing worse things today. Visit any cyber cafe and you will find them logged on to porn sites. Don't they watch smooching scenes and pelvic gyrations on television?
BesidesPJPSNJ, what else is in the pipeline?
Let me see the response to PJPSNJ first. I have made a fearless film. I am itching to see whether the people can accept it. Irrespective of the fate of this film, I will direct another film.
I am here to stay. I am not in a hurry. You will never find my hands in more than one project. Why should I hurry? I don't want to reach anywhere.