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July 8, 1997


'I am sure somebody will find
a way to make an art film'

Jha directing Madhuri Dixit
Is Madhuri in the film to give your film the commercial saleability?

Not at all. She is there because she fits the role. It's her personality which young enough to be a bride and volatile enough to rebel against a society which is unjustified. After working with Madhuri, I feel that nobody could have done justice to the role.

What about Shabana and Shilpa? They are not commercial attractions...

Shabana's role is very interesting. She is the elder brother's wife and is barren because her husband is impotent. She accepts all the taunts of the people, but still has nothing against her husband. And Shilpa is a good actress. Unfortunately, her potential has not been tapped properly yet. I thought about her for the role mainly because of that and because she was very keen to work with me.

What made you make a film like Bandish?

Don't ask me that. I don't know why I made it. I don't blame anybody for its fiasco except myself. Somewhere along the way, something went wrong and the film didn't turn out the way it was thought of. It was a mistake and one which I hope I will not make in the future. I learnt a lot while making that film and one thing is that I wouldn't make those kind of mistakes again.

Will Damul ever happen again?

I don't think so. Because Damul was made in only 12 lakhs (Rs 1.2 million) and now you can't make a film on that budget. Today, a small budget film will be for something like 50 to 60 lakhs (Rs 5 million to Rs 6 million). It's just not possible to make a art film in that amount, knowing that that is only amount a producer like the NFDC gives. When Damul was premiered on Doordarshan, they paid me 8 lakhs (Rs 800,000). That was three-fourths of the cost.

Shabana Azmi in Mrityudand
Today, when Doordarshan wants to premier a film, they pay you the same amount. Eleven years and they have not increased the amount! So how are you going to recover the cost? Art films are not watched by the masses. So they lie in the cans when somebody like Doordarshan come and ask you to show your film. But if you spend money like even 30 or 40 lakhs (Rs 3 million to Rs 4 million), still the money offered by them is not enough.

So parallel cinema is dead.

No I am not saying that. Nothing can die. It's just that it's become a bit expensive to make them. I am sure, even in this, somebody will find a way to make an art film.

But is it frustrating making a commercial cinema? You might have to make a few compromises...

No I don't think that way. Actually, it's fun. And then my film, despite having all the formula of a commercial cinema, is very real-life. There are a lot of real instances and drama. I like drama. So in that sense it was very satisfying.

You don't make a lot of films.

Yeah, I don't. That's because I like to work on a film at a time. I would like to see the story, work on the script and then go into the technical and financial details. I am slow. But I work on documentaries in between making big budget films. Which is the thing I like to do best. And I am going to make one after this film just to refresh myself.

So you do admit that commercial cinema is lacking somewhere.

Jha directing Ayub Khan
(Laughing) Well, okay, there is no spontaneity, or the candour that is apparent in a documentary film.

Did you always want to make films?

No. It was quite accidental. I wanted to be a painter. I did my graduation in Delhi and came to Bombay to study art at the J J School of Arts. One day there was a shooting of a film on our campus and I, along with my friends, went to see it. After that I was hooked for life. I enrolled myself for a editor's course in FTII, Pune and then came back to Bombay for a job.

What happened?

I was so fascinated with the whole set-up. The place was so active. You see, the art scene is a bit dull. Everything is slow and quiet. But film-making is all activity. The music, the idea of shooting a scene, the actors getting ready for the shot. Everything is so alive. I made small films and documentaries. I never really was an assistant to anybody. Initially, I made my own documentaries for which I got an award too. I started making serious films in the year 1981-82. Between 81 and 88 was a good productive period. I made Damul, Pariniti and Hip Hip Hooray.

Do you think that being an assistant would have been better?

See, I always liked working with my own ideas. There was no need. Even when I was starving, I was following my own ideas. Still, it would have been nice to have worked with some of the directors. Like, Bergman maybe (smiling).

So how about a co-production as in a Hollywood film?

Madhuri Dixit in Mrityudand
Oh, I would love to have a partner who has some respect for my creativity in production. These financial hassles are bit too much. I am producing Mrityudand, you see. I made Damul in 12 lakhs (Rs 1.2 million) and Mrityudand is close to three crores (Rs 30 million).

So you think meaningful cinema can't be made as the cost has gone up.

As I said earlier, you don't make low budget films today. Still, people like me, Sai, Kundan, Shyam, Ketan are trying to make meaningful cinema. We are trying to make a particular niche for ourselves. And we definitely will make it, I am sure.

Will you make a love story?

Sure, why not. I will when I get a good script. I loved Dilwale Dulhaniyan Le Jaayenge. I think it was a good story.

What about your next film?

There are few projects in hand. Let's see how they come along...