Known for political and socially-relevant films, director Prakash Jha talks about Chakravyuh and tackling the tricky subject of Naxalism.
What made you want to bring the Naxalite issue into mainstream cinema?
The Prime Minister says that Naxalites are the biggest and gravest internal threat to the country but the average Indian isn’t aware of the problem. Around 200 districts of the country are Naxal-infested. It’s no longer happening in some distant jungle, you can’t ignore it. The problem is spreading like wildfire across the country. Most of us read about it in the papers and then forget about it. Chakravyuh is an attempt to understand the problem and what we are doing to our own people.
What is your personal view of the struggle?
My sympathies are always with egalitarian society. Everyone should have equal opportunities. But the Naxal ideology has not followed a path that is civil. On the flipside, if you look at the fact that they have been sidelined in the last 65 years, it’s understandable why they felt the need to pick up arms. Of course, I don’t endorse violence. I just hope that the film raises awareness about the problem. My personal view is that their ideology is correct but we have to make our democracy more inclusive.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced while presenting this story?
It’s the same challenge that I face with every single film. I always try to make a mainstream film with content that is interesting and entertaining. Actually, more than entertaining my cinema is engaging.
Then why dilute the impact with an item song? [Chakravyuh has Sameera Reddy dancing to Khunda khol]
I don’t see it as a dilution. I am very confident that the film communicates what we had set out to do. The story is very sharp. The item song is my way of adding nuances of commercial cinema to what is a hard-hitting film.
Chakravyuh has an interesting mix of actors — Arjun Rampal and Esha Gupta, Abhay Deol and Manoj Bajpai...
I cast my films instinctively. There is no grand scheme that I want a ‘right mix’. Every actor who is serious about their work is good enough for me. Once the cast is in place, I start working with the actors. We have readings and discussions. The actors are encouraged to know more than just their lines and cues. I want them to think and understand their characters.
You have been straddling the worlds of serious and mainstream cinema for decades now. How tough is it?
It’s not tough at all. I really enjoy it. There is a six-minute-long scene in the film where Abhay and Arjun are at loggerheads and that scene pretty much sums up the whole film. You have two close friends fighting, not over a girl or money but about an ideology and what they think is right or wrong.
Your films have always had a political stance and at one point you did have political aspirations...
Yes, but not anymore. I wanted to be a member of parliament. I wanted to do something for the people but for that people in your constituency have to vote for you. I didn’t get enough votes.
Do you ever see yourself going back to the political arena?
I have no political ambitions and I made that very clear after my defeat in the last elections. I enjoying making my films. I have a few things to say and I am very lucky that good actors are convinced to work with me.