A Minute with Prakash Jha

The award-winning writer-director explores India's politics

MUMBAI -- Politics and Prakash Jha are a good match. In his films, the award-winning writer-director has often explored the dark underbelly of India's regional politics.

Whether it is caste oppression in "Damul" or Bihar's infamous kidnapping racket in "Apaharan,” Jha raises some tough questions through the medium of cinema.

The filmmaker returns to the silver screen in April with "Rajneeti,” a big-budget political thriller that has a multitude of stars, including Katrina Kaif, Ranbir Kapoor, Ajay Devgan and Nana Patekar.

Jha, 58, spoke about "Rajneeti," politics and power.

Q: The characters in your film seem very similar to real-life players in the current Indian political landscape. Is there any resemblance at all?

A: We haven't based any character or scenario which draws from any of the existing political parties, or any living or dead politician. People are talking about Katrina and her character being modeled on Sonia Gandhi, but it is not true at all.

Sonia Gandhi has had her own very interesting life, a life full of struggle and hers is one of the
most inspiring stories, which is not the story of Katrina in the film. People are speculating because of her non-Indian origin and her appearance.

Q: Could you talk about the storyline of the film?

A: This is the story of power-seekers. People who continuously seek out power -- power in personal life, power in professional life and in political standing. So whether it is Ajay Devgan's character or Manoj Bajpai's character, they are all hungry for power.

Ranbir plays someone who is not intrinsically interested in politics. He is studying in the U.S., his family is in politics and circumstances force him to protect his family and enter their world.

Q: That sounds very familiar.

A: There are stories like this from all over the world from which I draw my characters, but no one in particular. In my past films I have drawn out characters that had similarity to living persons, but not in this case.

Q: Most of your past films do have a strong political undertone. Is that something that appeals to you as a subject?

A: Well, Indian politics is such an interesting brand of politics. There are so many factors at play, the caste factor, the class factor, the issues that crop up, the way we vote, the way we feel responsible towards democracy. All these things are very interesting to me and I wanted to tackle it.

Q: You have seen the politics of this country from up close, haven't you? Has that given you a fresh perspective?

A: Even though I have (only) observed politics, I know how it works, I have seen the manipulations in it, have contested an election, but I am not a practicing politician. My attitude to politics was one of growth and income generation, which I am doing even without being in that field now.

Getting elected to parliament was the aim solely because you have access to resources, so I tried to do that, but didn't succeed. I try and do whatever I can in my individual capacity. Now, democracy ends with elections and all that politicians can think about is how to make more money.

Q: Does that leave you disillusioned?

A: No, it leaves me frustrated because I think the very tenet of democracy is the rule of majority, but unfortunately, the majority never votes, so it can never be true democracy. We have never tried to rectify this.

In the last parliamentary election, there were such huge campaigns in the media, asking people to come and vote, but hardly 42% voted. They will come and light candles and keep vigils, but when it comes to voting, they won't stand in the queue. I think it is pathetic.

The process of voting has to be made more accessible, there has to be more awareness.

Q: What about the audience for this film? Politics is most likely to affect some one in a rural area directly rather than an urban dweller isn't it?

A: At the grassroot level there is more play of politics and hence there is more awareness, but today even young people are getting interested in politics. Look at the young leaders of today, especially with Rahul Gandhi coming on the scene; there is a huge interest in politics. It is relevant today.

In my film, all the politicians are young, so of course it will be attractive for the young people and the kind of dramatic impression that the film will generate. There is an emotional story there also.

Q: Have you shown the film to any politician or consulted one while making it?

A: No, I didn't need any coaching on this subject. I knew my story and I knew my characters.