Prakash Jha is one of Hindi cinema’s most renowned filmmakers. His second feature film Damul won him a National award for Best Director. Jha has directed well-known films like Dil Kya Kare, Mrityudand and Aparahan. In 2010, his directorial venture Rajneeti went on to become one of the biggest blockbuster of the year. His next is a soci-political drama about reservation starring Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika
Padukone, Saif Ali Khan, Manoj Baipai and Prateik Babbar.
The director took out some time to speak to me about his new release.
What does Aarakshan mean?
Aarakshan literally means reservation. India being a castist society, for centuries there has been a large section of our population which have remained deprived of progress, have ranked behind and have not been fairly treated as far as the social hierarchy is concerned. Today, we have 49.5% seats in higher education and government jobs which are reserved in India. This particular policy has created some discomfort especially in the middle and upper middles class, who have been protesting about since years.
How do you deal with this topic in your film?
The film deals with this issue in its existence. Because of reservation a whole commercialization of education has taken place. Those who have the money can get to these commercial and coaching institutes and those who don’t have the money, they don’t fall into the bracket. These are the issues that my film tries to understand.
Was there a specific reason that you made Aarakshan?
I discovered the story of a principal who heads an institute and is very compassionate towards providing equal opportunities to deprived children and he faces a lot of opposition from those who want to create business out of
education. So it is a dramatic story, but we have tried to understand the pains on all sides and tried to show what should happen.
How did you decide on casting Deepika Padukone and Saif Ali Khan for this socio-political film?
Well, they are good actors and I always make films that deal with social issues and larger landscapes. I am very fortunate that these actors like Mr. Bachchan, Saif, Deepika and the others that I have worked in the past, like to work on issue based films. Most of the actors that I have worked with are very hungry. They try to understand their roles and come to the set completely ready. You will be amazed what Deepika and Saif have done in this film.
How was your experience filming with Mr. Amitabh Bachchan?
All my actors are pretty dedicated, focused and well prepared, hence the shoot everyday was a pleasure. Especially, working with Mr. Bachchan, who is such a legend and yet he works every single day. Every day was a great experience for me.
How much research did you do on reservation for your film?
The research has been happening for years, but I actually started writing the script about seven years ago. When I found the emotional story and character, I went running to Mr Bachchan as we were talking about working together for a long time. I narrated the story to him and he agreed to the film. I was already doing Aparahan at that time and Rajneeti was scheduled, so this was to come seven years late (laughs). That’s how it works with me, it takes time. My co-writer and I wrote the script ten times before we shot the film.
How much work went into giving Saif Ali Khan the right look for his role?
We have not given him anything, it’s just a moustache (laughs). I think, Saif has taken the character in within himself and he has understood it. That is how he looks different. He is a great actor. He is actually the most under rated actor in Bollywood today as he has got amazing potential.
You are releasing your film during the month of Ramadan. Do you think that this will affect the business of Aarakshan in the UK and the Middle East?
It probably will, a little bit. I respect the month of Ramadan but unfortunately, I did not have many options as I am now getting two big consecutive weekends. Just after those two weekends, we have Eid and I think, I will be able to get that week too. There are some advantages and some disadvantages, but that is how it goes.
You have used pure Hindi in your dialogues. Don’t you think it will be difficult, even for Hindi speakers in the UK to understand them?
No, they are very simple dialogues. It is just the way they are spoken. I’m sure the audience
in the UK will enjoy the Hindi used in the film and they will love it.
How was it working with Deepika Padukone ?
She essayed her role like a breeze. She is very hardworking and was very well prepared. She has not only impressed me but really surprised me.
You have also worked with Katrina Kaif in Rajneeti. How are they different from each other as actors?
They are both amazing. They are hardworking, focused and hungry for work. I love them both.
What do you have to say about being denied permission to promote you film at some places?
That happens when you do a social film. There are points of view that you have to take into
account. We are a democratic country and everyone is free to say what they like to say. I respect their decision.
How did you decide on casting Prateik Babbar in your film?
He is amazing. He is really innovative in front of the camera. He is young and that is the kind of character that I needed.
Aarakshan is produced by Prakash Jha and Firoz A. Nadiawala and will be released by Reliance Entertainment on the 12th of August 2011 across cinemas in the UK.