Final Countdown Salma Khatib
Posted online: Friday, May 02, 2003 at 0000 hours ISTDebutant director Sanjay Jha’s story reads like a film script. A small-town lad relentlessly pursues his dreams and lands up in Mumbai, the city of dreams. His talent is discovered and he sees his ambition being realised. Obstacles notwithstanding, Jha is all charged up about May 1, when his directorial debut Pran Jaaye Par Shaan Na Jaye makes it to the theatres. On the eve of the release, he speaks to Screen about his journey from Bhagalpur to Bollywood... Your story reads like a typical Hindi film script, about a small-town lad with stars in his eyes.
Yeah. (Smiles). I am a Fauji ka beta from a town called Bhagalpur, in Bihar. But I was always interested in theatre and while in college I did a lot of amateur theatre. The sad part was that I was in Bihar, where theatre has no takers, unlike in Maharashtra or Bengal where it is appreciated as an art form. I realised that if I continued staying in Bihar, I would never be able to make a profession in theatre. Luckily for me, I got entry into National School of Drama (NSD) and I went to Delhi.What did you learn at NSD?
I was there on a three-year scholarship and it was like a re-birth for me. I discovered so many things about theatre and cinema. I did my specialisation in designing and direction, during which we were exposed to the best of world plays and films, and the best of arts and aesthetics. It was during my stint with NSD that I discovered my passion for cinema, and how important a role cinema plays in communication. I learnt how a well-etched character leaves an imprint on the mind forever. Theatre is a combination of all art forms.Didn’t you want to go back to Bihar and do your bit to encourage theatre there?
Bihar has a culture of politics. No one cares for art there. I could have gone back to Bihar and done professional theatre, but there’s no money. Bhookha rehkar theatre nahin kar sakta. I decided to take the risk of going to Mumbai and trying my luck there. I was so taken up by theatre and films that I would have willingly gone to the end of the world to make a career in it. That’s what happens when you see world cinema and films like Bicycle Thief. You realise the power of cinema. It’s like falling in love. And you can do anything for love.How did you go about pursuing your dream in Mumbai?
After I landed in Mumbai, I did a stint in television with Plus Channel, where I met Bhatt Sahab (Mahesh Bhatt). He’s the best guru one can have. Later I assisted Sanjay Leela Bhansali during the making of Khamoshi - The Musical, who made his debut with the film. That stint taught me a lot, because when you assist a debutant, he shares his fears with you, and you end up getting more involved in the film. Unlike when you work with an established director, who only issues orders and you just carry them out. I gained more in experience when I assisted Milan Luthria, who was making his directorial debut with Kachche Dhaage, which was an action caper compared to the romantic Khamoshi. I also assisted Vidhu Vinod Chopra in the making of Mission Kashmir. And then Mahesh Manjrekar gave me a break with ''Hriday
''.How did he notice you?
I think he noticed me because we share the same passion for cinema. Like me, he too believes in the power of cinema. Add to that the fact that Mahesh is a self-made man, he never had any godfather backing him. Which is why he wants new talent to come up, and which is why I guess he gave me a break. And contrary to the belief, he was never the interfering sort imposing his suggestions on me. He trusted me completely with the film.You were to debut with ''Hriday''. But now it’s ''Praan Jaye Par Shaan Na Jaye''.
Mahesh wanted me to debut with Hriday, which was based on his hit Marathi film Aai. Rekhaji was the heroine of the film. But unfortunately for me, it didn’t work out. We had done the spadework for the film for a whole year, including the location-hunting, the art direction, the costumes. The pre-production was all ready, till the level of song recording, and then the film just didn’t happen.Were you dejected?
Yeah, initially. I mean, imagine a directorial debut with Rekhaji. After the film was shelved, I became restless, and Mahesh and producer Sagoon Wagh noticed this. At that time Mahesh was shooting for the sequel of Vaastav, that’s Hathyar, and he had put up this huge chawl-set at Kamalistan Studios. During the shoot, he conceptualised another film about people living in a chawl which was ''Praan Jaye Par Shaan Na Jaye'', and asked me to direct it. Mahesh and Sagoon went out of their way to find the financiers and even collaborated with stars like Raveena Tandon, Sushmita Sen, Namrata Shirodkar, Diya Mirza. The two found business partners to support the production. In short, they turned the world upside down to launch me. (Smiles).What’s ''Praan Jaye...'' all about?
It’s based on a play, but then Mahesh and I developed the story our way. The screenplay is by Mahesh and dialogue by Sanjay Pawar. All I can say is that it is a meaningful film, meant for the audience of today. It’s about getting what you want. There’s a message to be learnt from the people of chawl. Their living conditions are miserable but they are still gung-ho about life. The film is dedicated to the middle class and their passion for life. They are the real fighters who never give up.How was it shooting your debut film? Was it a smooth affair?
Well, I had assisted some of the best directors, so I kind of knew my job. The biggest challenge was to shoot the film in 27 days, since the set of the chawl was going to be around only for that short period of time. And I had this real huge cast of chawlwallas played by 69 artistes of Marathi stage, and some Hindi film stars. It needed a great presence of mind to manage everything. Thankfully my NSD experience came in handy.Do you think your film will stand out?
Definitely. The whole approach to the film is theatrical, and that makes it an original. Sushmita Sen is the sutradhar. I call it a ‘fearless’ film because it exudes confidence. It’s in a different genre, rarely seen in the Hindi film industry i.e. the ‘Black Comedy’, where, instead of being serious, you laugh at the grave moment. Have you noticed that when a person is pushed to the brink of misery, he starts laughing because there is nothing else he can do.''Praan Jaye...
'' is unconventional and a highly stylised film. I have stylised realism. My actresses in the film Raveena, Diya, Namrata, are known for being glamorous, and all have been portrayed in a non-glamorous image. It’s my first film, and I had to make my mark. I have seen to it that it is not your run-of-the mill Hindi film.Since you had stars with theatre personalities, did you have to cater to the whims of the stars?
I don’t think there was a need to compromise since I knew exactly what I was doing. I knew what my characters were like, so what if they were being essayed by a star. Nobody threw starry tantrums. The whole concept was so exciting for everyone that they were all charged.The film was earlier titled'' Praan Jaye Par Chawl Na Jaye'', and then Chawl changed to Shaan?
Yeah, it was changed to'' Praan Jaye Par Shaan Na Jaye''
to make it sound universal. In places outside Mumbai, the concept of chawl
is not known, so the audiences would not have been able to understand the earlier title.Music plays a vital role these days to get an initial at the b.o. But the music of your film has hardly registered, and the publicity of the songs is nil.
The film has good music by Daboo Malik and Nitin Raikwar, but the songs are a part of the screenplay, meant to help the narrative. They are not item numbers. One song with Sushmita Sen and Mahesh Manjrekar, which is being shown for promotion, has been liked.The Censors had some problems with the film, especially the lovemaking scene of Divya Dutta, right?
Yeah, the Censors had a problem with the bindhaast (bold) language in the film. But such language is what you hear in the chawl,
and it was necessary to bring out the flavour of the film. We had to tone down the language in keeping with the demand of the Censors.
As for the lovemaking scene, I shot it because it was imperative for the film. The Censors complained that it was too long, but the length was necessary to hit the people. The Censors demanded that we shorten the scene and we did it. But now it looks titillating and exactly the opposite of what it was meant to be.The film was a quickie, but the release was delayed. Were you upset?
I wasn’t upset, but I got a bit impatient because once the film is ready, you want the audience to see it and respond. The release was delayed earlier for unavoidable reasons, but I was upset when the release was postponed due to the strike between distributors and producers. I mean, here we had our prints ready for release, and due to a tiff, the release was being postponed. I found it unreasonable since I wanted to taste the fruits of my labour. In fact, I would have gone on a fast. (Smiles). But all’s well that ends well, and I am thrilled that the film will be hitting the theatres on May 1.What are your expectations from the film?
I am hoping for the best. I hope it is appreciated by one and all. I have taken up direction because of my passion and belief in good cinema, and I need encouragement.Are you working on your next project?
Not yet, I’d rather wait for the response to ''Praan Jaye...
''.But I am ready with a script. My guru, Bhatt Sahab, always says that one should keep five scripts ready. I am raring to go, to try out new, untested formulas.You represent the fresh breed of directors. And you have come at a time when the film industry is going through a crisis. What according to you is the need of the hour?
I feel one has to take risks and make films the unconventional way. The gheesa-peeta stories won’t do. You have to come up with fresh ways of telling your stories, and for that new blood needs to be injected. India has no dearth of talent. Directors like Shekhar Kapur and M. Night Shyamalan have made their presence felt in Hollywood. Language is no more a barrier, and Hindi films have won recognition at festivals abroad. There is a need to produce small-budget films, in which there is less risk and which brings in viewers. Experimenting with new ideas should be welcomed.Lastly, have you shown your film to your parents?
No, I haven’t. I haven’t even met them for the last two years. I feel bad about that. They are simpletons who just know that I am trying to eke out a living in Mumbai. (Smiles).http://www.screenindia.com/archive/arcpage.php?issuedate=2003-05-02