Controversy is not new to Prakash Jha. But the political outcry that preceded the release of his recent film, Aarakshan, and culminated in a ‘ban’ in three states — Uttar Pradesh (UP), Punjab and Andhra Pradesh (AP) — has left him disappointed.
“It’s pathetic that a film cleared without cuts by the Censor Board, a body appointed by the government of India, was found unsuitable for public exhibition without the authorities having even seen it. It speaks of a fear psychosis and proves that even in a democracy, our constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression can be curtailed. It’s a free country, yet someone is not allowed to show his film and someone else is not allowed to fast peacefully,” grouses Jha.
Aarakshan released on August 12 and was cleared by the governments of AP and Punjab the following day. But shows in AP started only on Sunday and in Punjab, on Monday. On Friday, the Supreme Court (SC) ruled in favour of Jha and the ban on the film was lifted in UP. Jha is glad he challenged the state’s decision and the SC’s verdict has restored his faith in the system. “This has been an important battle in making the freedom of expression a real right for the common citizens of India,” he says.
The Aarakshan team was stopped from even promoting the film in UP because of the government’s apprehension that it would disrupt law and order. “Not a single untoward incident has been reported, which reinforces the fact that the move was politically motivated, a ploy to appease a certain minority and ensure that the UP government didn’t lose the next elections,” says Jha, pointing out that the objections were raised only in the last fortnight.
Even though the SC has cleared his film for release this week, Jha feels it may be too late: “I’ve faced problems in the past too, but never was a release fractured. Not being allowed to open in three states on an Independence Day weekend has resulted in huge losses. Even if the distributors don’t demand a refund, they will be more cautious with the next film.”
His next focuses on the disparity in development and the concept of ‘Shining India’. Given the recent events, will he make any changes in the script? “I’m not scared to refrain from saying what I want. If I rework the script, it’s because I want to,” he retorts, refusing to confirm whether his next too will star Amitabh Bachchan and Saif Ali Khan.
The critics felt that Aarakshan was too long and post-interval became too ‘filmi’? “I’m ready to accept criticism, but I thought the length was fine given the subject and it was a conscious decision to propagate my message through a popular module,” he says. “Personally, I believe Raajneeti (2010) was a more commercial movie, but when a film is a hit, everything about it is right.”
Yes, Raajneeti was a hit and Aarakshan, it is being said, is a disaster and Jha is to be blamed for having turned down some lucrative offers from distributors. He smiles, “Initially even Raajneeti was written off. I’ll say wait a bit before before writing Aarakshan’s obituary. From the figures, it appears we’ll sail through.”