Jahnu Barua loves to surround himself with things that remind him of his roots. Like the bamboo screen, the jappi (traditional bamboo hat), or posters of Assam that adorn the wall of his office at Famous Studio in Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi.
In the midst of these sits the soft-spoken director who’s made his name promoting the northeast in his films. However, his latest, Har Pal, set to release in December, will not make headlines for being set in the region. Rather, it will be remembered as the movie that Shiney Ahuja was working on when he was arrested on alleged charges of rape. Har Pal also stars Preity Zinta, who’s making a comeback to the big screen, as a resident of Shillong, with 15 to 20 per cent of it shot in and around Shillong.
It’s A Wrap
Fortunately for Barua, the shooting of the film, which began in 2008, was completed by the time the controversy took place. “We only had post production work to complete, so we weren’t so affected by the unfortunate episode,” he clarifies. But the controversy is bound to create some curiosity. Barua is aware of that and feels it may just be a blessing in disguise. “Finally, though it depends on the audience and how they look at it,” says Barua, adding, “However, such a controversy may garner popularity for the film or work against it.”
As an actor, Barua seems to have liked Ahuja. "He is a good actor, and it all depends on how one is guided by the director. He has a lot of potential," he says. "Preity, being more popular and experienced, was chosen because the girl’s character (which is stronger than the male lead) demanded someone like her. I wanted a fresh looking star opposite her. Shiney fitted the role."
Did the controversy about Ahuja affect his work? “The film is totally independent,” clarifies Barua. “What happens to an individual member has nothing to do with the film,” he says.
I LUV Love Storys
While Barua waits for Har Pal to release, he’s keeping himself busy. At the moment he’s engaged in pre-production on two unnamed Hindi projects. “Hopefully, by the middle of next year I will be able to finalise them,” he says. And pre-production for this filmmaker means a great deal of work. According to Barua, the task seems endless. “Even the script takes six to seven rounds of drafts before it finally takes shape,” he says. Scripting alone can even take a year or so as it keeps evolving.”
He adds, “I am very particular when I deal with sensitive and serious subject matter. One has to do a lot of research. It has to be satisfactory.” This level of research and detailing means that a film helmed by him can take about four to five years to be completed. For example, it took him four years to make Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara in 2005.
The two proposed projects would be love stories, shot in India. Again, this is another trait of Barua’s, who believes in showcasing the unseen parts of India instead of rushing overseas. “I would rather explore newer destinations in India,” explains Barua, but acknowledges that “there are too many practical reasons why people opt to head overseas as there are many hassles in India.”
However, this doesn’t faze him. So, his upcoming Indo-British production, Homing Pigeon, will be filmed in the tea gardens of Assam. This is a love story set in the early ’50s to the present day, and will go on the floors by end of next year.
Barua is also lending his expertise to the Assam Tourism Board. “I miss Assam tremendously,” says Barua, who shifted to Mumbai seven years ago. “There is more to Assam than the Brahmaputra, tea gardens and the one-horned rhino,” says Barua. “There is also a mental block about security – the campaign needs to clear these doubts.”
All About Assam
Barua is not new to the task of being a poster boy for his home state. He has a huge fan club in the region and responds to the 15 to 20 emails per week he receives from people in the Northeast.
Even his decision to shift from crowded Wadala to a quieter part of Mumbai in Sanpada, about four hours’ drive from his office, has more to do with nostalgia for home than anything else. “I like open spaces and areas, which is why I decided to move here. It reminds me of home,” he says.
More about the filmmaker
It was Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, screened by the Guwahati Cine Club, which first got Barua hooked on cinema. He was in his first year of college at the time.
He started his career as an assistant director in Mumbai on the set of Aruna-Vikas’s Shaque.
He devotes two hours to creative writing every day, mostly in the morning.
He dislikes the word Bollywood. “It spoils the charm of cinema,” he says.