Never mind if a majority of the people haven’t even heard of the film, Ashok Chakra. Actor Rajan Verma is pleased with the response to his portrayal of convicted terrorist Ajmal Kasab.
Verma says that he visited some of the cinemas like Sharda (Dadar) and Alankar (Grand Road) to see the audience’s response to his movie. “On the first day, the occupancy in Sharda was 50 per cent and in Alankar and Amar, it was 70 per cent. And by Sunday, the theatres were filling up to 90-95 per cent,” he claimed, adding that the people were asking him for autographs on currency notes of Rs 100, Rs 500 and even Rs 1000.
Oblivious to whether many would ostracise him for playing a dreaded terrorist in the movie, Verma shrugs, “I don’t know. I did my job to the best of my abilities. I’m glad that people liked my work. For a small budget film, it’s getting good feedback from the single screen audience. We cut down on the gore and the violence because people already saw that in reality and we didn’t want to make anyone feel unpleasant while watching the film.”
Although he admits that the marketing and promotion of Ashok Chakra has been low-key, he’s optimistic about the film ending on a positive note. “Initially, people were unaware that such a film has released, but positive word of mouth will help,” he enthuses.
His enthusiasm is further buoyed by the positive feedback from the theatre owners.
“The owner of Alankar said that Ashok Chakra has done better than Kites. He said that they were crying that a big film didn’t bring in the audience, but they are happy that this small film is filling up more seats. Kites started with 80 per cent occupancy and dropped down to 15 per cent. My film has gone from 70 per cent on Friday to 90 per cent on Sunday,” he exults.
But the journey hasn’t been as easy for Verma either. His family and friends were worried about the repercussions after his car was attacked in February.
“I had even lodged an FIR at Malad Police Chowky, and then changed my house and car,” he recalls, adding, “Since the producer’s money was already invested in the film, I couldn’t jeopardise it. Had it been any other small budget film, it would have been removed from the theatres in just a day.”
At the same time, he’s also quick to admit that his movie is not for the multiplexes, so he’s not surprised they’re not screening it either.
He is, however, most thrilled with the feedback he received from Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam and advocate Anjali Waghmare, whom they had invited for a special screening. “Nikam saab said that he didn’t know whether I had met Kasab or not, but I’ve portrayed the character convincingly,” Verma recalls, adding that it’s also important to note that there’s a message in the film.
“When Kasab is sentenced to death, he says that his face should not be covered so that his country sees him hanging too. That’s to convey to the people of Pakistan that they should not be misled into believing that they’re fighting a holy war in the name of Jihad and they will go to jannat (heaven) for it,” he asserts.
Point out to Verma that Ashok Chakra was initially supposed to release around 26/11 last year, and he attributes the delay to re-shooting the climax.
“Kasab wasn’t sentenced then, so some people told us that we should not feature the hanging sequence. But now that he’s been given a death sentence, we reiterate the fact that bure ka anth bhi bura hi hota hai (bad people get a bad ending),” he explains.
Interestingly, the first cut that was sent to the Central Board of Film Certification carried a disclaimer that Ashok Chakra was a work of fiction. Verma reveals that it was changed at the behest of the Censor Board. “They cleared the film with a U/A rating, minus any cuts and said that we should say that it’s a cinematic representation of true incidents,” reveals the actor.
Rajan, the star
While he’s been in the news for taking up the role of a terrorist, Verma is moving on to his next couple of films.
“I’ve signed up to play a mute character in a South Indian film, apart from a comedy in Hindi called, Ram Naam Satya Hai. I’m doing my job as an actor. It’s up to the producers and directors to cast me. But I’m sure that I won’t have to give too many auditions or show my resume to many people now. I’ve earned some recognition,” he concludes.