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Indian audiences are a spoilt lot: Jahnu Barua

Cinema can drive social change, Jahnu Barua tells Sudeshna. Pictures

art and culture Updated: May 29, 2009 19:13 IST

Jahnu Barua is a name associated with many award-winning films and international acclaim. But he wears his honours lightly. His second Hindi film Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara, the first being Apeksha, has notched rave reviews across the globe. Meet the renowned filmmaker, whose passion is bringing socially relevant topics to the screen, in conversation with Sudeshna B Baruah.

Quality films hardly get due recognition in India? Who do you think is responsible ?
Indian audiences are a spoilt lot. A large percentage of them look for cheap entertainment when they visit a theatre hall. This is because we are yet to develop a system wherein audiences are made to see cinema as an important medium for social progress. France, for instance, has vested cinema with the cultural ministry. Likewise many countries have vested the medium with the education ministry. This indicates that cinema is viewed more than mere entertainment in these countries.

A trend did exist in pre-Independent India, when people thronged movie halls for classics like Do Bigha Zameen, Do Aankhen Barah Haath. That was a period when cinema was looked upon as a conduit for social awareness. But this is not the trend now. Our policy-makers are yet to realise the importance of cinema as a responsible medium.

Most of your films are realistic.Where do you pick your characters from?
I make films so that I can myself learn from them besides sending a social message across. The characters for my plots are a part of the society. My journeys on Mumbai's BEST buses, my visits to the villages in Assam give me sufficient scope to learn about society and its people. Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara, for instance, took me five years of research. During this period I made a voyage into the world of schizophrenics through books as well as by visiting people suffering from schizophrenia. And it was indeed surprising that most of the psychological problems are found among slum-dwellers. Merely sweeping the dirt in slums is not enough, the abstract aspects also have to be taken into consideration.

Women play the protagonists in most of your films. Be it

Apeksha

your first Hindi film or

Firingoti

(

The Spark

) which made Moloya Goswami the first Assamese actress to win a National Film Award.

My mother, late Gunawati Barua is a central force behind my choosing women as protagonists. She was an institution in herself and I respected her a lot. Their intelligence and strength to take on life's hardships cannot be emulated by men. My female protagonists are therefore women of strength who try to overcome odds and are decisive. The school teacher Ritu, the teacher in

Firingoti

(

The Spark

), for instance, is not deterred by the acts of anti-social elements in re-building the burnt school house of a village.

What have been your efforts in bringing quality cinema to common masses?
It is not a filmmaker's job alone to bring quality films to masses. Nevertheless, I have always been directing my efforts towards creating a system wherein people get to watch good movies. But as usual, the ephemeral nature of our government sometimes leave some policies inefficacious. The efforts continue albeit. I can only hope.

From Apeksha to Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara. How has your odyssey been?
Well, the path was strewn with roses and thorns alike. In fact, I had faced many difficulties during the making of Apeksha. Those were enough to deter any film maker from taking up his next venture. The thought was depressing and I considered myself unfortunate, given that it was my maiden Hindi film. But in retrospect, I feel going through those bad times has helped me emerge stronger. I consider myself lucky for having gone through those testing times. This makes Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara a successful attempt.

What do you look for in the actors and actresses?
Intelligence. An indepth understanding of the role, besides its projection on the screen needs cannot be everyone's pie. Urmila's intelligence counted for my choosing her in Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maaran and she handled her role with equal deft as Anupam Kher - the protagonist.

Regional films despite their richness in content fail to enthuse audiences.
As I have already said, we need a system that can guide audiences towards watching quality films. We need to create similar platforms as Sangeet Natak Akademy, Sahitya Akademy to bring regional films into the limelight.

What is your next project?
It is again a Hindi film titled - The Butterfly Chase. A story on anti-terrorism, it deals with the societal aspects of insurgency. The film stars Gauri Karnik, Yashpal Sharma and Diwakar Pundir.

First Published: Jan 22, 2006 18:00 IST