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Aishwarya's eyes are very expressive: Jag Mundhra

Filmmaker Jagmohan Mundhra’s Provoked is releasing in India on April 6. Diganta Guha speaks to the director.
None | By Diganta Guha, Kolkata
UPDATED ON MAR 30, 2007 12:30 PM IST

Filmmaker Jagmohan Mundhra’s Provoked, based on the true story of UK-based Kiranjit Ahluwalia, who killed her husband after she was tortured and was sentence to life imprisonment is releasing in India on April 6.

Here to promote the film along with Ahluwalia, Mundhra spoke to HT City. The film stars Aishwarya Rai playing Kiranjit, Miranda Richardson, Naveen Andrews, Rebecca Pidgeon, Nandita Das and others.

Excerpts of an interview:

Provoked seems very relevant especially in the Indian context, isn’t it?
It is a story that so many women go through, but they are scared to talk about it because of social pressure. But through the film it gets expressed. Therefore, they will support the film. It cuts across all economic strata of the society.

I was amazed with the reaction that I got from a beauty pageant contestant to a teacher, to a member of the censor board. Watching the film is watching their own life stories.

At the same time when I showed the promos of film to my mother’s domestic maid, her reaction was “Mera mard to mujhe roj maarta hai.” It’s amazing, at that level a lot of women accept this as their fate and it is only though education it can change.

How did the idea generate?
Three social workers who had seen my film Bawandar in 2001 at the London Film Festival presented me with the book Circle of Light and said they had done a case on domestic violence. I read it on the flight to Los Angeles and one line in the book that gave me goose bumps was when Kiranjit Ahuluwalia was taken to the prison after being given life imprisonment for killing her husband.

She was asked how she felt and she said, “I feel free.” That became the tagline for the film — In prison she found her freedom. Then and there I decided to do a film on the book, but the rights were already with somebody else. Later, in 2004, I found that I could do the film, so I went ahead.

Were producers agreeable?
No, because they were not sure about the commercial viability of the film since it was so hard hitting. This is the problem, both in India and abroad. When Julia Roberts does an Erin Brockovich it gets funded and Provoked got funded because Aishwarya did it.

In that sense it is almost a moral responsibility that branded stars have. To take up projects that have a message once in a while. When Shabana Azmi did Amar Akbar Anthony, I asked her why. She said she was using the film to get a brand in the commercial market, which would help her arthouse films. Ash doing the film is the other way round. I think every actor should do one film a year, which is not run of the mill.

What was Kiranjit’s reaction to the film?
I met Kiranjit a couple of times before I started shooting. She was initially apprehensive. But she is also courageous enough to put her pain down on paper because she wanted to prevent other Kiranjits from going through the pain she had to endure.

When I met her I left it to her how much interaction she wanted to have with me. She watched the film at Cannes and cried holding Ash’s hands. She fully supported the film, which is why she is here from London for a three-day whirlwind tour.

How is Aishwarya in the film?

She was shooting in London for

The Mistress of Spices

, when she heard about the film. Then we met and within eight weeks we were shooting. She has done a fabulous job. In fact, everybody asked me why Ash? The problem is that most people do not see beyond her pretty face. That is a boon for her but at times, it is a curse. She is beautiful but the point is that after working for 11 years she is also quite talented.

She never questioned my vision and I felt that her eyes are so expressive — they can communicate fear, triumph, love, betrayal and every human emotion needed in this film. Ash also wanted to get out of this image. I told her that ten minutes into the film and the audience should forget they were watching Aishwarya. She was completely okay with that. As a director I did not want to make things superficial for her. I really hope Provoked does to Ash what Kamla and Bawandar did to Deepti Naval and Nandita Das respectively.

Your next project is not the female-oriented fare that you are used to…
I did it deliberately. Shoot on Sight is on very commercial issue of racial profiling in UK. After the London blast people started looking at every Asian with suspicion. They could shoot on sight anybody who was suspected to be a suicide bomber and under that operation they actually shot the wrong guy, a Brazilian.

Once the truth was unravelled the huge cover up started. The film is about a Muslim cop working with Scotland Yard played by Naseeruddin Shah and how his life changes after July 7 and how he is at the crossroads where he has to choose between faith and loyalty. Shooting starts in May and will finish in July.

Wasn’t Amitabh Bachchan supposed to do the film?
He was supposed to play the role eventually played by Naseer. But Bachchan may have felt that it was a politically sensitive subject to do and he backed out at the last minute.

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