Interview Hindi

The idea of Jhalki is bigger than the film or the box office: Sanjay Suri on the preciousness of children


Sanjay Suri speaks about the joy of acting with kids, the courage of Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, and the one important lesson Jhalki leaves him with.

Shriram Iyengar

Having played urbane, docile, kind men, Sanjay Suri seems as comfortable in the company of children as any of his peers. The actor-producer is part of Brahmanand S Siingh's upcoming film, Jhalki. The story revolves around a nine-year-old who takes on the nexus of child traffickers when her younger brother is abducted to be forced into child labour. Releasing on 27 September, the film also features Tannishtha Chatterjee and Boman Irani.

"Whenever we speak of memories, we speak of childhood, the freedom, the joy, the lack of inhibition," Suri said in an exclusive interview with Cinestaan.com. "We love the song 'Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji' because it was a brilliant time. So, what happens when it is not so? We need to allow these children to be children. So that when they grow up, they will allow others to be."

Talking about his interaction with Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, Suri said, "He has freed 86,000 kids, impacting so many families. We focus on Instagram followers, but 86,000 kids! He has to be a role model. Amazingly inspiring. Very relevant and very today." Excerpts from the interview: 

Tell us how you came into the project?

I don't know what their process was. I just got a call from Brahmanand [Siingh], whom I know from before. I just got the script. I kind of had an idea about the subject he was attempting. I loved the script. More than that, I loved the idea of the film. I thought the idea was bigger than the film. It is about this girl Jhalki, a nine-year old who goes against all odds to find her brother, who is a victim of human trafficking and child labour. 

The script, without being preachy, touches you deeply. I think it has the possibility of sensitizing you. Going further and finding out about the children around you, in the street, might be an individual responsibility, but I think the film makes you aware. It evokes this emotion that let your privilege not make you blind. 

As a society, we tend not to treat children as people unto themselves. At least not until they grow into adults and become an asset to society. Do you feel that?

By then the damage is done (shrugs). In fact, the character I play is a DC [district collector] of that area. It is not a priority for him. He is well-meaning, but he is caught up with other stuff. He knows there is a nexus of child labour; it is too big to handle. They are happily putting it aside.

Eventually, he steps in. But the initial step is 'Yeh problem kaun lega [Who will take this on]?' So you are caught up in the system. First, change happens within you. Then, in your immediate surroundings. Then, it sort of snowballs.

Urban kids have a lot of privilege. It is important for them to see this film as well. All these films about superheroes, Kailash Satyarthi is our superhero, truly. Jhalki is a supergirl. She teaches you courage, resilience and honesty.

Also, whenever we speak of memories, we speak of childhood, the freedom, the joy, the lack of inhibition. We love the song 'Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji' because it was a brilliant time. So, what happens when it is not so for some kids? We need to allow these children to be children. So that when they grow up, they will allow others to be. 

Reading the story and the script is one thing. To work with children is quite another. In such trying circumstances as well. How was that experience?

At every level, it is a different experience. But the energy these kids bring on board, the non-rehearsed emotion that they have, they bring in freshness, and it is very difficult acting with kids. 

Unless you are a good listener, your cue will change. They will bring out things and you can enhance that moment. Only few directors can actually work with kids, directors who are actually fond of kids and gentle. 

We were shooting in 48°C in Mirzapur, very dusty. This little girl and boy, and other kids, they were not sitting in vans. They did not care about coolers, or Bisleri water, or time. It doesn't matter to them. If you are that kind of person whom these things bother, you learn a lot. You stop complaining. Your perspective changes. That is where the journey becomes the goal.

Talk to us about meeting Kailash Satyarthi.

A man who started all this 30 years ago, and we were talking to him about one of his first incidents. He actually did a civil raid, without the help of the law. The law was not in place. His bones have been broken, there have been attempts on his life. But the courage! He has freed 86,000 kids, impacting so many families. We focus on Instagram followers, but 86,000 kids! He has to be a role model. Amazingly inspiring. Very relevant and very today.

He knows this is happening even today, but he focuses on the next problem — compassion deficit. All the negativity on social media and he says compassion deficit is the next issue. It is the same the world over; since he works in many countries, he can see that. He believes India can bring about that change since culturally we are a very accepting and open society. This is the only country that celebrates all faiths. The more we bring our younger generation into that atmosphere, the better it is for the world. 

Was there a moment during filming that stands out now?

There is a line when this little boy, whom Jhalki is looking for, finally meets Boman (who plays Kailash Satyarthi) and says, "Itni der kyon laga di [What took you so long]?" Boman just put his head down. It was remarkable to see an actor of his calibre and how he reacts to the statement. It really moved me, because when kids ask you certain questions, and a very relevant question... what a child sees as the most obvious thing, to help a little boy in need, is set on priority for adults. 

I had read that scene, but while watching it just blew me away. Then, I had taken my kids also. We are aware, but these bloody phones just keep you busy. So, when a child is asking you a question, you need to be attentive. Don't delay things with them. They live in the here and now. You live in a baggage, they don't. They have cried, laughed, and the moment is gone. I am learning that now. 

You also have a couple of projects, Pareeksha among them.

Pareeksha is another beautiful subject. Adil [Hussain] and me, and there are some web-series. There is Brahm, a thriller mystery. I will also be in DevDD for AltBalaji. Leila, I am not sure about going into season 2 yet. Other than that, I have been reading a couple of scripts. 

Were you bothered by the controversy that broke out around Leila?

Well, it was bound to happen with a subject that delves into dystopia and social issues. It was not much, but still. As I said, compassion deficit. I have learnt to use social media, but not to let it use me. We have to learn to navigate it for our own sanity.