Interview Hindi

Have been facing obstacles with all my films: Prakash Jha on ideology dictating art in India

The veteran filmmaker, who was recently attacked while making his web-series Aashram (Season 3), speaks about his turn as an actor in Shubham Singh’s short film Highway Nights.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Filmmaker Prakash Jha’s latest as an actor, the short film Highway Nights, has him playing a weary truck driver who meets a young woman on the highway.

Directed by Shubham Singh, the short film unfolds over one ordinary night in the life of an overworked truck driver who meets a sex worker played by Mazel Vyas.

As she takes a lift in his truck, she tries to charm him and win over a new customer. However, as the night progresses, we realize that everybody is ultimately engaged in a struggle for survival.

Speaking about the film and what propelled him to accept the role of the protagonist, Jha said, “It’s a simple story that has a subtle message and it was a good character to play. In an organic manner the message comes out about girls' education. He [Jha’s character] is informed by the wife that his daughter has come first and he says that is to be expected. The other girl [the sex worker] says I too used to stand first in class, and look where she has gone, so it’s she who adopts the driver and the driver adopts her and both are taking the right path. Very beautifully, the progression takes place.”

Besides Highway Nights, the filmmaker has acted in Saand Ki Aankh (2019) and the short film Matto Ki Saikil (2020).

Asked whether the acting bug has bitten him, Jha shot back, “No one asked if I was bitten by the directing bug when I started directing films. Acting is just one more form of expression which I have begun to enjoy. Right now, I am in the middle of directing a web-series [Aashram (Season 3), which was recently in the news with some goons disrupting shooting], so whenever there is something appealing that comes up, and I am offered it, which I feel I should do, I go ahead with it.”

Highway Nights director Shubham Singh had spoken about Jha being a director’s actor, an ideal artiste who submits himself to fulfil the director’s vision. Speaking about leaving the director in him behind and being just an actor, Jha said, “It’s not hard at all. There is no other way to be, really. It’s his [Shubham’s] vision, he has written the script. My job is to find that character and the struggle was to identify that man, the driver, and behave exactly as the director has envisioned. So, whatever you add, you do so with your own imagination, but the director has to approve it, he has to like it, because he is thinking about everybody else. So I give the same right to the director which I expect from my actors.”

Prakash Jha (R) in a shooting still from Highway Nights

The short film won the Grand Jury prize at the 2021 Best of India Short Film Festival. An elated Jha said, “That is such a good thing to happen. I’m surprised and happy as well. We have made the film with a lot of sincerity and it’s a good film. I liked the film a lot but did not know if people would be able to recognize the various layers in it. I did not expect too much, but when people started appreciating it and understood it, that makes me doubly happy.”

Jha has engaged with and responded to various socio-political issues in his films Damul (1985), Mrityudand (1997), Gangaajal (2003), Aarakshan (2011) and Chakravyuh (2012). With his pulse on the times, his web-series Aashram, starring Bobby Deol, has been exploring the blind faith that some people place in self-proclaimed godmen.

Asked if today’s polarized times are seeing art being increasingly dictated by an ideology in a way that has not been seen before, he said, “No, I don’t agree completely because this has been there throughout. I have been facing obstacles with all my films, whether it was Raajneeti (2010) or Aarakshan, Chakravyuh... it keeps happening. People have their own thought processes and our society is such, so what can one do?”

Asked if he has anything to say to young filmmakers who might feel they need to tread cautiously or be disheartened, he said, “I wouldn’t like to say anything on anyone’s behalf. Each one to oneself. People handle things in their own way. I also handle things in my own way. There is difficulty but it’s just like one obstruction you have to negotiate and move through.”