Prakash Jha had set himself a timeline for experimenting with politics. “I had given myself a 10-year period from 50-60 to try my hand at politics. Unfortunately, I didn’t win the elections that happened in this period. I missed my chance. I am done with politics now. I’ll never go back,” says the 61-year-old director who contested and lost the Lok Sabha elections from his native Champaran in Bihar in both 2004 and 2009.
He might have given up on active politics but political issues continue to be an integral part of his films. His latest, Satyagraha, explores the age of discontent among the middle class against corruption. “There are protests brewing all over the world. From Wall Street to Rajpath and Arab Spring, the middle class has decided that they want their voice to be heard. Lakhs of people congregate to demand better governance but those in power are still not ready to handle such protests so they clash,” he explains.
Jha describes himself as a keen observer of the ever-changing society. “Every society keeps setting new moral and social standards. These get changed because of economics. We don’t realise but we are constantly selling out. Our whole life is governed by how well we can market ourselves. It could be your looks, talent, image or skills. While we still believe that values such as truthfulness, charity, goodness are important but today, greed and competition are also considered to be virtues.”
The director believes the “ultimate protest in India took place in Delhi this past winter”. “The protests after the Nirbhaya case weren’t led by any ideology, party or individual. It was an assembly of people who wanted to gather at one point and protest what they thought was wrong. I had not seen something like this ever.”
“This film grew out of the disenchantment of the governance system into youth’s protest. Satyagraha tells the emotional story of a father and a son who are diametrically opposite but unite against the backdrop of protests. The film ends with the question whether protest is the end or the means,” says Jha about the multi-starrer that boasts of a cast that includes Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn, Kareena Kapoor and Arjun Rampal.
Satyagraha is Jha’s fourth film in as many years. The director was this prolific only at the beginning of his filmmaking career in the early ’80s. “I am working a little faster than usual,” he says with a laugh. Is he in a hurry to tell his stories? “I guess not. I think I am just making use of the opportunities that are coming my way. Until Rajneeti, I was busy with my political career. After 2009, when I decided that my political phase is over, I have come back to filmmaking with a renewed focus. These are all subjects that have been in my mind for a long time and they are stories that were waiting to be told.”
While his single-minded focus is now films, Jha has decided to “do things that he’s always wanted to do”. “Ever since I was a child, I wanted to learn how to play the piano. I am amazed at the sound it creates. Even in my films, you’ll notice a lot of piano in the background music. Wayne Sharpe, who has composed the music for my last five films, is a pianist from New York. I had decided that post 60, I will start doing the things in my bucket-list. So now I have piano lessons. It is such an enjoyable experience. I had one this morning,” he says, pointing to the piano in one corner of his quaint Andheri office.
Interestingly, Bachchan has also been taking piano lessons. “He plays really well. I have heard him play.” On the Jha’s must-do list are also flying lessons and taking up painting again. “I came to Mumbai in the ’70s to become a painter. So, I just want to go back and rediscover it.”