IT WAS an unlikely setting for the promotion of a Bollywood film. But then writer, producer and director Prakash Jha has always steered away from the usual. And his latest film Jai Gangaajal, which releases on March 4 and stars actor Priyanka Chopra in the lead, isn’t your usual masala film. The setting on this early Sunday morning was the multimedia hall at the Chandigarh Traffic Police Lines in Sector 29 which was packed to capacity.
Uniformed women police officers and women constables sat in rapt attendance as Jha and the cast of his film — actors Rahul Bhatt and Vega Tamotia — took to the stage. The director is no stranger to the world of khaki, as UT SSP Sukhchain Singh Gill reiterated at the start of the proceedings. Jha’s award-winning films like Gangaajal, Rajneeti, Chakravyuh, Aarakshan, to list a few have been stellar examples of powerful, hard-hitting cinema that has in most cases emphasised the trials and tribulations faced by Indian police personnel.
Taking his story-telling forward, Jha’s latest centres around a woman cop, essayed by Priyanka Chopra, and the struggles she faces in a system run by babus and netas. As part of the film’s promotional tour, Jha and his team are visiting Indian cities and interacting with police personnel, including women.
“It is the story drawn from experiences of many women in the police that I have met. I spent months visiting 52 police stations in interiors of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. I know how difficult it is for women police officers and lady constables to work in the most trying of circumstances. In most places, police chowkis don’t even have toilets,” said Jha as he addressed the gathering.
Acknowledging their struggles, including doing double duty — first at work and then as wives and mothers at home — the director spoke with compassion and a sense of belonging. On why he chooses to focus on cops through his films and the reasons for his close connect, the director remarked, “It is a subject that is very close to me. I have travelled and heard experiences that the common man isn’t even aware of. There’s pride in wearing khaki and I would like schools to highlight inspiring stories so that children respect these men and women in uniform,” said Jha who was greeted with a thunderous applause.
As he shared the film’s trailer with the audience, which also included scenes of him as an actor (he plays a cop), Jha said, “I have worked as a writer, producer and director. I felt the need to face the camera. When I wore the policeman’s uniform for my role, my body language changed. I felt a sense of pride and that’s something I wish to see in all my countrymen. Aapne dekha mera salute kitna kadak tha? (Did you see how crisp my salute was?),” quipped the director as the women applauded him with enthusiasm.
Incidentally, Jha roped in Neeraj Kumar, former Commissioner of Police, Delhi, as a consultant for the film. “Not just appearances, I am very careful about the laws and rules being cited in the film,” said the director, who admitted that he was a keen observer of political and social issues. “I have a few ideas that I am working on, including one that is not a sequel but an extension of my film Rajneeti. The political landscape has changed since the release of that film and I want to work on the current situation,” said Jha who has never shied away from expressing himself in the public domain. More recently he took on the Censor Board. “Firstly I don’t think we need a Censor Board. A few people can’t dictate what the larger public can and cannot watch,” he said.