When he is not acting on stage or screen, Pankaj Jha paints, sings, writes poems and takes photographs. “Art has taught me to live in the moment. Unlike a lot of people, I have no plans for the future. Look at children today; even they are forced to live for the future rather than the present,” says Jha, whose film Setters, which released on May 3, shows him as part of a gang that leaks examination papers in Varanasi. “Children are under great pressure to perform and many take a recourse to illegal means. A lot of people say that they wanted to become an actor or singer but were forced towards engineering or medicine,” says Jha. Excerpts from an interview:
What convinced you to act in Setters?
This film is not about entertainment only. It also shows how deep the malaise of ‘setters’ is in our system. There is a deep rot in the system. I like challenging roles and have been a part of issue-based films such as Gulal, Black Friday, Chameli and Anwar.
Did you feel the pressure of the education system when you were young?
I was a very studious boy but, if I had a problem with any question during exams, I used to ask my friend, who used to sit next to me. I found mathematics very difficult and my friends and I used to swear that we would find the person who had invented the subject and do something nasty to him. I graduated from College of Arts & Crafts, Patna University, and joined the National School of Drama in Delhi. After working in theatre, I came to Mumbai and worked in films.
Your journey has been unconventional but, growing up in Bihar, what did you see of the dark side of education?
I think we need to focus on the fact that every child is not made to excel in every subject. The system is such that he or she has to pass in all the subjects. I have personally seen how the class 10 exams were like a festival in which almost every member of the family would participate alongside the student. Food would be cooked in large quantities and there would be a network to find leaked questions and write the answers to prepare the students. In between, there would be the siren of police jeeps. It was very common for family members to scale walls to reach the windows next to which their child was writing his paper.
Do results matter to you, given that Setters has had a lukewarm opening?
I cannot speak about market returns. All I can say is that this is a sincere film and, now, it is up to the people.