<%-- Page Title--%> Film <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 123 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

September 19, 2003

<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- 5% Text Table--%>

Gangajal Showing Society for What it is

Pallab Bhattacharya

Prakash Jha, one of the leading directors in Indian cross-over cinema, is a relieved man.

He has bought peace with flamboyant politician Laloo Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which rules the eastern state of Bihar, after the release of his latest feature film Gangajal was stalled for a week in Patna, capital of Bihar.

On August 29, at the first day first show of the film, RJD activists, particularly its controversial leader Sadhu Yadav, brother-in law of Laloo Prasad Yadav, had vandalized two cinema halls in Patna protesting that the name of the film's villain resembled that of
Sadhu Yadav.

The stand-off between Sadhu and the director continued for a week before Jha flew from Bombay to Patna and met the RJD supremo and his brother-in-law for two hours and brought an end to the drama.

Gangajal, stars two-time national award winning actor Ajay Devgan in the role of an honest police officer caught in the vortex of crime and corruption at a village in Bihar. It opened to full houses in the first week in other parts of India but the director was particularly keen that people in Patna get to watch it because Bihar is his home state.

It is an irony that Sadhu Yadav and RJD activists are giving the clean chit to Jha's film. They, as the director complained, had taken objections to the naming of the villain in Gangajal without watching it. Jha repeatedly denied the reel Sadhu has any resemblance with real Sadhu or that he had Laloo Yadav's brother-in-law in mind in giving the name.

Laloo Prasad Yadav's brother-in-law withdrew his objections, also without watching the film even though Jha had arranged for its special screening in Patna.

In fact, said Jha, he had named the villain in his film after a small-time criminal he had met in a Bihar jail 13 years ago.

There is more than one reason why Jha has high stakes in ensuring smooth release and good response to Gangajal which also features actress Gracy Singh, (who shot to fame through Aamir Khan-starrer mega movie Lagaan), in the role of Devgan's wife.

First, Prakash Jha is himself the producer of Gangajal and makes a comeback to film-making after a break of two years.

Secondly, his flirting with mainstream commercial cinema by making immensely forgettable films like Dil Kya Kare and Rahul, ended up in box-office failure and Jha badly needed a hit to
stage a strong comeback.

The director has succeeded in bouncing back as Gangajal has earned rave media reviews as much as has Ajay Devgan who produced another fine performance in the film.

The story of Gangajal has taken cue from the infamous real incident that had unfolded in Bihar's Bhagalpur district two decades ago when a group of criminals were blinded by irate villagers who poured acid in their eyes.

Amit Kumar, a police officer (played by Ajay Devgan) is transferred to Tejpur, a small town in Bihar, dogged by criminals and corruption that has not spared the local police also.

Amit tries, with partial success, to inspire honesty among some of
his subordinates but soon he finds himself fighting against a virtually insurmountable wall of criminalised and corrupt system.

A strict follower of law, Amit soon finds that to cope with criminals he has to bend rules of the game. The police and residents of Tejpur pour acids as they go about tackling the criminals of Tejpur. In local parlance, acid is called Gangajal, a symbol of purification of society from criminals.

When Amit tries to assure the people of Tejpur that law will punish the criminals, he is confronted with the question "what law you are talking about?"

As Jha himself explains, Gangajal the dilemma of police and its relationship with society.

Recalls Jha, the Bhagalpur blindings went on for 17 months and there were over 30 cases relating to criminals being blinded in custody. When the news broke out about this, people of Bhagalpur took to the streets and threatened to fight against the local administration if the policemen responsible for the incidents were not punished.

"The crux of my film is this dilemma" -- are social and moral correctness one and the same thing?" Jha told an interviewer.
The best thing about Gangajal is that in dealing with a complex issue, Jha has not go ne for a black-and-white presentation of the characters.

It is interesting to note that every time Prakash Jha has set the story of his film in his native state of Bihar, he has met with success. One has only to recall his two earlier successful films Damul, dealing with exploitation in a feudal society, and Mrtiyudand in this context.

Damul, which has Prakash Jha's ex-wife and actress Dipti Naval in its central role, was adjudged the best feature film several years back while Mrityudand, starring Bollywood superstar Madhuri Dixit, was a box-office success. The story of both the films are set in Bihar and deals with the dark sides of society.

Jha has not succeeded in portraying human relationships and
emotions on screen as evidenced by Dil Kya Kare and Rahul. But his delineation of harsh social realities has made an impact.

In Damul, Jha set out as parallel film-maker but he seems to have moved over to cross-over films with films like Mrityudand and Gangajal which packages the subjects in the language of the prevailing mainstream market to reach out to a wider audience.

Whether this is desirable or not is a debate that has hardly ceased. One wishes Prakash Jha goes on.



(C) Copyright The Daily Star. The Daily Star Internet Edition, is published by The Daily Star