x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Prakash Jha on why Chakravyuh delivers a meaningful message

We talk to Prakash Jha about Chakravyuh, his new film that tackles the Naxalite insurgency.

The filmmaker Prakash Jha, second from right, talks about his film Chakravyuh in Dubai. Charles Crowell for The National
The filmmaker Prakash Jha, second from right, talks about his film Chakravyuh in Dubai. Charles Crowell for The National

The filmmaker Prakash Jha’s latest release Chakravyuh will tackle the subject of the Naxalite insurgency, through the eyes of two best friends with opposing interests: a Maoist rebel and a police officer.

One goes to a Prakash Jha film prepared for a socio-political piece of work. From Damul in 1984 to 2010’s Rajneeti, politics has been the backdrop for Jha’s films, and his latest – Chakravyuh (Labyrinth) – is no different.

This latest Bollywood political thriller stars Arjun Rampal (who also starred in Jha’s Rajneeti) as the police officer Adil Khan and Abhay Deol as his best friend, the Maoist rebel Kabir. The film also stars Esha Gupta, Manoj Bajpai, Kabir Bedi, Om Puri and Anjali Patil.

Rampal declares the film to be a rare combination of entertainment and education. “You rarely get the chance to work on an entertaining film that also carries a meaningful message,” says Rampal. “That is why this film is very close to my heart. It effectively highlights the dual reality of India today: the developed cities and the underdeveloped villages. The Maoist movement is growing stronger in the latter and the film highlights this.”

Rampal reveals that as part of doing research for his role in the film, he visited villages and witnessed the dire circumstances in which people are living: “They don’t even have basic necessities such as electricity, roads, schools and hospitals. They are stuck in a ‘chakravyuh’ [labyrinth], and this film looks at that situation and its possible -solutions.”

Deol is known for choosing unconventional characters to portray on screen. In Chakravyuh, he plays a Maoist rebel, and engages in some very heavy action sequences – a first for him. The film’s action director Abbas Ali Moghul has been quoted saying that the stunts in the film are very realistic and contain an element of daredevilry. Did Deol find it difficult to perform stunts himself? “The sequences were physically taxing,” he admits. “But I enjoyed every minute of it and never felt daunted.” Esha Gupta, a glamorous newbie in Bollywood, plays the role of a female officer in the film. “When I was casting for this role, I wanted a girl who looked like a cop,” says Jha. “In Esha, I saw that. I don’t know why everyone says she is fit only to play glamorous roles. She has performed excellently as a female  officer in Chakravyuh.”

Jha is not just a serious filmmaker, but is an activist himself. In 2004 and then again in 2009, he contested the Lok Sabha (lower chamber) elections from his native Champaran. Neither attempt yielded success. For the past five years, Jha has been involved with development initiatives in Bihar, spearheading growth in infrastructure, health care and vocational training facilities in the state through the NGO Anubhooti.

Jha refers to the Naxalite issue as “alarming”, saying that it sprawls over 200 districts and engages a large chunk of India’s paramilitary resources to combat the armed guerrilla fighters.

“In such a time of unrest, highlighting the issue in mainstream channels is very important,” says Jha.

He explains that he wanted to explore the story from all angles, and so he chose the central plot of two best friends with interests on -opposing sides of the issue.

“My co-writer, Anjum Rajabali, had been working on the subject for quite some time. He had narrated the idea to me way back in 2003 and I had instantly been interested in the subject. But I was busy working on Raajneeti and Aarakshan. Once those films were out of the way I was able to focus 100 per cent on this story and Chakravyuh is the result,” says Jha.

History of a communist group

“Naxalite” is a term used to refer to various militant communist groups operating in different parts of India under various organisations. The term derives from Naxalbar, the name of the village in West Bengal where the movement originated. The Naxals are considered to be far-left radical communists, supportive of Maoist political ideology. They have been declared a terrorist organisation under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of India (1967). The present insurgency is said to date from 2002.

Chakravyuh opens in the UAE tomorrow