Director Jahnu Barua believes our apathy towards regional cinema is contributing to its dismal exposure.
Jahnu Barua has made 12 feature films so far and all of which have won critical acclaim. The nine-time National Award-winning filmmaker's latest offering Baandhon centres on 26/11 and is slated to open the Indian Panorama at International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Goa later this month. We caught up with the Assam-based veteran for a chat.
Baandhon is your first directorial venture in eight years. What took you so long?
After I finished Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara, I completed Har Pal but it didn't get released due to several unfortunate reasons. But I'm certain that it will very soon. I also worked on a short film and a documentary in the meantime. Apart from those, I was also busy writing my first international project titled Homing Pigeons.
Mumbai plays a key role in Baandhon. What is your personal equation with this city?
Mumbai is a part and parcel of my life because I've lived here for almost 25-30 years. I look up to this city in different ways. This place embodies the very theme of my film -- the common man is always the victim. Mumbai effortlessly represents the perfect mix of varied regions and cultures.
What according to you is terrorism?
Coming from a state where terrorism and militancy have very much been in the news lately, I'm highly aware of how things are. The most commonly used word is terrorism. However, being a filmmaker, I try to look at it from a balanced perspective. The truth is that most of the people are not at all involved in these heinous acts but they get framed somehow. I'd say 70-80 per cent of these people are just victims of circumstances. And at the end of the day, a common man with nothing to gain endures unnecessary troubles.
Was what happened in Assam recently one such instance?
Of course, the so-called clash between Bodos and Muslims was more political in nature than anything else. These people have been living together for decades but then, the seeds of difference are sowed and what you saw on the media was the abrupt result of that insecurity. Who suffered the most? The common man, as usual...
Do you believe cinema as an instrument can heal?
It's a very strong medium. It has a huge impact on society. There are issues and audiences seek answers to their problems on the big screen. If cinema can be effective in a negative way by propagating violence and crime, then it can definitely act as a powerful instrument in healing too. It works both ways.
What is your main objective behind making a film?
I don't forget that I'm a part of society and there's a degree of social responsibility involved. I keep that in mind while writing a script too. The human aspects influence me the most. I don't get excited about unnatural things. Maybe that's why my film may not be as popular as a masala flick but I know I'm bound to make a good film.
Why is regional cinema not at par with mainstream films?
The incompetence of marketing is the biggest culprit. It's not a filmmaker's fault. Besides, there is really something wrong with us as a nation. I would call it the disease of ignorance. For example, if a Tamil film wins a National Award, people in Gujarat or other states should be curious about it but that fire is absent. The same is true about regional music and art too.
In that context, how important are film festivals?
Very, and not just for filmmakers but also for the masses. After all, they don't get to or are not used to watching the best Indian cinema has to offer otherwise.
Have you seen Barfi! yet? If yes, do you think it was the right choice for Oscars?
The film is likeable. It has a lot of popular elements attached to it. It won't be appropriate to comment on whether it deserved to be our entry to the Oscars but I feel that it lacked absolute originality. Having said that, the selection committee might have a different ideology and one can't deny that it's a well-made film. I admire Anurag Basu.
Which filmmakers inspire you?
I like Yasujiro Ozu a lot because he's somewhere quite close to my own ideology. However, I keenly look at other great filmmakers' work as well. Yasujiro and Kurosawa were poles apart but I love the latter's films too.