COURTING controversy even before its release, Chakravyuh had to be a Prakash Jha film, given that Raajneeti and Aarakshan had generated similar furore. Jha, 60, tells Shonali Ghosal why a story of Maoist ideology must be told on celluloid.
EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
How did the idea for Chakravyuh germinate?
Over the past few years, one has been hearing of Dantewada, peasants being killed in counter fire, basically violence from both sides. Where it was initially said that the people killed were Naxals, they have gone about claiming, “No, they were harbouring Naxals”, and later “No, just 50 percent of them were Naxals.” Naxals are people you can’t differentiate. Their uncles and brothers are either part of the militia or are informers. They don’t understand the meaning of freedom, democracy and swaraj because they’ve never tasted it. In Gadchiroli, there used to be a famous local poet. He once said, “Suna hai ki azadi mil gayi, swaraj mil gaya, kuch 50-60 saal pehle woh Lal Qile se chala aaya. Pata nahin kahaan kho gaya. Usko daftar daftar mein dekha, police thane mein dekha. Usko dhundha par kahin nahin mila. Dekha na hin aaj tak kaisa hai — gora hai ki lamba hai, bada hai ya chhota hai. Bhai, aapko mile to humare gaon le aana. Ek baar darshan to kar le. That’s how they look at the sovereign nation which is not sovereign in their part of the world.
What research went into the making of this film?
Personal interactions with people who have left, those advocating that ideology. I’ve been meeting them all these years. And then my co-writer, Anjum Rajabali, who’s also engaged with the issue, narrated a story to me in 2003. I told him we could do it now because I see it spreading. The conflict and violence is no more restricted to Dandakarnaya, the forest and the tribals. We revisited Gadchiroli and other areas and took points of view from the policemen, the populace, the Naxals, people who have deserted the Naxals and people who’ve been imprisoned.
How has your understanding of Naxalism changed in the making of Chakravyuh?
I’ve known of the Naxal movement since the early 1970s when I was in University of Delhi. We used to talk about it — Naxalbari, the founder Charu Majumdar, the romance with Leftist ideology, classless society – since it was happening close to Bihar, When you make a movie, you don’t bring your personal point of view, you have to be fair. Over the time I’ve been making films, I’ve been interested in how the movement spread out. TEHELKA has been a great source of information. The kind of films I do, I have to also sympathise with the CRPF guys who are living in terrible conditions, hunting the Naxals without knowing why they are doing what they are doing. Once a cop who was getting ready for a mission told me: Kya saab, humare to kuch samajh mein nahin aata. Yehpoliticians log to murge lada rahe hain. Hum Naxals ki goli se nahin marenge tomalaria se mar jayenge. Everybody knows that guns will not offer a solution — the Naxals know it and so does the CRPF.
Which of TEHELKA’s stories helped you create insights?
Whatever came out really on Maoism — Soni Sori’s story, how the factionalism, how the divisions formed. It was a constant exchange.
Today, how would you describe the Naxal problem in India?
All that agony and exploitation that they have gone through has been translated to a cause. They have the guns to answer back. People can say that the means they are adopting is not right, the cause may be valid. I asked the Naxals, “Even when the government is trying to reach out, Planning Commission is investing, you’re not trying to negotiate and see that the investment comes in. You’re actually stopping it. They build a road, you blow it up, they build a school, you blow it up, and so what do you want?” If you go to Abujmarh or Saranda, which the Naxals consider a liberated zone, they have their own system and laws. But how is it going to benefit people at large? This is what achakravyuh is, a war position from which it’s difficult to come out. You must understand that they have the rights on the forests, mines and minerals in their area because these are the only assets they have. Now they’re also caught in a mess and don’t want to negotiate on real terms. They’re talking about power through the barrel of a gun.
Did you ever justify the violence on either side?
Never. Violence can never be justified, it can never lead to a solution. I’ve said it inChakravyuh in as many words. In the film, Kabir (Abhay Deol) is a close friend of SP Adil (Arjun Rampal). He crosses over to the other side intending to help Adil, but begins to nurture different ideas when he experiences the realities of the Naxals. When 25 percent of your GDP is in the hands of 100 families and 75 percent of the population lives below Rs 30 a day, don’t you see how violent the system is? It is the backbone of the Naxal movement where they’re talking about classless society, equal opportunities for everybody. This democracy has stopped respecting the poor man, so it definitely isn’t democracy.
Are you wary of conflicts with the Censor Board?
Nothing of that sort will happen. On one side, there’s the government and on the other, there are Naxals. I’ve been honest to both. The Censor Board refused to pass one song, but that’s cleared now. Recently, I heard a jan mandali in a village doing propaganda work, humming, “Birla ho ya Tata, Ambani ho ya Bata, sabne apne chakkar mein desh ko hai kaata.” The Board said I was defaming them, but I wanted to use the names symbolically. If you want, I’ll put a disclaimer.
Why is it important to convey that the references are real?
I’m going to put a claimer because I feel like I’m lying. Everybody puts up that card (‘Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is purely co-incidental’), but this time, I will not do it. I hope the Board allows me. It is very dishonest for me to say they bear no resemblance. All my characters, the incidents, the drama, right from Mrityudand have been drawn from real life.
What do you hope to achieve through Chakravyuh?
Just bring the issue out in the open so that we begin to understand and address the issue of the great division, the distrust. I’ve tried to look at the problem from every angle, explain the equations and make it clearer so that someone can see the solution. It’s very difficult to spell it out because I don’t know what the solution is, but I can see the problems. I’m scared because this distrust is growing at an enormous pace.
What takes precedence, the message or the story?
Unless I tell a good story, until I engage your mind, you’re not coming to a theatre to be preached at. Here, the fight between two friends is not over the girl, it’s over the ideology, and yet it has to become paramount as far as their existence is concerned. That is a challenge, that’s what I continuously do.
Shonali Ghosal is a Correspondent with Tehelka.