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INTERVIEW/Jahnu Barua, director, Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara
Jahnu Barua, 52, was born in a village, Bokota, in upper Assam. As a child he would see a film once a month out in the open and became fascinated by it. It was only when he was five years old, he realised you could see a film in a hall. After graduating in science from Guwahati University, he did a three-year course for directors in 1971 at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. In a 25-year career, Barua has made 10 films, nearly all of them commercial hits. His films have won 12 national and 23 international awards, including the Silver Leopard at the Locarno film festival in 1988.
Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara is the story of the mental disintegration of an acclaimed Hindi scholar and retired Mumbai professor Uttam Chaudhry (played brilliantly by Anupam Kher) and the impact it has on the family. While the focus has been rightly on Kher’s performance and the rest of the cast, which includes Urmila Matondkar, Rajat Kapur and newcomer, Addy, very few people were aware the director was Barua. Excerpts:
Are you disappointed that, despite the critical acclaim, as director, you have been ignored?
The focus on the Hindi film industry is on the stars and rarely on those who are behind the camera. The result is that the public is unaware of the kind of hard work and effort that has been put by us. The filmmaker needs to be projected.
Where did you get the idea for Maine Gandhi Ko Nahim Mara?
Coming from the northeast, I have seen a lot of bloodshed, militancy and political unrest. Had it been tackled at the initial stage, with a non-violent attitude, the results would not have been like it is today. I felt the answers to a lot of problems we face are with Mahatma Gandhi and his ideology. But the unfortunate thing is that if you make such a film, nobody will see it. That was why I was looking for a strong story. Ten years ago, while I was doing research for another film, I came across a true story of a demented patient. The thing about a patient suffering from dementia is that he is truthful; whatever he feels he tells. So, through that character, I wanted to tell the audience that, maybe, Gandhi’s ideology might be relevant.
Is there an audience for your type of film?
I always feel there is an audience, but we are failing to project these films. We project all sorts of shallow things and ignore the main things. As a result, the audience has become allergic to films like Maine Gandhi Ko Nahi Mara.
How does Bollywood compare with Hollywood?
We have a lot of talent, at par with the best of the world, whether it is the regional or the Hindi film industry. But, despite that, we end up making ordinary products. In such a big industry we do not have any R&D. There is no platform where filmmakers can discuss where we are heading. We need to create a demand for a better cinema and the audience needs to mature also.
What is your philosophy of life?
I believe in simplicity. Today, there is a lot of unnecessary materialism. The world is becoming a market every day. Everywhere, people are talking about buying a product. The whole sense of life is being eroded.