On Saturday; 8th December 2012, I got an opportunity to hear Prakash Jha, renowned film producer, director and screen-writer. He has made acclaimed political and socio-political films such as Damul (1984), Mrityudand (1997), Gangaajal (2003), Apaharan (2005), Raajneeti (2010), Aarakshan (2011) and Chakravyuh (2012).
As expected, Jha delivered a riveting speech. It made me think about social issues from a different perspective and I have reproduced parts of it in this post.
Hurdles in Life
Jha was asked that being a self made man, he must have faced many hurdles in life, so what advice would he give to the young generation for facing obstacles. He responded that he never faced any hurdles in life. He accepted whatever he got in life, learned from different situations and made the best of whatever resources he had.
Jha was born and raised at his family’s farm in Baraharwa, West Champaran, Bihar. He did his schooling from Sainik School and Kendriya Vidyalaya. Later, he joined Ramjas College, Delhi University to do B.Sc (Hons) in Physics. He said that in Bihar if you are a good student and go to a university, you face immense family and societal pressure to crack the IAS/IPS and settle down in a comfortable government job. However, Jha was not the guy to settle for the expected. His heart lay in painting and he he left studies after one year and decided to go to Bombay and become a painter, though while he was preparing for J.J. School of Arts, he happened to witness the shooting of the film ‘Dharma’ and got hooked on to filmmaking. He did odd jobs to survive from day to day, slept in beaches, pavements and worked in a restaurant kitchen for 9 months. By his own admission, he can cook professionally, thanks to his restaurant stint. He collected enough money to attend Film and Television Institute of India (Pune) in 1973 and has never looked back.
So in traditional terms, Jha faced several hurdles but the difference lay in his attitude.
Jha was asked that his movie ‘Aarakshan’ ended rather abruptly, focusing on coaching centers, and if the audience could expect a sequel to the movie that would address the ‘burning issue’ of caste-based reservations in greater detail. Jha responded that while some had identified the second part of the movie to be focused on coaching centers, the director’s motive had been to draw the attention of the audience towards the rise of a new class; the moneyed class. This class refers to people who have enough money to send their wards to coaching centers in Kota or to buy seats in medical colleges in Karnataka. In his opinion, this moneyed class is the issue that is to be addressed now.
Regarding caste based reservations, Jha said that the day the Supreme Court passed the ruling calling for 47% reservation in government jobs, colleges, etc., reservations ceased being an issue at all. They have become a reality, a truth, a fact of life that we have to live with. This was a front where some affirmative action was needed and whatever the basis (caste rather than finances), we have a law now and there is nothing that can be done against it. Therefore, it is best that we learn to accept it and fight against the reservation of the ‘moneyed class.’
Jha said that just as a singer expresses himself through his songs, an artist through his art and a dancer through his dance, he expressed himself through movies. Jha was asked if he would continue making movies that can lead to betterment of the society. He responded in his characteristic maverick manner saying,”Bhaisaab, movies paisa banane ke liye banati hai, samaj ki bhalai karne ke liye nahi.” He said that even he who made so many issue based movies, had to think about how he would keep the audience engaged for 2.5 hrs.
Jha said that we live in a country where 25 % of the wealth lies in the hands of the top 100 families, while 75% of the country lives in Rs. 30-35 per day. This difference is the root of all the problems that are plaguing this country. Remove this difference and corruption, naxalism, poverty and all other social vices would disappear. He elaborated further on naxalism saying that contrary to popular perception that all naxalites are anti-national illiterate tribals from the forests, some of the naxalites are recruited from among the educated crowd from universities as far as Nagpur.
As per Jha, corruption is something that is ingrained in our blood, as a society and as a polity. His solution to corruption is to legalize it. He says that corruption raises its ugly head only when there are rules against it. He compared it with the censor board. If all restrictions are removed and people decide what to watch, the market would automatically fall in line.
In his native state of Bihar and in much of India, he says that corruption has become an accepted way of life. They don’t view it as something detrimental to the common interest because they are more focused on day to day survival rather than lofty ideals. He cited the example of a certain ‘Dagru’ a labourer in his native village of Champaran, Bihar. One time when Mr. Jha was visiting Patna, the Dagru, Mukhiya and Sarpanch of his village came to visit him. He asked about the well being of Dagru and was told that Dagru recently married off his daughter with the help of the sarpanch and mukhiya, who had helped him get money from the government under KCC scheme and crop insurance. KCC means Kisan Credit Card scheme under which a farmer can get small loan from the government for farming and crop insurance claim is paid when the crop fails. Dagru is a landless labourer. The money that he got from the government treasury against false papers and with help from corrupt babus and chairholders of the village was distributed between all involved parties. All of this was done at the expense of the government and the tax payers. Do they feel even a little guilty for duping the government? No, because it is the norm for them.
He also cited the example of National Rural employment guarantee act (NREGA) which promises hundred days of wage-employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. Jha’s research around the country indicated that corruption has permeated the Nregs system as well. Money is paid to nonexistent persons for nonexistent work. In some places the same roads, ponds and wells are built again and again. Only a fraction of the money reaches the deserving and there is a shortfall of agricultural labor in villages because of this act.
He says that the market or ‘bazarwaad’ is the single most influencing factor of our times. It is due to the demand of the market and the flow of bribes from the market to the decision-makers that FDI bill got passed in the legislative houses. The politicians don’t care about the poor farmer or the shopkeeper, they do what the market wants them to do. Jha said that the scenario in our society is such that if a learned person like Swami Vivekanand would stand in a square with all his knowledge, philosophy and gyan there would be no takers because no corporater would back him.
Jha said that twenty-thirty years ago who would have thought that industrial houses would buy Rajya Sabha seats at Rs. 50 crore each, to establish their presence at the center and lobby for bills that promote their interests. However, that is a reality now.
Market has its influence on the education system as well. In Jha’s opinion, engineers and managers are the only professionals that our educational system is churning out. There is no scope and no interest in humanities, core science programs or social sciences in the youth. Except for Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, which still has respect as a center of studies in subjects other than management and engineering, he reckons rest of the country has become stricken by a network of competitive exam coachings, engineering and business management schools. There isn’t a single university that has a reputation comparable to foreign universities for research in subjects like literature, history, etc.
Jha opined that nothing is more indicative of the rotten state of our education system than the respect accorded to the teaching profession. Nowadays the relationship between a teacher and student has become similar to the relationship between a service provider and a client. As a result only people who can’t make it in other professions come into this field. With the rise of private institutions the formerly noble profession of teaching has fallen into a state where teachers are torn between serving two masters; the institution and the students. Such is the state of affairs that we celebrate the money (annual package) that we get from our degree rather than knowledge itself.
He closed off his speech by saying, “Jis desh mein 75% log Rs. 30-35 daily par rehte hai, Mukesh Ambani Altamount road par Rs. 5000 crore ka ghar bana kar kya dikhana chahte hai?”