If cinema mirrors society then Nagraj Manjule’s films reflect the haunting realities of the cultural and social structure in every possible spectrum visible to the human eye.
The filmmaker started his journey with the short film ‘Pistulya’ shot on a shoestring budget with a camera as frugal as Sony NX 100.
But, it’s grit that makes a film and not the equipment, for it went on to bag the ‘Best debut short film’ at the 58th National Film Awards.
The filmmaker then came up with his first feature film ‘Fandry’ that presented an even real picture of ambitions being bombarded by casteism, the film brought even greater accolades for the director with Best Film honour at Mumbai International Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, Goteborg International Film Festival and a National Award yet again for manjule, to name a few.
The director is now gearing up for his latest release ‘Jhund’ starring Amitabh Bachchan. The film, inspired from the life of social worker Vijay Barse, shows how a football coach bands together a gang of outlaws to form a football team. His films have a pertinent theme of Dalit struggle amidst the upper caste hegemony.
In a recent conversation with IANS, Nagraj spoke about the challenges of moving from Marathi regional cinema to Hindi mainstream, the experience of working with Amitabh Bachchan, the importance of art for cerebral development and his equation with music director duo Ajay-Atul.
Talking about the challenges of being in the medium of cinema, the director states, “Filmmaking is a challenge in itself, every film brings along new challenges and new problems. How you work your way around those problems and how you come up with unique solutions to them defines you as a storyteller.”
Having doled out exceptional films in regional cinema, Nagraj’s anticipation is at an all time high for ‘Jhund’ now given the scale of the film and a veteran actor like Bachchan by his side, “I have worked in Marathi regional cinema and have made some fairly decent films but ‘Jhund’ is one film which is very close to my heart because it gave me the opportunity to work with Mr Bachchan. In my mind, there are no demarcations between Hindi mainstream film or a Marathi regional film. For me, this film is another step in my journey as a storyteller.”
The thought of working with Bachchan may be exciting but did he feel the pressure up close while working on the film? The filmmaker has a very categorical answer, “To be honest I did feel the pressure of working with such a towering personality of Indian cinema.”
“I was conscious and also now was nervous somewhere not because I got intimidated but, as a storyteller it’s my duty to use the potential of my actor to its maximum and when you have Mr Bachchan working in your film, this responsibility increases manifold”, he adds.
Commenting on the importance of art in a person’s life, he says, “Art is very important for the growth of human beings. Even sports are a form of art, there are techniques to sports but there is an artistic aspect to sports as well. There is a very famous quote which says that if you have one rupee, you spend 50 paisa on food and with the rest 50 paisa you buy a book.”
He explains, “The food will fill your stomach but the knowledge that you gain from reading that book will fill your soul, it’ll fill your subconscious and make you a better human being. It’s because of the habit of reading and imbibing knowledge that I have reached a point where I get to work in a film like ‘Jhund'”.
The music of ‘Jhund’ has been designed by Ajay-Atul, the duo with whom he has been associated since his first feature film ‘Fandry’. Sharing what the association with Ajay-Atul means for him, he says, “I developed a special bond with Ajay-Atul with my very first feature film ‘Fandry’, it was a promotional song but to this day that song is very special to me. Next came ‘Sairat’ and the world knows what a beautiful album it was and the entire credit goes to Ajay-Atul for that.”
Talking about the comfort that they share, he adds, “All three of us share a very comfortable space where our creative wavelengths match and overlap and that leads to good things coming out on the celluloid. It was pre decided that Ajay-Atul will be a part of ‘Jhund’. We started working on the music right off the bat when I started penning down the screenplay.”
Nagraj rounds up the conversation by spelling out the essence of ‘Jhund’, “Discipline is a primary factor that drives a human being the will to do something when clubbed with discipline works wonders and that’s what ‘Jhund’ stands for”.