Most Bollywood films show cops as either the righteous hero or the corrupt one in the system. But, filmmaker Prakash Jha, in his 2003 release Gangaajal, showed that a police officer acts basis the circumstances and can sometimes switch between these two extremes. “The relationship between the police and the society has always intrigued me. It does even till date. Questions like, ‘Why do we need the police, why do we have to make laws, and how does that very same force, who we have given the power to control us, turn corrupt?’ keep coming to my mind. Gangaajal was an effort to find answers to all these,” says the filmmaker.
The film that starred an ensemble cast including Ajay Devgn in the lead role as SP Amit Kumar, Gracy Singh, Mohan Joshi, Anup Soni among others showed how criminals in the captivity of the police were blinded by pouring acid into their eyes. “Our story tried to unearth the answer that could our society sanction and support a crime this heinous,” adds Jha, whose “fascination” with social paradoxes gave Indian cinema a film that remains relevant even after 20 years of its release.
Jha shares how Gangaajal, which delves into the gritty reality of corruption and lawlessness in rural India, resonated with the audiences over these years. “I met several people who shared their personal experiences of how the movie had a profound impact on them. Many told me they’ve watched it over a 100 times, and each time, it strikes them harder. May be they like watching the hero fight on screen and do things that they usually cannot,” says the director, narrating a recent encounter with the film’s fan that touched him.
“Two days ago, I met an IPS officer at the airport, and he told me that Gangaajal inspired him to become an IPS officer and it was only after watching the film that he started preparing for the exam,” Jha tells us, quickly adding that there’s nothing to boast or feel proud about.
He explains, “It’s good the people loved the film but I do not have to feel proud because of it. It’s not something that I have done. Ye sab apne aap ho jaata hai. There are a lot of my other movies like Apaharan, Raajneeti which are equally good according to me. My job is to make movies on society, the changes and driving factors behind it… That’s what I enjoy doing.”
Gangaajal had drawn several real-life incidents, which did not go well with the audience, that triggered violence among some section. When asked is he had any inhibitions while making the movie, Jha says, “When you are trying to tell a story to the society, you have to be responsible. There is no choice in it. And I keep that in mind with every film of mine and I did it with Gangaajal also.”
Given that today several films land in some or the other controversy, has this responsibility increased over the years? “It has always been there, but yes, our society is strongly opinionated and we have to be creative keeping all that in mind. Gangaajal ke time par bhi bahut putle jalaaye gaye the. Even with films like Raajneeti and Apharan, we saw backlash. But as a filmmaker I am only trying to tell a story. Jo aap kehna chaahte hain, wo toh kahenge hi na,” he concludes.