Saturday, 2 August 2008

"Americans have big tanks & sophisticated weapons which they can use against us anytime they want. All we have is our body" Jag Mundhra

He is a Hindu and in the past has made Provoked which was a controversial film starring the former Miss World Aishwarya Rai which revolved around the true life story of a Southall housewife Kiranjit Ahluwalia who killed her abusive husband after which the new law under Provocation got implemented. Now he is about to release his film on August 22 in the U.K which revolves around the mother of all controversies - the shoot out of Jean Charles De Menezes, an innocent Brazilian national who was shot more than ten times at point blank range inside the Stockwell Tube Station in London by the Metropolitan Police officers who thought of him as a suicide bomber. But the truth was that he wasn't a suicide bomber. Jagmohan Mundhra also known as Jag Mundhra took this bold and a brave decision of making Shoot On Sight on a subject which has many questions unanswered. For a change, Mundhra answered all my questions and came out with shocking quotes, comments and answers. Over to Jag.

It seems like you are too fond of making controversial films on controversial subjects. How do your films see the light of the day?
But they do, don't they? (laughs). When I make a film I don't think before hand as to how controversial it'll be. That is not the thought process. I first and foremost look at it that what will make a good dramatic story and to make a good drama you need to have a conflict. The external conflict drives the plot between the good and the bad guy and then there is an internal conflict which goes in the minds of these characters and that's what gives you a compelling story. A lot of times in the real life what people go through is so much more powerful and dramatic than something which will fictionally come with a figment of your imagination. So I pick subjects because they are compelling dramas of life. As a film maker, it's my responsibility to not run away from controversies.

Out of all the talent in the world, why only Jag Mundhra thought of making Shoot On Sight?
I am surprised to know that this was such a powerful story and a situation which was so dramatic that an innocent man was shot dead on the tube station in London by virtue of mistaken identity from the Metropolitan Police department. The time period when there was so much panic and the worlds one of the most well known and respected police force did such a bungling, nobody even thought of making a film on it. Some British film makers still believe that the subject is too raw and sensitive and therefore they are shying away. How long do you think one should wait to address such a situation. What about those who suffered the Nazi suffering and still are, they don't get over it through their entire life. Does that mean one shouldn't make a film about them. I feel one should confront an issue and open it up for a debate. Even if you are not politically correct and feel strongly about such issues, go ahead and put it on screen. By avoiding such issues, harmony cannot be created. I am still surprised to know why no film maker from UK or US has tapped into this topic.

So what kind of research went into making Shoot On Sight?
Quite a bit. I don't take my job lightly. When I make realistic films, I want to make sure that atleast they are authentic. Everybody knows that the cinema is a suspension of disbelief and everything they are going to see is fake but the only way you can create a suspension of disbelief is that if your attention to detail is good especially when situations are realistic even though the characters may be fictional. I cannot take liberties like a science fiction film or a fantasy film can. I went through seven or eight hours of tape of the speeches of Abu Hamza, the radical Muslim cleric, to be able to sort of distill and condense the points into the speeches of Om Puri in the film. It had to look convincing and real. There are so many people who are misguided and influenced by the speeches of such clerics to such an extent that they are willing to give up their lives for it. So these arguments have to be really strong. I am a non Muslim making a film on a Muslim protagonist. I had to film in a mosque, film the Muslim prayers and I cannot do these things superficially and make sure that nobody is offended by it. I went to the mosque myself to find out how they pray and the actual ritual of the namaz. I recorded the prayer which was done by the imam in the Regents Park Mosque and used it as the part of the backdrop for the film.

Is that all the research you've done?
I learnt that in any devout muslim conversation you don't take Prophet Mohammed's name lightly. His name has to follow 'peace be upon him'. This is something I didn't know before. Also when I was doing police procedures, I didn't know much about the ranks of the Metropolitan police. I went through the entire organisational chart of the Scotland Yard.

How did you manage that?
I googled it on the internet. I also went and met Mr Tarique Ghaffur, the assistant commisioner for central operations who gave me a few books to refer on. During the shoot, how the policemen operate, how they move was all researched by an ex-MI5 guy who is now a film consultant. We hired him for that. We also had a consultant for Islamic religious situations, Mr Parvez. So in that case, I'm pretty thorough in what I've researched.

You must have got some kind of a negative advice of not to make Shoot On Sight?
Ofcourse. People always tell me not to make such a film and will it work commercially. They've also told me that people go to cinema not to think but to have a good time. But Shoot On Sight is a different kind of cinema. Cinema is such a powerful art form that it cannot be used for one type of cinema. Until the script was ready I was not sure whether the dramatic art would be correct or it'll be good and I knew that since I'm making a feature film and not a documentary, it must work on the most basic fundamental level of being good entertainment, meaning a good engaging story. Then when you peel the layers out of it, you'll get more than just the good and bad guy image.

Terrorism is increasing day by day. Do you think your film Shoot On Sight will be like adding more oil in the fire?
I don't think that any one film can change the political, religious, cultural or social view points. What it can do is to make people aware of the issues. But the fact that there are lots of liberal muslims who are not considered liberal anymore by virtue of the fact that their voice is not heard. The voices which are heard are the voices which are making the most noise - the extremists, and because of them the 70% to 80% of muslims who believe in their faith and are not fundamentalists want to have peace and harmony with other communities. Now it's them who are being targeted as a suspected community. And not just them, that is true for all of us who know the distinction between a hindu and a muslim or india and pakistan. But for the white guys, for the western majority of people who don't know the difference, for them, all of us are suspect community. All of us who belong to a brown race, whether its Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, SriLankan, Hindu, Muslim, doesn't matter. I think Shoot On Sight will create that awareness in their mind that you cannot paint everybody with the same brush stroke. It also tells those of us who feel victimised that it is easy to point a finger at a white guy and say he is a racist. But do you also understand what they go through. When a person who is entrusted with making sure that another bobm blast doesn't happen and if he pulled the trigger, what was his fault. What if the guy truly turned out to be a bomber.

You've infact managed to rope in a few big names from the West for your film namely Brian Cox and Greta Scacchi. How did you manage to convince them?
I think the story attracts the actors. There are so many progressive people in the artistic community who feel strongly about issues but most films do not give them an oppurtunity to participate and show their point of view in an issue. Now a days majority of Hollywood films are made on super heroes like Batman, Spiderman, Superman, etc. Those films are driven by box office and not by the real life situations. So certain actors do such films for their big pay cheques and their lifestyles. But somewhere down the line, most actors, especially western actors have a political point of view and do not get a chance to express that in big Hollywood films. There was a time when bad guys used to be communists, then bad guys used to be the Nazi's and now the bad guys are Muslims. If you have a good relevant material which has its politics right, you'll find lot of big actors interested in doing the role given to them. But they don't give you a lot of time to do it. I finished Brian Cox's shoot in one week. I have to be much more organised and efficient than the big studio films because they may do two shots in a day but I do thirty shots in a day so that I can finish the actors job as soon as they have other big films to go to. I still pay them the rate they want but because I only need them for a week or ten days.

So when will you be working with Aishwarya Rai again after you worked with her in Provoked?
Next year. Aishwarya Rai's own secretary, Mr Hari Singh asked me to direct a film for his company called Band Width Productions. Aishwarya Rai has commited to do a three week guest appearance in the film. The tentative title of the film is 'Faisla' as of now. Aishwarya plays a strong village sarpanch based in Punjab whose husband is in the armed forces. She is an activist and how she takes up a cause of a village girl, etc.

How did you convince Naseeruddin Shah to play the role of Tarique Ghaffur?
When I finished the script of Shoot On Sight, I had three names for the role of an assistant commisioner. One of them was Art Malik, a Pakistani British Actor who has been working in the UK for quite some time now. One of them was Naseer and the third was Mr Amitabh Bachchan. Now you will ask me why Amitabh, to which I will say that a journalist based in India Mr Subhash Jha who had seen my film Provoked told me that I should rope in Mr Amitabh Bachchan. This was suggested after he read the draft of my film. Subhash Jha himself sent the letter to Mr Bachchan to have a look at the story because I could not have access to Mr Bachchan. Three days later he called me saying that Mr Bachchan liked the script. I flew down to Mumbai and met with him. I met him on the sets of Cheeni Kum and he first asked me why I didn't rope in a Muslim actor for this role because the assistant commisioner was a Muslim. I told him that actors are not Hindu or Muslim. It's the characters who are Hindu or Muslim. Since the film addresses an important issue, Mr Bachchan doing it would have a large audience seeing the film. He was also hesitant not to shave off his beard but then I told him that he need not worry as he will have to grow a bit. A well groomed muslim beard is perfectly acceptable in Scotland Yard as I had checked with them. We talked about other things as well. But all of a sudden the response from his side stopped coming. I have no issues over the matter. It can be that someone has adviced Mr Bachchan not to do the film because of it's controversial subject. But then Naseeruddin Shah came and accepted the offer by saying that if some actors are afraid of the muslim community, I don't care. I will do the film because I liked it.

Now that the film revovles around controversy, let me ask you the most controversial question of all. In the films trailer, a police officer is seen asking Naseeruddin Shah, 'Are all terrorists muslim or are all muslims terrorists'. Do you have any answer to this question?
There is no question that in today's time, except for groups like LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) commonly known as Tamil Tigers, all the terrorist events which happen around the globe whether it is the recent explosions in India's Ahmedabad and Bangalore states, Madrid blasts, etc. You come to know later on that there is a Muslim name behind it. So at this point in time I will agree with the above quote that all terrorists are muslims.

Can I quote what you've just said in the papers?
Yes. I've used the line but you can't use it as a headline because it will create unnecessary controversy. Having said that, we do know that suicide bombings was not started by muslim terrorists but by the Tamil terrorists of Sri Lanka who blew the then Prime Minister of India Mr Rajiv Gandhi during his election campaign. I read one of the Palestinian suicide bombers statement which shook me up. He said that the Americans have big tanks and sophisticated weaponary which they can use against us anytime they want. All we have is our body. We can't fight with them on a conventional war because we can't even come close to what they have. But in an unconventional war where we give up our lives and which they cannot afford is the only power we have. I think it is true what he said.

Where did you hear this from?
There was a documentary film called Paradise Now based on two Palestine guys. That's where I heard one of them say this. I don't agree with what America did to Iraq in the name of war against weapons of mass destruction which they never found. I don't agree with lot of things which are happening in Gaza too and how the Palestinians are treated but I'd say that all the sympathy for all these causes goes out of the window because they target innocent people. When innocent people get killed I don't care what cause it is. There is no justification for it. Suicide bombings is an exercise in hurting your own cause.

Are you going to keep the films premiere in the U.K?
We are planning to. The film is going to first open in the U.K on the August 22. It's not opening in the U.S, India or Pakistan on the same day because the setting of the story is post 7/7 London so obviously it makes sense to open the film first in the U.K.

Any message you'd like to convey through this world exclusive interview?
Shoot On Sight is not anti-muslim at all. One of the best comments I've heard about this film is that Shoot On Sight was such a difficult and a thin line to walk but I walked carefully and perfectly. It's not a biased film and does not take anybody's side. It presents issues in a very positive manner. So hopefully the people who are rational in thought and who are open minded and are willing to see another point of view will definitely come and watch this film.

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