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Thought Provoking Jag Mundhra

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He’s always been in the news over the years for making erotic thrillers straight out of Hollywood. Recently he hit the headlines again, but for a totally different reason. The queen of them all, Aishwarya Rai, consented to act in his latest film ‘Provoked’ which was shot in UK in mid 2005. Based on a real life story, the film soon to be hit screens has raised the bar of expectations from him put him in a different league altogether. Meet JAG MUNDHRA as he talks about himself, his rise to fame, his films and his working stint with the beautiful Ash….


Q: You come from a conservative Marwari background. Today you own homes in L.A. How did this happen?

A: Yes, I come from a Marwari family, which lived, in a simple chawl in Kolkata, sharing a bathroom with hundreds of other families. But I always dreamt of getting out of it and making it big one day. I did a B.Tech from IIT in Electrical Engineering, then did an MBA, an MA in advertising and a PhD in marketing before going on to work as a professor in South California. After years of that I finally gave it up to follow my dream of being a film maker, with absolutely no experience in the field!

Q: You have done around 30 films to date. Most of them have been erotic thrillers. How do you explain this fascination of yours?

A: I think as human being we have different aspects of our personality as fathers, sons, husbands , brothers etc. We are also sexual beings and I make films that examine that aspect of our being. I am not a dirty old man. I have a daughter and have been married for 37 years! Whatever I do, I do well and the success of my films proves that. It’s these films that pay for my homes, the education of my kids etc. But I have never used women as victims in any of my films. The women I portray are in charge of their sexuality.

Q: But you have also made two women centric films, ‘Kamala’ and ‘Bawandar’. How come you have a penchant for serious subjects as well ?

A: Yes, in fact with Provoked , Ash said she is happy to be part of my women centric trilogy! Bawandar , based on a true story of a sathin in Rajasthan Bhanwari Devi,starring Nandita Das, won several international awards and I am really happy that I have made these three films. It’s thanks to my success at other commercial films that I make that I am able to make films like these, which I am motivated to do.

Q: How did ‘Provoked’ happen? Tell us how Ash agreed to do your film?

A: Well I am really grateful to Ash for accepting this film. Even when the Mumbai pressed came down heavily on her for accepting to work with me, she stuck to her guns and said, ‘I am happy to be the poster child for the issue of domestic violence’. I did not know her from before. It was the story that she believed in which convinced her to do the role of Kiranjit Alhuwalia. Once she heard the story during a meeting with her in March when she was in UK shooting for Mistress of Spices, she agreed immediately and by June 2005 we were shooting! It was unbelievable. Its only because of her name that I was able to get the finances of 5 million dollars to make this film or else it wouldn’t have happened. Ash in her de-glam look is going to surprise everyone with her acting. Also I approached her because I didn’t want to do predictable casting.

Q: So what is the story about? Does it deal about domestic violence?

A: ‘Provoked’ is the true story of Kiranjit Alhuwalia, a punjabi girl who married a UK resident and was physically abused by him for years. One day after many years of torture she set fire to him while he was asleep, meaning to burn only his legs. But he actually died and she was convicted for murder. But a small group called the Southall Black Sisters supported her and Rahila Gupta took up her case. It proved to be a landmark case, which changed the meaning of the word ‘provoked’ in British law forever in 1992. She was let off on manslaughter because the defense proved that it took years for Kiranjit to act against her husband because that is the cooling period and then when it reached boiling point, she was provoked into acting against him. Therefore she cannot be convicted for cold-blooded, well-planned murder and should get a lighter sentence. This whole story was recorded by Rahila in a book and presented to me once when I was in the UK. And that’s how I found the story for my next film!

Q: So are you making art films now?

A: No, I try to combine issue-based stories and tell them in a manner that does not test your patience! Audiences no longer enjoy the stillness of a slow shot. I just try to bring out the narrative style of American films with the content of our Indian issues.

Q: Do you think a film like Provoked will positively impact the issue of domestic violence and actually reach the vast audience of women who don’t know of their rights and continue to suffer in silence?

A: Well a film can only make a temporary impact. It cannot change the world. But what we can do, is slowly change the attitudes of people. Cinema is a very important medium and it is the responsibility of filmmakers to talk about issues concerning society. Maybe my film will not be seen by the masses but I believe films like these have a trickle down effect. If you can reach opinion makers and get them to change laws and look into issues then you have succeeded. In fact, when Bawandar was shown to the Delhi CM, she made all the high court judges see it so that they could be sensitised to the idea of how their ruling can adversely affect the victims. So in that aspect I hope we do make some impact.

Q: What is the role of parents in the issue of domestic violence against women?

A: Naveen Andrews, who plays the abusive husband, had an interesting insight into this aspect. He told me during the making of the film that he had been seeing his dad abusing his mother for years as a child. This had disastrous results on him, with Naveen turning out to be abusive and not being able to manage his anger as an adult. But with time and help he was able to overcome his angry streak to some extent. So you see how the action of parents can effect their offspring. Also, I think that mothers have a great role to play. They should raise their sons teaching them to respect women right from a tender age.


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