Considering that India has a population of 1.4 billion and counting, it’s surprising that there’s so much shame attached to buying condoms in public. Taking note of this irony, Jai Basantu Singh conceptualised a film around it - his directorial debut in Bollywood titled Janhit Mein Jaari. It stars Nushrratt Bharuccha in the shoes of a girl who sells condoms and is shamed for it by society. You can watch the trailer here:
As Jai gears up for his first big Bollywood release, we got him to talk to us about his journey from being a writer and director of ad films with a repertoire of 600 promotional campaigns to show for, to helming a socially-conscious mainstream film helmed by a kickass female character. Read on…
How did the concept for Janhit Mein Jaari come to you? What was the inspiration behind it?
The concept first came to me as a simple one-liner - a girl who sells condoms. When I heard of it, I immediately knew this was something I had to write about. I was inspired by the height of hesitation around simply saying the word ‘condom’. The film’s concept revolves around a woman who, despite the restrictions imposed on her, has the courage to take up the next-to-impossible task of selling condoms in a close-minded society. I felt this story needs to be told because it can bring a big change in people’s mindset.
Take us through your research for writing a unique character like this?
Due to the film’s unique story and the concept of condoms being taboo in our country, there was a lot of research behind each character and the story. There was a lot of field work done to establish the character and the entire world of the film. I travelled to various cities and locations to understand the psyche and on-ground realities. It was difficult getting people to open up about this topic.
What was it like writing a female character lead in your debut film?
Writing a female character and that too a strong one was the only task which was not difficult for me. I have been raised by a single mother, and I have seen her struggle in life from very close quarters. She faced great societal backlash because she was a working woman and a mother, but her fierce strength and independence inspired me. It continues to inspire me till today. It helped me write the story of this independent girl in a society which is not ready to accept her.
Do you think screenwriters and filmmakers must shoulder the responsibility of being socially conscious in their art?
When you take up a socially relevant topic, as a filmmaker you automatically take up a huge responsibility. Even though films are entertainment, social films come with a message. This message needs to be honest and accurate and it will only happen if the filmmaker and the film unit are socially conscious and take into consideration all the nuances around the topic. We cannot shrug off the responsibility under the garb of entertainment. Even if the films are not meant to be for a social cause, dealing with issues sensitively is always an important responsibility to shoulder.
How do you think the portrayal of women in cinema has changed over time? What more would you like to see change?
We live in the most progressive age of cinema when it comes to strong women characters and women-oriented films. Though such films were made before, they were far and few between. The usual portrayal was more of an exalted ‘devi’ or a villain. Today we have more real characters who deal with real situations in life. However, we definitely have a long way to go to see better sketched out and well-written female characters, but we are definitely getting there.
Shed light on your journey in Bollywood so far. What are some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
My journey of becoming a director in Bollywood was a difficult and challenging one. But this is the shared experience of any filmmaker who does not have the backing of a film family. You need to have talent and a bound script. Even though I was established in TV and had great work to my credit, I wrote my first film seven years back and went to many A-list actors for narration. Everyone loved the story but it was difficult to bet on a first-timer film director. But today after seven long years, I have finally got a chance and I feel lucky. Interestingly, I was first only a writer for this film, I was not supposed to direct it. But wherever I narrated the story, be it to actors, studios, or producers they were always in awe of how effortlessly I narrated without even looking at the script once. That is when they started telling me that I should direct the film. Seeing the faith people had in me, I got the strength to direct this film.
Your advice to budding filmmakers?
Research well, either write or collaborate with a writer and create a bound script with a great, powerful story. Above all, be patient. A lot of patience and talent is needed if you want to be a filmmaker in this industry.
Also read: Indie Musician Kanika Patawari Of Runak Jhunak Fame On Her New EP Currents