'I'm not trying to preach, this is all about entertainment'
The new web series 'Aashram' deals with matters of faith and belief. But most importantly, it is a drama, which will entertain people, believes director Prakash Jha.
"I'm not trying to preach, I'm only giving a good story to my audience. This is all about entertainment," said Prakash.
The director, who is known for his socio-political films 'Damul', 'Gangaajal', 'Apaharan', 'Raajneeti', is dabbling in religion for the first time with the web series, which has released on 'MX Player'.
'Aashram', which stars Bobby Deol in the lead, is about how people are exploited in the name of religion by god-men. But, contrary to the perception, the producer-director said that the series is the story about the common man.
"It is a story of a common man which makes it interesting. These commoners simply put their faith in the hands of the quacks or people masquerading as 'dharam gurus' (religious leaders). They have no knowledge, no inspiration and no connection with religion or spiritualism. They start promising heaven and poor people fall for it. Then, they are victimised and exploited," said Jha.
It may be pertinent to say that even his directorial venture on television many decades ago, like 'Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne', too was a common man's narrative.
When asked why the subject interested him, when it has already been dealt with in films like 'PK', 'Singham Returns', 'Global Baba' etc. the director, whose movie 'Pareeksha' had released a few weeks ago on 'ZEE5', said, "The story, brought by 'MX Player', interested me because it told the story through the eyes of the people. Also in my series, the baba actually does not belong to any religion. He is a small-time criminal, who masquerades as a baba. Things working for him are that he is convincing, speaks well and is able to mesmerise people. The way he spreads his web, the way he uses the power people have given him, is something interesting."
The web series has already attracted criticism for denigrating Hinduism. Prakash tried to clear the air: "The whole apprehension about Hindu religion is completely unfounded. There is nothing related to Hindu religion, either with the personality of baba, anywhere in the background or in the rituals. Things will be clear and people will calm down once it is released."
He quoted from his own life to hammer his point. "I'm myself a practicing Hindu and follow religion. I have spent time with real gurus and seekers and learnt a lot from them. But I'm always pained when conmen bring disrepute to the religion and by exploiting people, create their commercial empire."
Prakash Jha's 2011 film 'Aarakshan', which examined social tensions surrounding caste-based reservations in jobs and in education, also faced strong opposition before its release. Known for choosing topics which not many would feel comfortable with, Jha said, "Where is the question of being afraid? These are things which you face and negotiate in life. I'm not trying to defy or challenge anybody. We have done the series with responsibility and we honour Hindu religion, its principles and philosophy."
The 'National Award' winning director has also generated a lot of interest in the series through his unlikely choice of Bobby Deol for the lead.
"That is exactly the reason why we chose him. He fits the role, has the persona and he is believable," said Jha with conviction.