EXCLUSIVE! Sanjay Suri on working in ‘Jhalki’: I just read the script once and I said yes immediately.

A loose adaptation of the work on child rights’ activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, on first glance, ‘Jhalki’ could be mistaken for a documentary that exposes the child labour racket. However, the Brahmanand S. Siingh directorial promises to be different.

The film follows the journey of the titular ‘Jhalki’ searching for her younger brother. It stars Aarti Jha as Jhalki, and Goraksh Sakpal as her brother along with Boman Irani, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Sanjay Suri and Divya Dutta as other supporting roles.

The film aims to increase awareness while sharing an engrossing story. After an overwhelming response received for the film at the New York Indian Film Festival, Boston International Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival, the film has finally released in the country.
In an exclusive conversation with ETimes, we spoke with the director Brahmanand S. Siingh, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Sanjay Suri to understand how they managed to keep the film authentic and let child actors take the lead, as they took a backseat.

Here are some excerpts from the candid conversation:

What made you work on the film?
Brahmanand S. Siingh – When I started getting to know a little bit about the cause of child labour, it churned me inside out. So Prakash Jha and I wrote a story on that. I also got to know about Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi. We met and understood the topic better. So we decided to develop a script along with him.

Sanjay Suri- I just read the script once and I said yes immediately. I loved the idea behind the film. It has the potential to sensitise you in a very beautiful and subtle way, without preaching.

Tannishtha Chatterjee – I really liked the script. I also loved playing the hero, along with the real hero (Jhalki), of course. I knew Bramhanand, Tanvi, Sanjay, Divya earlier and knew we would have a good time working together.

Aside from working with Kailash Satyarthi what were the other measures you took to make the film more authentic?
Brahmanand S. Siingh – A lot of the research came from him. We would write scripts and bounce it off with him. We also met rescued children and interviewed them and visited the carpet wearing factories to know what kind of situation they were talking about.

Tell us a little bit about your characters in the film.
Sanjay Suri – He’s an officer in his area and he calls the shots. But the missing kids’ situation is not his priority or he feels the nexus is too big. The character is in the grey area.

Tannishtha Chatterjee – It’s sort of a heroic role because she helps Jhalki in her search for her brother by exposing the whole racket. She also facilitates the process by bringing Jhalki in contact with Boman’s character.

What is the relevance of the bioscope in the film poster to the film’s story?
Brahmanand S. Siingh – When we were writing the script up to the third draft, it looked nice but it did not have that zing that we were looking for. And then we found this folk story which becomes parallel to Jhalki’s own search for her brother. They see this folk story in the bioscope which you see in the poster. It also adds a lot of visual charm.

How were the young actors, Aarti Jha and Goraksha Sakpal selected for the role?
Brahmanand S. Siingh – We found Aarti Jha who played Jhalki from an NGO called Angel Express. Goraksha Sakpal who plays the brother is from Maharashtra and he has been doing some small roles for some time now.

How was it allowing young actors to the front seat and while you took a back seat for the film?
Sanjay Suri – They are extremely lovely and watchable actors and easily carried the film on their shoulders. Knowingly or unknowingly we become a little conditioned. But you can never expect children’s next move in front of a camera. So you become more alert, observant and listen well to get on the flow with them. You also stop complaining, because these kids are not complaining when they are in 48-degree temperature. They are also not looking at consequences, whether the film will do well or not.

Tannishtha Chatterjee- Every time I work with kids I learn and I unlearn. In the West sometimes people get scared when there are kids in a film because they feel they will never match up the innocence and rawness they bring to film. But in this film that was never the case, because they are the heroes so they will obviously have the limelight and we are all facilitating their stories.

How do you think we can curb this social evil?
Brahmanand S. Siingh – First step is awareness. I cannot do what Kailash Satyarthi does. He rescues children but I can make films. But all of us must contribute to create awareness and inspire people to make that difference.

Sanjay Suri – We need to sensitise our peers who can then become responsive. We can give employment to the bread earner, who can then fund his child’s education and not be forced into child labour.

Tannishtha Chatterjee- I feel we have to pressurise the government to give free and compulsory education and health services to all children. They are the backbone of our society children. I feel investment has to really happen for children in our country.

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