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Dijo Jose Antony: Rang De Basanti and Kai Po Che influenced Jana Gana Mana- Cinema express

Dijo Jose Antony: Rang De Basanti and Kai Po Che influenced Jana Gana Mana

Post the successful theatrical run of Jana Gana Mana and its release on Netflix, director Dijo Jose Antony reflects on his journey with the film

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Published: 06th June 2022
Dijo Jose Antony, Prithviraj Sukumaran

Dijo Jose Antony is a huge fan of Rang De Basanti. He loves Kai Po Che for the same reason. He digs anything that embodies the spirit of revolution. It’s this spirit that he wanted to encapsulate in anything he does. “The influence of these films can be found in Queen and Jana Gana Mana,” he tells me. Like any newbie, Dijo could’ve jumped to another project immediately after the success of Queen (a film that didn’t floor me). But he needed something that would get him stoked. Jana Gana Mana, scripted by Queen writer Sharis Mohammed, did that for him.

Another reason for the delay is Dijo wants his films to look and feel a certain way. No compromises, even when the pandemic threatened to disrupt his choices. He is grateful for having a team that stood with him through thick and thin. Though Jana Gana Mana took only 80 days to shoot, its development spanned close to two years. The pandemic was partly to blame for that. After the first 12-day schedule, 60 members of the crew caught Covid. “We somehow managed to finish shooting the climax before wrapping up the schedule. I was coughing badly by the end of it. This was the time when the vaccines hadn’t come out yet. The fear of death was in all of us,” he recalls.

But, looking back, he sees it as a blessing in disguise. And the film’s remarkable performance proved that everything happened at the right time.

“Covid was a big deal, of course, but it also helped us in other places. Actually, it was only because of the pandemic that Raju (Prithviraj) became available. I got to pitch the project directly to him. If he weren’t there, he would’ve been shooting Aadujeevitham then. And when he returned, there was no telling which project he would’ve started work on after that,” says Dijo.

But getting Prithviraj’s dates didn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t a challenge. The actor was available for 20 days at the most. Dijo attributes the success of the shoot to the “brilliance of the script design”. “The other advantage I had was that I was able to get him to appear in different looks. If the pandemic hadn’t complicated things, maybe I would’ve had to compromise on looks—not that I would do it, but still, there is that what-if situation. This was when he had just completed shooting for films such as Kuruthi and Cold Case (Prithviraj in a clean-shaven look) before our films. Getting the right looks was as important as the canvas. The same thing goes for Suraj and his two different looks. We managed to get the timeframe right.”

Dijo wanted to achieve only one aim through Jana Gana Mana: pure entertainment. But he is glad that some viewers are finding deeper takeaways from it. “I see much repeat value in this film,” he says. “There are a lot of things in that I feel people are yet to discover—particularly in the Suraj portions, which I think will reveal themselves upon multiple viewings.”

Speaking of Suraj’s cop Sajjan, Dijo modelled the character on Ayushmann Khurrana’s character in Article 15 and Aamir Khan’s in Talaash. “I wanted him to give the impression of a classy cop just like them,” says the filmmaker, adding that it is one of the reasons why the film’s first half is his favourite in terms of storytelling. “I believed that if the first half entertained audiences, it wouldn’t be that difficult to get them to follow the rest.”

Among the biggest challenges for Dijo was finding ways to break the monotony of the proceedings in the courtroom. “There is only so much you can do inside a court in terms of cinematography, but other elements, such as the music and script, did their parts to make things look lively. In terms of the editing, Sreejith Sarang’s observations were spot on, particularly with regard to the apt placement of reaction shots. In terms of the scripting, what we did was treat Prithviraj’s character like a villain up to a point. When he starts talking, one gets the impression that he is ignorant and uncivilised... so much pent up aggression. I’ve heard of people questioning the use of loud, fiery dialogues. Look, I have seen the inside of at least the Sessions court, and I’m well aware that they don’t talk like that inside a real courtroom. But I wanted the opposite in my film because there are things that are possible only in a movie.”

One of the doubts that viewers raised is placing Malayali characters in a Karnataka setting. Dijo explains that, aside from the logistical and pandemic challenges, it has chiefly to do with the reasoning that a subject like encounter killings wouldn’t make much sense against the backdrop of Kerala. “I was particular about closing as many loopholes as I could. Besides, I wanted to treat the first and second halves differently. I wanted the latter to be more dramatic, which was, of course, aided by the intensity of the dialogues.”

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