The longing of a lonely heart

Filmmaker Prakash Jha has played the protagonist in a short film by debutant director Mudassir Mashalkar that revolves around loneliness

An old, retired professor leads a lonely life in the busy metropolitan city of Mumbai where he wanders from place to place and witnesses the lives and longings of whoever he comes across. He tries to find his cure in pain. Justaju – The Longing is a short film that captures the life of this lonely man, who appears to long for nothing but to be with his wife – whom he lost 15 years ago.

The short film was recently released on The Short Cuts channel on YouTube. Within a week, it has garnered more than 40,000 views. Directed by debutant filmmaker Mudassir Mashalkar, the film boasts a talented ensemble. Critically-acclaimed filmmaker Prakash Jha plays the protagonist.
Apart from Jha, the cast includes Sarika, Onkar Das Manikpuri, Shishir Sharma and Saharsh Shukla. The film has already received appreciation at various film festivals like Mumbai Shorts International Film Festival, Smita Patel Documentary and Short Film Festival, Dadasaheb Phalke International Film Festival and more.

Talking about what made him choose this subject of loneliness and longing, Mashalkar says, “I feel each person goes through a point in their lives where they feel lonely. Even though this loneliness is not about age, it is more likely to be experienced at an old age. But it is true for every human being. In metropolitan cities, it is quite prominent, which is why I felt a need to address this subject.”

This was Mashalkar’s first endeavour. “I basically come from a finance background — I was a banker initially. So from banking I moved to films. I assisted Ashutosh Gowarikar and I have also worked with Vishal Bhardwaj Films. I have produced some ad films as well. In my free time, I always used to write. This is one subject that really appealed to me. So, I thought I should go ahead and make a film on this,” he says.

Mashalkar wrote the story of Justaju and had to translate his own vision on screen. “To get on-screen any story that you conceive is a difficult task.

Not only for me, but for every filmmaker. This film was more difficult because the protagonist of the film, Valmiki, has very few dialogues and had to convey his emotions through his expressions. In the 30-minute long film, he had only five minutes of dialogue. It was not easy to find the right person to play this role, as we needed someone who could convey to the audience his thoughts through his expressions.”

That is precisely why he was lucky enough to rope in Prakash Jha to play the role. “Once I just happened to see him out for an evening walk near JW Marriott, Goa. I thought he could play Valmiki because he carries that intensity with him. So I sent him the script and he liked it,” says Mashalkar, adding, “Also, it was difficult to find someone who could play the character of the man from the village (played by Onkar Das Manikpuri) in the film. Onkar-ji did a great job portraying it. The kids also did a really good job. We worked hard to find the right cast, and I am glad everything went well,” adds Mashalkar.

Mashalkar is overwhelmed he got the opportunity to work with a household name like Jha. He also got many tips on film-making from him. “He is a fantastic man to work with. He gave a lot of positive inputs and I learnt a lot. It was great to be associated with someone like him.”

Jha, who will be seen on-screen after Jai Gangajal, believes it was more of a learning experience for him. “It was exciting. Acting is a brilliant form of expression, apart from writing and directing. It is also an integral part of film-making, more than that it is a form of expression which I enjoy,” he says.

In fact, he admits that he enjoys acting as much as directing. “I have done big films and worked with big, professional actors, but you forget everything when you are acting. You just feel fresh, immersed in the character you are playing and trying to find it. Mudassir was very helpful in getting me there,” he adds.

Talking about his experience of working with the debutant filmmaker, Jha says, “Excellent. I enjoyed working with him. He was very sorted. And every time you work with new people, it is a great experience.” It was the story, the character and the way director-writer Mashalkar had conceived it that made Jha take up the role. “Even though he is a first-time director and writer, but he thought of it really well,” he claims.

For him, it was a challenge to get into the skin of Valmiki because the character is not like him at all. “But I really enjoyed the process of finding him and portraying it. As an actor, you need to find the character you are playing. You need to read the script 100 times and create the world for the character, and get into it. That is what helps you, and that is how you find it,” shares Jha.

Mushalkar has received varied reactions from the audience. “Many have asked me what exactly happened at the end of the film. It surprises me (laughs). I feel it is quite self-explanatory. Also, some people were saying ‘it is a very intelligent film.’ But my aim was not to intellectualise it, but simply to make an emotional film which can touch people’s heart. I want to show the loneliness of a man who travels through Mumbai. He has no other work, so he finds stories and how it affects his life.”

On talking about the commercial viability of a short film, Mushalkar says, “There are ways to make money through a short film. One is you can sell it to a channel. Secondly, you can give it to a channel and have a partnership with it. Then, depending on the views, you get revenue. Also, you can give the film to an individual producer.”

Like every film, Justaju also has a message to convey. “There is a definite message which it conveys – but in a subtle way. From my view, the film ends on a positive note. I feel, no matter how difficult life is, it is beautiful. Even when you are going through your toughest times, no matter how dark it may seem, there is always a morning after darkness. But, I did not want to say the message out loud, so I kept it subtle,” concludes Mushalkar.

Follow the link to watch the film:

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