Govind Nihalani was one of the few filmmakers who had the great privilege of not just interacting with Mahashweta Devi on a personal level but adapting one of her acclaimed Bengali novels into a film, Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa starring Jaya Bachchan, Anupam Kher and Nandita Das in lead roles.
Grieved at the passing away of Devi who he was close to, Nihalani termed the loss of the Magsaysay award winner as a huge personal loss and a vacuum that could never be filled.
“It’s a great personal loss. Her death has left a vacuum in Indian literature that can never be filled. I am not familiar with what is being written these days. But to get somebody with that kind of commitment and simplicity is very rare today.”
Recollecting his intial tryst with the eminent author, Nihalani said, “I remember while planning to adapt her novel into my film, I had approached her with some initial hesitation as I was told she was a strict person and particular about her work being converted into films but when I met her I found her to be a totally different person. She was very affectionate with such an open mind and was open to suggestions as well. She granted the permission to adapt the novel immediately and there was no problem about it at all. In fact she wrote additional scenes for me. It was a good relationship I had with her.”
Nihalani feels Devi’s contribution to literature and her work with adivasis will always be remembered. “One also has to acknowledge the fact that this is a great loss to Indian literature because her work with the advasis was a major part of her contribution to Indian literature. I had read her novel in its Hindi translation much before the film adaptation happened. But having known her well, I can say that she was simple and straightforward. Her narratives had no melodrama or flousirshes of any kind. She wrote out of real empathy about the characters and community she lived and worked with for a long time. She knew them very well and understood them. She wrote out of understanding. She didn’t write about them from an exotic angle.”