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Responding to protests from student organisations — against the Savitribai Phule Pune University’s decision to allow Nagraj Manjule, director of celebrated Marathi film Sairat, to shoot part of his new film at the university sports ground — the director on Thursday termed the controversy “unnecessary”, and said it was “uncalled for”. “I don’t know what the motive of these organisations is… they don’t even have their facts right and quite frankly, it is hurtful. I was so excited about coming back to my university for this shoot,” Manjule told The Indian Express during a telephonic conversation.
The film, based on the life of Nagpur-based personality Vijay Barse, who has been promoting football in slums through his endeavours, stars Amitabh Bachchan. Part of the movie — Manjule’s first Hindi film — will be shot at the sports ground of SPPU, the director’s alma mater.
Student organisations, however, have opposed the varsity’s decision to ‘rent out’ its sports ground for one-and-a-half months for the shoot.
The MoU signed between Manjule’s company and the SPPU has been in force from October 1, for a period of 45 days, Registrar Dr A D Shaligram told The Indian Express. Currently, work to install the film set is being carried out at the sports ground. Organisations like the Student’s Federation of India claimed that the sports ground was given to the film crew without paying any heed to where the students will play while the shoot was going on. The university is also developing a running track and space for other sports on the ground.
Some organisations have even threatened to damage the sets, while some like National Student’s Union of India have demanded to know how much the varsity was charging as “rent”, and what plans it had to restore the ground after the “damage” done by the shooting. Another organisation, the Maharashtra Navnirman Vidyarthi Sena, has demanded that SPPU students should be given an opportunity to be part of the film, as a mandatory condition for allowing the shoot to take place.
The varsity administration, meanwhile, has defended its decision to ‘rent out’ the sports ground.
“It’s funny how these organisations are reacting. The reason why I allowed the shoot was because the film promotes football, something which the state and the central government are also trying to do… so we thought, why not promote the idea? The demand for restoring the ground is not required at all because it is already part of the MoU which the varsity has signed. As far as allowing students to be part of the film is concerned, we can’t make it mandatory… but, I will request him (Manjule) to do so. He is an alumnus, so I am sure he will consider it,” said SPPU Vice-Chancellor N R Karmalkar.
The organisations have been alleging that the ‘rent’ charged — varsity sources said it was about Rs 6.5 lakh for one-and-a-half months — is too low. Karmalkar responded by saying that in the past, some films have been shot in the university for free, and this was the first time compensation has been sought for shooting a film at the SPPU.
“Firstly, only a small part of the ground, which is not used during monsoons and vacations, has been given for the shoot… the students are free to use the rest of the ground. Manjule is an alumnus, and an acclaimed director, which is why we decided to allow the shoot. The varsity’s idea is not to make money out of this exercise,” said Shaligram.
Manjule said he was aware of the protests that have begun even before the shooting of the film has started, and he was in touch with varsity authorities.
“Obviously, security is an issue that I am concerned about. Firstly, students will be excited to see Amitabh Bachchan… then these protests are taking place. So, there will be adequate security. … we want the students to be a part of this film… It’s my university, and my style of working has always been to involve the locals, so they will definitely get a chance… But as far as involving them in the creative or technical aspects is concerned, just because I am shooting there, should I take on students irrespective of whether our vision matches or not? Yes, if students want to be part of the film, then they can approach us and wherever suitable, we can give them a chance,” said the national-award winning director.
Manjule said threats to damage the sets haven’t affected him, and the shoot was going to go ahead. “Many students have sent me messages, telling me not to worry, and saying they will stand by me…,” he added.