Thirteen years after the release of his last film Dev, Govind Nihalani is making his debut as director in Marathi cinema with the film Ti Ani Itar (She and Others). To release on July 21, the film stars Subodh Bhave and Sonali Kulkarni in leading roles. The six-time National Award winner speaks about Marathi cinema, adapting literary text and censorship.
It’s been over a decade since your last film, Dev, released. What made you take such a long break?
There are various reasons, but mainly because I was making an animation film that unfortunately took much longer than anticipated. Though now I hope it will see the light of day soon.
The film Ti Ani Itar marks your directorial debut in Marathi cinema. What prompted you to do a Marathi film?
I started my movie career with a Marathi film, Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe, in the ’70s. It was based on a play by Vijay Tendulkar and directed by Satyadev Dubey. This was my first assignment as a cameraman. Ti Ani Itar is based on a play called Lights Out by Manjula Padmanathan, which is inspired by a real-life incident that took place in a metro that runs in the suburbs of a city. I was moved by the concept where a group of people witness something terrible happening from the confines of their drawing room, and what happens thereafter.
A lot of people from the Hindi film industry have recently shown interest in Marathi cinema. What according to you has spurred this sudden interest? Is it the recent commercial success of Marathi films?
I think the commercial success of Marathi cinema is a work in progress. What I find interesting about Marathi cinema is that contemporary filmmakers, most of whom are young, have discovered a new strength in the medium and found good subjects too. Moreover, several subsidy schemes are applicable to Marathi cinema, which encourage young filmmakers to take the risk. It has become a very vibrant cinematic space.
Most of your films are based on literary texts. How challenging is the adaptation?
For this film, I had to adapt the text and contextualise it for a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai. I was lucky to get Shanta Gokhale to write the screenplay. When I read a text, I ponder over its theme, it must appeal to me and connect with present-day society. For example, in this film a group of people see a crime happening. What does one do? Would you respond to that crime? Even if you are willing to help the victims, the circumstances might not allow for that. In such a situation, there is conflict between sense of responsibility and the circumstances. The subject is extremely relevant in today’s context, given the kind of events around us. What is also interesting is that the characters don’t take an idealistic stand. Their responses are nuanced, based on personal, legal and societal compulsions.
The film also discusses incidents of violence against women and mob lynchings. Do you hope to bring a change through the film?
I hope this film will start a debate. I want people to think as responsible citizens. In a city like Mumbai, with people from different cultures and religion, it is not easy to come up with simple solutions. We have to take into account the complexity of the environment around us. In an old interview, during the release of Dev in 2004, you had said that you’re against censorship and want a self-regulatory system.
What do you think about the recent cases where the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) refused to give certification?
Whenever there has been an effort to impose ideas or suppress the views of those who have different ideas, the situation has not lasted for long. Over time, things will change but we do need to find a way to negotiate. There is no other way out. We have to assert our freedom of expression and be prepared for a long struggle if need be. I would like to add here that the judiciary today is our only hope. In relation to censorship issues, so far, our judiciary has always supported filmmakers and questioned the decisions of the censor board.