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Sunanda Mehta: It is quite a coincidence and the WHO had announced ‘Depression’ as their theme for 2017 and “Kaasav” was also dealing with that. Obviously you guys started much earlier and were ahead in your thinking.
Sunil Sukhtankar: Actually, when the national award was announced I was in Bombay with Dr Mohan Agashe and I was attending a workshop on a specific programme on the issue of “depression” and it was announced by the World Health Organisation. We showed a small promo in front of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and all the people from the mental health department in Maharashtra were also present there. All appreciated it. And then suddenly I started getting calls from the media, and it was definitely a good coincidence. And while the Golden Globes isn’t about a social film but cinema as a whole, for the last many years Sumitra Bhave has been writing scripts which can be called issue-based ones. But when she writes them she goes beyond the issues and tries to portray a certain kind of philosophy and the relevance of that issue to a larger sector of the society. I would say it’s a recognition of the outlook of making films like that.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: You had said that after watching Astu, this doctor couple from USA had approached you for the making of the movie. So could you tell us a bit about what this couple spoke with you about?
Sumitra Bhave: I didn’t personally meet him. They had seen the movie in the US. He absolutely loved the film so he called me to ask if you would like to make another movie like this? I’m not looking to get my money back, I just want a beautiful film like the one you’ve made. I said I don’t mind! So we went ahead and made the film.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: Why was the symbol of a turtle used as a metaphor for a depressed young people?
Sumitra Bhave: During this film, I was concerned with the subject of young people being depressed. We’re reading so much about it these days. We did a film earlier on HIV AIDS, called ‘Zindagi Zindabad’. We talked about HIV AIDS. My earlier film was about celebrating life despite challenges and that’s why we wonder why young people don’t want this life which is so precious? About using the turtle, I love that metaphor from the Bhagwad Gita, where this creature is shown as so steadfast. And a human who is steadfast does not react to outside pressures, he doesn’t get provoked. Also, these turtles go inside a shell whenever they are attacked by external forces because they are facing a threat. They are scared of the violence outside. It is similar to depressed young people. Then the responsibility of the people on the outside is to give them their own space, a kind of protection for which they should feel ‘I don’t need to fear outside’. And if they feel like that, they will go back to the sea of life from where they came and they become free to live again. That’s why this metaphor was used.
Alifiya Khan: There has been an attempt to tackle issues of mental health in Hindi cinema as well but there is always a criticism of it being too superficial and doing more harm than good. What do you think?
Sunanda Mehta: Especially if one goes back to old Hindi cinema, one sees a stereotype character where most people with mental illness were shown as madmen whereas depression is different. The person sitting next to you may have depression and one may not know it.
Sumitra Bhave: Cinema was always larger than life, it was never shown in a realistic way. Most of Hindi cinema people, dealt with the portrayal of mental problems in a common manner. But, me, being a student of social work, psychology and sociology, fortunately, I was teaching research methodology for a long time. And that’s why I am interested in research both as a subject and methodology and whenever I come across a subject, the first job I do is research, to understand what’s into it. I talk to experts, observe people for a long time and unless I study a subject deeply, I don’t venture into it.
Sunil Sukhtankar: As far as I have seen mainstream cinema, generally depression isn’t touched upon as it is a sensitive and complex issue. It is generally madness and that’s why a stereotype does exist. Maybe in the few years, they tried to address it or pretend to address psychological issues but the object is to exploit it for something else — for drama, or suspense, for thriller. For example, in Devrai when we took up schizophrenia, we decided not to use illness as a tool to exploit the audience. Dr Agashe always says that such stereotypical characters and treatment has done more harm than good and that has what has created the stigma. Even psychiatrist characters are always funny or mocked upon. For some farcical films, it is fine but when it becomes a stereotype, it’s dangerous. We need to clear this stigma now by making many, many such films.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: How was the process in imbibing yourself as an actor with the script?
Alok Rajawade: The process was very organic. When I read the script, the first line said, ‘a curly haired boy with sharp nose lying on the beach’, and I knew that Maushi (Bhave) wrote it keeping me in mind and I felt privileged. Also, many of my friends have gone through depression, they feel lonely. So many intelligent people with much to talk about but they’re not in the space to do so. Very close friends of mine have gone through it and I was already thinking about it. By helping them I was trying to understand myself, have I also gone through the same? I got to know what are my dark alleys and dark patches and I had to address them in my mind.
Sunanda Mehta: Do you think that this film’s theme could only be handled by Marathi cinema? Because as a medium, it is known to be more sensitive, more prone to realistic portrayals than Hindi commercial cinema…
Sunil Sukhtankar: Fortunately, Marathi cinema has gained that status now, some directors from Hindi cinema are also acknowledging it. They are so much bound by the star system and market system. I am really afraid that Marathi cinema shouldn’t go that way because we are also falling prey to big marketing and big publicity and creating new star systems now, as this is the easy way to success. But if this succeeds, then the subject matter, whatever issues you are addressing, the substance will disappear from Marathi cinema also.
Sumitra Bhave: Depends on how you define success. If only counted in revenues, then yes, they are successful, but if it is judged by how it enriches society as a whole, it is a different matter.
Garima Mishra: These days, a lot of Hindi film actors are turning Marathi film producers — from Priyanka Chopra to Shreyas Talpade and Ritesh Deshmukh. How can they impact on Marathi film industry?
Sumitra Bhave: I am a little sceptical. Today we work in poverty, our budgets never cross even a crore. However, we work with different methodology, our interactions are different. We don’t want to see pride in being called professionals, but are happy to be artists. But if money starts coming from outside, then professionals come in, who have no time for discussions or rehearsals. Even for actors like Om Puri, we have insisted on rehearsals, as such is our culture. Bollywood works on dates and hours. I worry if their entry will damage the Marathi cinema in any way. Right now, Marathi cinema may be small but integrated. It may not be broadcasting but deep casting and we are worried if this will be affected. See films like Elizabeth Ekadashi, Ranga Patanga, Fandry, they are low budget but beautiful films and they touch your hearts. I feel enriched as a human being to watch such films, I don’t know what will happen after Bollywood enters.
Atikh Rashid: How difficult or easy is it for you to find producers today?
Sumitra Bhave: It is not difficult at all because we don’t need a lot of money. From the first film I made for NFDC till today, it hasn’t been an issue. Producers come with a small purse and we are okay, I just need producers to trust me. We don’t guarantee money back or big box office.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: There are so many good Marathi films, why don’t they get better audience reach?
Sunil Sukhtankar: You earlier asked about the release date of our film. Like I said earlier, Marathi cinema is bombarded with big marketing efforts which weren’t there until 2005. Small releases were possible and they got their audience but with big multiplexes now, it is mandatory to have a big release which means big money. So then, small films suffer since their marketing budgets are small and they are denied a distributing platform. That’s a big hurdle before us and let us see if we can get a big marketing partner. Until then, we try our parallel distribution through small screenings.
Sunanda Mehta: What are your future projects?
Sumitra Bhave: I want to make a film on Vinobha Bhave’s Bhoodaan Andolan, which I believe is India’s big contribution to the world which taught us that life is not just about grabbing but giving as well. In our country, where we talk about big money and yet farmers commit suicide — it is very relevant. Also, I want to show Shivaji Maharaj through a woman’s eyes in a film. When we talk about him, why just speak of his valour and not chivalry? I don’t know who will give me money to produce it though.