A Dream by the River

Marathi director Shivaji Lotan Patil on Dhag,his critically acclaimed film that has won him the National Award for Best Director,and how he came to be bewitched by the movies.

Written by Prajakta Hebbar | New Delhi | Published: March 31, 2013 1:06 am

Marathi director Shivaji Lotan Patil on Dhag,his critically acclaimed film that has won him the National Award for Best Director,and how he came to be bewitched by the movies.

Two young boys sat dreaming by the river. They conjured up images of fame,fortune and happiness,all that they had seen on the silver screen. “I’ve heard that almost everyone drives a motorcar in Bombay,” said one. “What nonsense! The city folk don’t drive those things themselves,they have drivers to take them around,” said the other with a knowing look. They discussed the clothes the big city people wore,the food they ate and the places they visited. All their dreams and fantasies had been shaped by cinema. “I think people in Bombay have small scooters to take them around from one room to the other,” said one of them as the other’s eyes lit up with mirth.

This was almost 20 years ago,in the village of Mandurne in Maharashtra’s Jalgaon district where Marathi director Shivaji Lotan Patil sat with his playmate. Patil now lives in Dombivali,Mumbai,and in spite of time and age,he is,at heart,that boy dawdling by the river. “I have always been fond of films,theatre and music,” says Patil over the phone. “Of course,where I come from,it was called a waste of time.”

Patil has just won the National Award for best director for his 2012 film Dhag. The film revolves around the life of a boy who wishes to stay away from his family’s traditional business — running a crematorium. The boy’s mother wants to educate him,but their financial conditions after his father’s death changes things. Usha Jadhav,who plays one of the leading characters in the film,also won the National Award for best female actor. The film,shot entirely in Patil’s village in 30 days,is very close to his heart. “In big cities,there are no restrictions as to what job a person from a caste can do. If you are good,the sky is the limit for you. But in villages,people still follow the caste system. I have tried to show the tragedy that invariably engulfs these ambitious young people – and I have tried to show it without naming any caste,” says Patil. The film,after making rounds of film festivals last year,is set for a May release.

Patil was born to a family of impoverished farmers,who worked on other people’s land. He was a Class V student when the stage became an obsession. “I saw a natak staged across the river from my village,” says the 43-year-old. “Everything about it — the music,the costumes,the drama and the energy — made me want to be a part of it.” He often persuaded his mother to lend him money for the tickets. “It was just theatre,performances and tamashas at first. Because nobody in our village knew what a movie was. We knew them as ‘videos’ which were shown in the slightly larger village across the river,” Patil says. He watched the “videos” and participated in the local theatre performances,but as he grew older,his mother wanted him to work on the fields. “She once caught me trying to sneak into a theatre,and beat me to pulp in front of the whole village,calling me a ‘heroine cha potta’ (heroine’s son). Everybody in the village started calling my mother ‘heroine’ after that incident,” says Patil,laughing.

After his Class XII exams,Patil decided to move to Mumbai with a distant relative. He remembers his first day in a city awash with the first monsoon showers. “My uncle had lined up an interview for me at a company,and when I reached there,I realised that the back of my clothes were completely splattered with mud,because I was wearing slippers,” he says.

Eventually,Patil got married,had a son,and after doing odd jobs and businesses for more than seven years,finally managed to find a job as an assistant director for a Marathi television show,Purushottam,in 2000. “Since then,I have worked on 10-12 television serials,and each has run for an average of 100 episodes,” says Patil. He also worked as an assistant director for three Marathi films. His first directorial venture Wavtal released in 2010. It was about a young girl who is abducted by terrorists during a riot in a nearby village. The film,which was set in Sawantwadi,in the Konkan region of Maharashtra,was critically acclaimed,but failed to earn much money.

The film tested him in other ways. “My family went through a difficult time during those days. My father had passed away and I could not even be there for the cremation because we were shooting the film on such a tight budget,” says Patil. On the day the film premiered,his first wife succumbed to cancer. Now two films old and much wiser,Patil is ecstatic about the recognition that the National Award has brought him. “I haven’t talked as much in my entire life! I’m more of a listener,but I’m overwhelmed by the response,” he says.

Already being ranked among the “fresh new talents” of the season,Patil thinks that a National Award has given him a voice and a launch pad. Would he like to venture into Bollywood? “Why of course,” he says,surprised. “Why do you think I have been struggling for so long?”

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