A Marathi film, written and directed by a Gujarati Dalit youth, Mehul Agaja, has been selected to the ongoing 52nd edition of the prestigious International Film Festival of India (IFFI). The film titled ‘Niwaas’ is slated for the screening Saturday.
The film has been selected under the Indian Panorama (feature film) category of the film festival organised by the Directorate of Film Festival – Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in Goa. Niwaas is among the 24 films that made it to the final shortlist from a total of 221 across the country.
The film, in which acclaimed Marathi actor Sayaji Shinde plays a leading role, explores the friendship between two individuals in their old age.
“When we talk of friendship, mostly it’s stories of children or youth. But friendship during old age is also good. Old age has its own problems; people have so much time that their main issue is how to spend time. And friendships at that age are of a different level since the individuals come with an entire lifetime of experiences. So, this film is basically about the lives of old persons who have lost their place in the society, in their own home and how such a person spends his time and shares problems with friends,” Mehul said.
Notably, Niwaas is Mehul’s directorial debut, an extraordinary feat at an age of 35. “I consider it an achievement that I have created this film, despite being a Gujarati. It shows that we can create content in other languages, too,” Mehul said about the selection of his directorial debut film at the IFFI.
A native from the Akhaj village of Mehsana in North Gujarat, Mehul’s school and college education were in Ahmedabad. Having a keen interest in filmmaking, Mehul did his Bachelors in History from the Gujarat University as an external student. He then headed to Mumbai to pursue his dreams in the film industry at just 18 years of age, against the wishes of his parents.
Mehul says he is not a formally trained writer-director and claims that his writing and directorial skills were self-taught.
“My parents are followers of Osho and so, I grew up in an n atmosphere surrounded by books and readers. I had a deep interest in story-telling from childhood. My fascination and liking for filmmaking started from there,” Mehul, whose favourite directors are Martin Scorsese and Shekhar Kapur, said.
During his initial years in Mumbai, he took up various freelance work in the industry. Simultaneously, he learned the skill of filmmaking as he studied the screenplays of more than 300 Hollywood movies.
“I did ghostwriting to survive. But in two years, my parents realised that I am going to follow my dreams and so they came to Mumbai and started supporting me. My father is a retired bank manager and he got a transfer in Maharashtra at that time,” he said.
Mehul had also written another Marathi film, Yuntum, in 2018.
“Spending about 18 years in Maharashtra, I have realised that Marathi films are rich in stories. It is a story-driven industry and not a star-driven one,” he said when asked about selecting Marathi for his filmmaking career. Currently, he is working on a Gujarati feature film.
“I belong to the Dalit community, it is my origin. And I want to convey with my work that anybody can excel in filmmaking. A person who has not formally studied cinema has reached this level and it shows that anybody can reach anywhere. In Gujarat, till today, cinema is not being seen as a career option. I really wish that my work inspires younger people in that direction,” Mehul said about his Dalit identity.