Shuruaat (a beginning), a 16-minute-short film on the pain of waiting and the meaning of life, which narrates the story of a young theatre artiste helping a 65-year-old man return to acting, has won the best Short Film award at the Indian International Film Festival of South Africa (IIFFSA). Its director Suresh Shelar is a Class IV employee with Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST).
“I become a film maker after 5 pm,” jokes Shelar. Shuruaat is his fifth movie since 2009, but the first to win an award. The film was first screened in October 2013 among 12 international short films under the category ‘Celebrate Age’ at Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI). “I have learned to juggle both lives. My friends say I have a split personality,” he says.
Shelar says movies were always his stress buster, but it was the Screen Awards that inspired him. “It was 1996. I saw Manisha Koirala walking up the stage to receive an award for Khamoshi. At that moment, I decided that I wanted to be a director,” recalls Shelar.
In Shuruaat, the protagonist Keshav, a theatre artiste, has been waiting for the verdict of the 1993 Mumbai blasts, in which he lost his wife and son. In March 2013, the Supreme Court announced its verdict. “It kept playing in my head. I wanted to explore whether it really is justice when it comes after so long,” says Shelar.
The BEST employee would use the train journeys between Grant Road and Mira Road to model his script, often observing people’s behaviour and conversationseavesdropping on conversations.
The award was announced in South Africa, but he got the news as a simple text message. “I got a message on January 19 from my friend who represented my film at the festival,” he adds.
In his day job, Suresh has to assist carpenters, welders and plumbers at power stations between Colaba and Mahim. Shelar has spent 18 years in BEST and works in the same department since 1995.
“My father Motiram retired as a sepoy with BEST. I wanted to step into my father’s shoes, so I joined BEST,” he says. “I am still struggling to stand out as a filmmaker as I am identified as a class IV employee. Sometimes, I go prepared for questions that will be raised about my job but when I start talking about cinema, people stop doubting my skills,” says Shelar. “Digital age and international film festivals have been helpful to people like me,” he adds.
His other movies have been on subjects like same-sex relationships, the struggles of a first-time actor, and layers in a matrimonial relationship. The man with no formal education in cinema will now move to work on his first Marathi short film Avkash (relationship between two brothers) and on his first feature film Jhilmil. Shelar is yet to be felicitated by the administration, which is waiting for the trophy to arrive.