Vijaya Mulay was 18 when she moved from the liberal environment of cosmopolitan Bombay to Patna, after her marriage. “It was the ’40s and on my first day in the city, I rode a bicycle, there were street children running behind and mocking me,” says Mulay, as she sits at the Indian International Centre lawns, dressed in a bright hued Dharmavaram silk sari, where she was attending a screening of the Persistence Resistance film festival. She could not speak in Hindi or Bengali (necessary in Patna in those times), only knew Marathi and English, which meant her interactions with people were limited. There was little else to do but read and watch English movies at a nearby theatre on Sundays. “We (she and her husband) watched two shows for eight annas and after that we would analyse the films,” she says. Her husband’s stress on higher education led her to pursue a degree in education. “He told me that once India became independent, there will be a need for well-educated women. So I went to the UK in 1946 on a scholarship,” she says.
Mulay championed the cause of primary education through films. She was part of government initiatives such as the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) and the Centre for Educational Technology (CET), a scheme to use technology for education. Her most recognised work is the seven-minute, seven-second animation video, Ek Anek aur Ekta (1974), which was the first animation to be broadcast on Doordarshan. Last month, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 7th CMS Vatavaran Film Festival in Delhi. This isn’t the only award in a career spanning six decades and 35 documentaries. “When you do something and it comes out right, it feels nice when people enjoy them,” says the 92-year-old.
Mulay fondly recalls how the video came about. While working to develop the SITE programmes, she was hired by UNICEF for two months, to make educational programmes for six-year-olds. The videos were part of that exercise. “I played on the ideas of literacy, numerals and affinity; even though we are diverse, we are still united. I made three trial films before making Ek Anek aur Ekta,” says Mulay, who directed the film. Made using cell animation, each drawing was sketched on celluloid sheets and shot using stop-motion camera. Her video became popular and she was appointed as the director of CET under the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in 1975. During her stint, there were over 12 films for their child development programme made by filmmaker friends such as Chidananda Dasgupta, Sukhdev and Mrinal Sen.
Mulay was part of her university’s (Leeds) film society and on her return, she started the Delhi Film Society in 1954 with 22 members. “I got to see different kinds of films and how they were made. I learnt to appreciate the various aesthetics. When eight such societies across India came together, we formed the Federation of Film Societies in 1959 and I was appointed the Joint Secretary,” she says. She become friends with filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray, Sen and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, among others, who were part of these film societies. Her husband was a friend of Gangubai Hangal (since both came from Karnataka), and later Mulay made a film on the musician in 1982. When she made her first film, The Tidal Bore, in 1967, her friends pitched in: French filmmaker Louis Malle sent his film negatives, Ray did a voiceover (without any fee), noted scriptwriter Kabita Sarkar wrote the script and Hangal, the music. The film, which travelled to festivals abroad, was based on the occasional tidal wave phenomenon on the Hooghly river in Calcutta.
She was the presiding officer for the Central Board of Film Certification in 1962, at a time when the Censor Board was facing flak for its censoring policies. “Some members had no clue of cinema appreciation and were hired by the babus to appease someone.
This was a learning experience for me and I got to see the biases by which films were judged,” says Mulay, who saw over 3,000 films during the five-year period.
Though, Mulay has stopped making films, she has taken to writing. Currently, she is working on a book on the advent of educational technology, tracing the evolution of SITE and CET.