In an article written on him in 2011, the author compares director Gajendra Ahire to American director Roger Corman and controversial Japanese filmmaker Koji Wakamatsu in terms of their filmmaking speed. The only Indian name that comes to mind is of Priyadarshan, who has made over 90 films in three decades. Apart from this aspect, there are no similarities between the international directors or Ahire’s Indian counterpart.
While the majority of Priyadarshan’s work can be classified as “comic potboilers”, Ahire’s films are grim, probing and often offer a heartbreaking take on social realities in contemporary society. His characters — always fully developed and well-crafted – pose questions that are not only uncomfortable but often brushed under the carpet.
For Ahire (48), the question — “Why do you make so many films?” – is an easy one to answer. “Because that’s the only thing I do. I like the high that filmmaking gives you. I’m not doing anything else. I am not sitting in a bar sipping booze. I’m not involved in any other business. All I’m doing is writing films and making them. Fortunately, I have people around me who are helping me make them.”
He takes a pause as if he has made his point, only to add, “To tell you the truth, making a film doesn’t give you fulfillment. You always feel that something was left out. That feeling of anxiety, sense of incompletion leads you to another film. This chain doesn’t stop. It makes you work in a loop; that’s why I’m doing movie after movie.”
In early 1990s, when he was 21, living in Mumbai with his family and a graduate in Marathi literature, he left his home to escape the pressures of finding a job and settling down. “There was no point living there and continuously fighting with them,” he says. He then lived on the streets for several years guided by the protagonist of Arun Sadhu’s novel Shodhyatra, who also leaves his home to find the meaning of life.
During these two-three years, spent on the street — going places, doing odd jobs as a daily wager such as a cleaner, he came face to face with life and its realities. The people that he met and admired during this period and the situations which he lived and observed, often inspire the characters and plot lines of his films.
It was at the age of 23 that he wrote his first play for commercial theater. It was successful and opened doors for him for more plays, television serials. “You can’t replace vivid life experiences with observations or reading or imagination. It wont work if you say, ‘Let me go out and see what’s happening on the streets’. You would have to go through the process of life which gives you experiences that accumulate within you like honey drops. They will eventually come out in your work,” he says.
Despite being 44-films-old, Ahire feels that finding a producer for his next film is “as easy and as difficult” as it was for his first film, Not Only Mrs Raut. “It’s only your work that will help you get a producer. Although Mrs Raut didn’t get a release, people came forward to produce my next film because they saw the potential. It’s same even now. Anumati (2013) gave me Postcard (2014) which helped me get a producer for The Silence (2016), which then helped me get a producer for Pimpal (2017),” said Ahire.
Talking about Pimpal, his latest offering which won the Sant Tukaram Best Marathi Film Award at the recent Pune International Film Festival, Ahire reveals that the story, about the loneliness of a 70-year-old widower in Pune, whose kids are living in the US, came from his son, Chintamani. “He told me this story some years ago. I was surprised that a 17-year-old was talking about the psychological state of a 70-year-old man. The film is about the roots of an individual and how he struggles to cope with the fast-changing world. It’s also about happiness which, in these days, has become virtual. This happiness has no colour, smell or shape,” he says.