On Republic Day this year, a madman in Pune walked up to crowds and asked, “Are you Indian? How Indian are you?” He saluted bikers, shook hands with homeless beggars and shouted “Jai Hind” at cars. A tricolour danced in his hands. He was in character, playing the role of Anya, the protagonist in the Marathi film Mhorkya (The Leader). He was Amar Deokar, the film’s 33-year-old director. The film is based on a fictional story of a soldier, who lost his mind during the 1999 Kargil War. “Through this character, I explore who is mad and who is sane, who is normal and who is abnormal,” says Deokar.
Mhorkya, Deokar’s feature film debut as director, won three National Awards in 2018. It won the National Award for Best Children’s Film as well as Special Mention for child actors Raman Devkar and Yasharaj Karhade. The film arrived in cinemas on February 7, released by Aespaes Lab, a company run by Deokar’s friend.
“I made Mhorkya because I wanted to draw attention to our leadership. In the constitutional structure of our country, a leader is the first pillar of democracy. Our country got freedom and a Constitution more than 70 years ago, but there is a question mark on our evolution as a democratic republic. The film discusses this issue through the story of a small village and its sanskriti,” says Deokar.
Mhorkya revolves around Ashok (Devkar), a Class VII student in Barshi in Solapur, Maharashtra, who barely attends school because he has to go to the fields or the hills to graze cattle. When he finds out that his school is preparing for the Republic Day parade, Ashok thinks what if, instead of the 50 goat and sheep that follow him around, he could lead a contingent of 50 children in a parade? “His struggle to get into the system and become a leader of 50 children is the core idea of Mhorkya,” says Deokar.
He has named a character Ganatantra, which the local dialect has mauled to Gomter that sounds similar to gaumutra. Ashok represents the alternative to the establishment — he can communicate with those who lack words or a voice, from his bleating cattle to his speech-impaired mother. “The mother is mute because women of our country are traditionally silenced,” says Deokar.
He set his story in the familiar soil of Barshi. “I am a kisan’s son. My duties included taking cattle out to pastures, ploughing the field, and planting seeds,” Deokar says. He can mimic the cries of birds and animals of the village, knows their moods and understands their signals for food, water and shelter.
“My father used to act in plays and was a poet and I used to watch him rehearse or recite. The ability of an actor to inhabit a parallel world fascinated me,” he says. After Class XII, he told his father, “For sure, I will do something with my life, but it will be in theatre.” He acted in local plays, wrote scripts and formed a theatre group, Manavta Nirmiti Manch, with his friends.
Later, with a degree in English literature and a course in filmmaking, Deokar started freelancing in the Marathi film industry. The theme of sociopolitical questioning from his theatre days spilled into his cinema as well. Deokar’s debut short film as a writer and director, Identity (2015), was about a community ripped by communal tensions during Holi. Sachin and Karim, students of Class IV, want to play with colours. “Under the colours, their identities are lost. When the fathers come and take them away, the audience doesn’t even know which child has gone to whose home. What’s normal, you decide.”
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