So be it. That may be the meaning of Astu — the Marathi film that has occupied the mindspace of its leading actor and co-producer Mohan Agashe for the last few years, but this passive acceptance, by no means, points to how he dealt with the unexpected obstacles that came in the way of the film’s reach, release and finally re-release last week.
Based on the little-dealt-with topic of ageing and dementia, Astu gently tells the story of a learned man whose mind and body is now haplessly succumbing to memory loss. It also explores, in this context, the changing relationship between children and parents, the role reversal that inevitably takes place and the challenges of dealing with the progressive disease when it claims a loved one. In fact, the Marathi film easily transcends the boundaries of language to make it effortlessly comprehensible to anyone watching it.
Having now been released in 30 theatres across Maharashtra, Astu had its first show in December 2013 but could not go beyond two theatres in Pune. In the meantime, it was on a film festival rollercoaster, quietly picking awards, including two National Awards for Best screenplay (Sumitra Bhave) and Best Supporting actress (Amruta Subhash). “But a film’s real reward is in the wider audience watching it. And that was just not happening,” says Agashe, who got involved in the film as its main actor but finally ended up being the co-producer too.
“When the movie was almost complete, Ganesh Rao, the producer, ran out of money. I thought it was not right that the film should languish at this critical juncture. I had just retired at that time and had some money to spare. I put in the rest of the money required and we finished the film,” recounts Agashe. Almost immediately, there was a deluge of invitations for the film from festivals all over the world that kept the unit on a high.
“But the honeymoon phase was soon over and then came the problems in the marriage,” says Agashe, who then discovered that for a small individual producer to release a film was akin to “a poor farmer putting his land at the mercy of the village money lender in an insidious feudal system”.
“The film distribution system is a mafia few know of. I realised why some films have just a week’s screening and some just a weekend. Anyway, we could not make any headway into the multiplexes. Finally, we decided to release it as a pilot in City Pride and Prabhat cinemas in Pune and distributed flyers by way of publicity. The movie ran for six weeks and to rave reviews,” says Agashe, who then decided to take the strong point of the film — the fact that it raises questions on mental health and familial bonds that we take for granted — and let it thrive on that.
“What followed were a spate of private screenings and discussions — in Pune, Nashik, Kolhapur and Kolkata, and even in the US. I took the film to medical colleges, conferences and home theatres. Soon, we got sponsorship by people who saw the value in the message,” says Agashe, adding that he drew heavily from his own experience and practise as a psychiatrist to infuse life into the character he played.
At the end of it all, the film had collected Rs 36 lakh. “We decided it was time to spend the money to get the film its real due,” says Agashe who then set about putting the publicity in place and convincing multiplexes to screen it. “There are some films that know six months in advance their precise release dates and there are some like ours who don’t know even on the Monday of the week its to be released whether its going to actually happen,” he adds.
But obstacles overcome, Agashe and team (that includes directors Sunil Sukhtankar and Sumitra Bhave) are now keeping their fingers tightly crossed and hoping that their efforts and patience will finally bear fruit. Having ensured he left no stone unturned to get the film so close to his heart the platform it deserves, the rest can perhaps finally be left to fate. “Now how it does and what response it evokes is purely on the merit of the film. I have done my bit,” says Agashe. So be it.