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Social Commentator

National Award-winning Marathi filmmaker Gajendra Ahire talks about capturing the changing social fabric of the country and his upcoming releases — Touring Talkies and Anumati

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza | Published: April 11, 2013 6:07:01 am

HIS directorial debut in 2003,Not Only Mrs Raut,won the National Award for Best Feature film in Marathi. Gajendra Ahire has since then delivered several superhits in the regional language,including Shevri,which won him the same honour again in 2006. This year,his film Anumati’s leading man,veteran Vikram Gokhale,has bagged the National Award for Best Actor alongside Irrfan Khan.

For a filmmaker with such credentials,Ahire maintains a surprisingly low-profile. He instead focuses on churning out films at high frequency — 40 releases in 10 years. Currently,he awaits the back-to-back release of two films,Touring Talkies on April 17 and Anumati on May 3,the day Indian cinema completes 100 years. He terms the former a passion project that stemmed from an actor friend’s experience of having a film release in a medium that is over a century old. “It is about Chandni,who attempts to reinvent her touring talkies business by chalking out a marketing strategy even as she faces adversity. The film captures the golden era of 2,000 touring talkies when each tent in Maharshtra would have an audience of close to 4,000 people and pictures,a stark contrast against the present,where only 32 such tents remain,” says Ahire.

Anumati tells the story of an old man unwilling to let go of his past. “Although doctors have given up all hope for his critically-ill wife,the husband,played by Gokhale,refuses to have her taken off the life-support system for he cannot imagine a life without her,” says Ahire.

Seated at a coffee shop in Dadar — the heart of Mumbai’s Marathi-speaking population — Ahire’s presence seems symbolic of his success. “I was always a storyteller,even as a child. But it was during my graduation years in Dadar’s Ramnarain Ruia College that I learned how to apply these stories,” he says. “As part of the college theatre group,I did 40 plays where I learned the basics of writing,direction,lighting,costumes and all other related departments,” he adds.

After graduation,Ahire wrote and directed his first play in 1993,Aai Cha Ghar Unhacha,a commercial and critical success. Soon,he set his eyes on celluloid. He first explored television,writing shows such as Saudagar,Pratibimb and Bandini. He eventually made his silver screen debut in 2003. The success of Not Only Mrs Raut — a social drama about a woman who confesses to killing her boss — says Ahire,paved the path for his “rather smooth” career.

The prolific director has,over the years,adopted a unique style of filming movies in under 15 days. “A thorough pre-production plan,with contingencies worked out,can help one cut down the number of days one spends in filming. This,in turn,reduces the budget and makes a film more viable,” he says.

But he never compromises on the content. Ahire’s films are known for capturing the changing social fabric of the country. Take for instance Gulmohar (2009),where he speaks of the pressures of city life and how it takes a toll on relationships,or Shevri,which explores the life of a woman deserted by her husband. Using the rural setting,through films such as Pandhar (2004) and Paradh (2010),Ahire has addressed the increasing divide between the rich and the poor and the exploitation of the latter.

As he awaits the release of his two films,the 44-year-old director feels he is finally ready to make his Bollywood debut. “My awards and past credentials will be of no use when I make a Hindi film. Merely changing the language isn’t the solution — everything from budgets and strategy to the perspective needs to be different if I make a Hindi movie since it caters to a larger audience,” he says.

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