Retelling stories

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 16 June 2018

In conversation with Dr Anjali Kirtane who will be screening four of her docudramas in the city

Many Maharashtrians with an intellectual bent of mind and artistic sensibilities are more than aware of Dr Anandibai Joshi, Durga Bhagwat, Pt Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and Pt Dattatray Vishnu Paluskar and their contribution to the field of medicine, women’s empowerment and arts. Dr Anjali Kirtane, who has assiduously researched on their lives and shot docudramas, brings the films to the city this weekend. She tells us about the intriguing aspects of her subjects and how their stories are interesting, educative and offer hope to all those who are trying to experiment, explore in their respective fields. The docudramas will be screened at ‘Su-Darshan’, a documentary festival organised by Maharashtra Cultural Centre, on Saturday and Sunday evening.

First female doctor
Dr Kirtane, who is popularly known for her work on Dr Anandibai Joshi, said to be the first female doctor of India, says, “Many people have read the book on Anandibai and when they come to watch the film, they realise it’s different from the text. Actually, I directed the docudrama, Dr Anandibai Joshi — Kaal aani Kartutwa, first and then wrote the biography, which runs into 500 pages. My research on Anandibai was extensive and all of it couldn’t be used in making the docudrama.”

Kirtane’s research on Anandibai took her to the States, where she discovered Anandibai’s samadhi. She also met the relatives of Ms Carpenter, with whom Anandibai had stayed. “Usually in documentaries, we have a narrator’s voiceover. But considering the era in which Anandibai lived, I decided that a kirtankar would narrate her story. I knew a female kirtankar, Pratibha Deodhar, who narrates Anandibai’s story, and I decided to feature her in the docudrama. A kirtankar spreads the teachings of god, but Deodhar talks about the life of one person, which I found interesting. Anandibai’s role has been enacted by Anuja Biniwale and Kshama Khandekar, while Dilip Prabhavalkar plays Gopalrao, her husband. In some places, we have also used visuals,” she explains.

After making her first docudrama, Kirtane realised that she wanted to continue working in this medium, not just to satisfy her creative urges, but to ensure that the stories of such important people, were not lost. “I held the docudrama’s screenings at various places across the country; I would speak on the project, hold the screening, followed by a Q and A with the audience, and raise money for my next venture. I don’t take grants from government bodies to research and make films,” she adds.

Singing prodigy and Golden Age of Classical Music
After the conclusion of shooting for each film, the Mumbai-based author and filmmaker would experience a vacuum. “I used to wonder ‘what next?’ Soon after the film on Durgabai, I began researching on the life of my favourite singer, Pt Dattatray Vishnu Paluskar, who died very early. But even in that short period, he was an unmatched vocalist and won over the audience comprising thinker-reformer Na Chi Kelkar, Mahatma Gandhi, vocalist Kesarbai Kerkar and the Maharaja of Patiala,” informs Kirtane.

Kirtane, who learnt to play sitar in her childhood, knew that she wouldn’t become a ‘sitarya’. But she was also sure that whatever you learn in life doesn’t go waste. “This love for music helped me work on the docudrama on Paluskar, Gaanyogi — Pt Dattatray Vishnu Paluskar. I spent seven years researching on his music and his persona. I also came across some of his diaries and traced the route that he took — from Kurundwad (where he was born), to Calcutta, Lucknow, Amritsar and Patiala. I was able to connect with 100 odd people from his life. I also studied music, read works on Hindustani Classical Music. My travels and the research pointed out that the age in which Paluskar thrived, is the Golden Age of Classical Music. That subject deserved another docudrama of its own,” says Kirtane, who headed the Marathi department of Popular Prakashan (a publishing firm).

In continuation with this docudrama, Kirtane is working on her next film on Pt Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, a musicologist. “It’s because of him that we can access our heritage of classical music. I hope to raise money for this venture by requesting people to watch my previous works. So I do hope that the audience turns up for Su-Darshan festival,” she adds.

A writer and a thinker 
After Anandibai, Kirtane focused on the personality of Durga Bhagwat — writer anthropologist and thinker. “I realised that a lot of money was needed to shoot documentaries. So when it came to filming the docudrama on Durgabai, I procrastinated. But after a few years, I realised that Durgabai was ageing. And so one day I decided to just go ahead. It was providence, I think, because Durgabai passed away after 13 days of shooting. I am lucky that I got a few, rare visuals of her. Ila Bhate, Ketaki Thatte and Shailaja Hardikar have played Durgabai’s role in the docudrama, Durga Bhagwat — Ek Shodh. This film too had public screenings,” explains Kirtane.

Shooting a docudrama/documentary
The subjects of her films have been people she has been fascinated with. So how does she ensure that she is impartial, when writing or shooting on their lives? Dr Kirtane replies, “A biographer or a historian has to be a seeker of truth. His approach has to be objective. If you allow your fascination or emotions for the subject to overpower your work, then it’s not fair. In my book on Anandibai, I wrote about her limitations; or in Paluskar’s life an important aspect revolved around the guru- shishya relationship; it was turbulent to say the least. Just because I was fond of his singing, it didn’t mean I should shield this aspect from my viewers.”

ST Reader Service
Su-Darshan, a documentary festival, by Maharashtra Cultural Centre (MCC), will screen four docudramas, produced and directed by Dr Anjali Kirtane. The programme will also include publication of the fourth edition of her book on Dr Anandibai Joshi — Kaal aani Kartutva — by Pramod Kale, vice-president of MCC. The screenings will be held at Jyotsna Bhole Sabhagruha, Tilak Road on June 16 and 17, from 6 pm onwards. Entry is free.

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