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Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 11 January 2018

Filmmaker Sumitra Bhave, who turns 75 today, shares her approach towards cinema and life.

While we are living in a world full of insecurities and intolerance, we do come across people who exude optimism and positivity all the time. Maybe it’s to do with the years they have spent on the earth, or their inherent positivity. National Award-winning filmmaker Sumitra Bhave, who celebrates her 75th birthday today, is an epitome of wisdom and optimism. Typical of her generation and class, she doesn’t want to celebrate her birthday with any fanfare; but is game to watch her film Vaastupurush, with her team of actors and collaborators.
In the midst of wrapping up her latest film, Welcome Home, Bhave talks to us about her cinema, the values she believes in and the inherent goodness of humans...

The story of her cinema
A Social Work graduate from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and a Masters holder in Sociology and Political Science from University of Poona, Bhave has always been interested in understanding issues that ail a society. “I am interested in both the psychological and social aspects of a situation. It’s something that has to be comprehended and resolved looking at both micro and macro level. In making a cinema, if you can show how both micro and macro dimensions affect and influence each other, it will offer a more layered perspective. So a man, his relations, the dynamics in his interpersonal interactions form the core of my movie,” says Bhave.

She has worked for two decades as a lecturer in social work and as a researcher before getting into directing documentaries, short films and feature films. “As a researcher, I have studied social and humane/human aspects of both rural and urban society. I chose to make films to depict these findings and my understanding, audio-visually,” she says, adding, “I have made films on subjects that have appealed to me.”

Finding an audience
When asked to define her audience, Bhave replies matter-of-factly, “Those who want to watch my film, whether they like it or don’t, is my audience.” Of late though, her films have reached out to more people through YouTube and television. “I have many people from far off places, coming up to me and saying, ‘we watched your film/s on YouTube. We liked it a lot. So I can say that the audience is growing,” adds the Kaasav director. 
Known to offer aesthetically pleasing and meaningful entertainment, the director says that she doesn’t work with producers who expect a return on their investment in the production. “I tell them that I can’t guarantee you will get your money back.”

She adds, “Till now, producers have approached me with a broad outline of the film’s subject. So if the subject interests me, I start thinking about it, researching, discussing about it. And, then I find the germ of a story, a man’s story,” she adds. 

New Year, New Beginning 
However, this year, it’s all set to change. Bhave is keen on approaching producers for a film she wants to make on the late Gandhian Vinoba Bhave. “The times we are living in are bleak. We are confused about values. We have become selfish and violent. But in this chaotic situation too, there are some people who believe in harmony, they believe in non-violence, they believe and practise non-selfish acts. And, so I believe in the relevance of Vinoba Bhave, who travelled across the country, asking people to donate land to those who are landless,” she puts forth her case.

Many mistruths have been spread about the Gandhian and founder of Bhoodan Movement — that people donated non-arable land etc. “In actuality, 44 lakh of land was donated to Bhoodan movement. People came forth and helped out each other. This is our cultural philosophy. We believe in the act of giving. The present times are difficult, no doubt, but I think the fog will lift, and a brighter image of our society will emerge,” explains the filmmaker.

Putting it all together
Bhave has approached Milind Soman for the role of Vinoba. And, one can’t help but express surprise at her choice. “I have worked with Milind in two movies, Astu and Samhita. And, I have seen a side of his, which is not largely known. He has done the look test for Vinoba and he fits the role. Milind doesn’t know much about Vinobaji’s work, but I have given him books and he is researching on the character. In fact, everyone in my film researches, me included! One connection between Milind and Vinobaji is that both have walked; Vinobaji criss-crossed through the entire country, requesting people to donate their land to those who didn’t have. And, Milind has also walked from Mumbai-Delhi, Mumbai-Ahmedabad, ran barefoot through various parts of the country, albeit for different reasons,” explains Bhave.

The intelligentsia too has offered to support Bhave in this venture, including Anil Awachat, Milind Bokil, Anand Nadkarni, Dr Abhay Bang, Parag Cholkar (who holds a PhD in Bhoodan Movement), Dr Shekhar Kulkarni. “We have done one workshop before the film rolls. We also visited Vinobaji’s ashram at Pavnar. His associates too are co-operating with us on this film. Since Vinobaji has travelled to Assam, Bihar, Tamil Nadu etc, the film will be multi-lingual, and a “national” film in its true sense,” she adds.

On crowdfunding
When asked if she is willing to crowdfund the cinema, till the time a producer comes on board, Bhave laughs and says, “My second short film Paani was crowdfunded by mahila mandals and tribal women way back in 1986. So yes, I am open to crowdfunding.”

Talking about Paani, she says, “My first short film, Bai won a National Award. When I was travelling with the film in rural areas, adivasi women asked if I wanted to make a film on water crisis that was plaguing them. I agreed but I had no money. After the screening of Bai, I would talk about this new film and request women to buy tickets, a year in advance. Many women ‘bought’ tickets, some groups used to send  ‘money order’. Obviously, this money wasn’t enough. So a couple of my friends loaned me the finances to make the film. After the film was made, we screened it for all the women who had booked their tickets.”  

On winning acclaim 
Almost all her films in collaboration with Sunil Sukthankar have won National Awards. Bhave is pleased, but her take on it is simple. “We don’t make films for acclaim. But when we get an award, we do feel good. That’s because the awards and acclaim tells us that society needs us and the kinds of movies that we are trying to make,” Bhave sums it up.

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