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October 20, 1999


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'Amol Palekar-Hrishikesh Mukherjee were equal to Manmohan Desai-Amitabh'

Kairee A post-graduate in Fine Arts from the Sir J J School of Art, Bombay, Amol Palekar started his career as a painter before he went on to become a successful and highly acclaimed actor. That was in 1974 and, since then, he has won three Filmfare Best Actor awards and six state awards. He turned director in 1981 and now has five major films -- which have been much praised at festivals the world over -- to his credit.

Palekar, a leading light of avant theatre in India, is ready with his latest venture, Kairee. His last film, Daayra, was awarded the Grand Prix, Festival du Valenciennes, France. It was also featured in Time magazine's Top Ten Films of '96.

Kairee, based on a short story by renowned Marathi writer G A Kulkarni, is the tale of a 10-year-old girl uprooted from her happy, normal life and thrown into a hostile new world where all she has to call her own is Taanimausi. The latter, a woman who has accepted her fate, is the lone protector of the little girl's innocence and interests. With a brute for a husband, Taanimausi's barren life gains some purpose when she decides to protect the little girl.

With the help of some amazing cinematography, Taanimausi and the girl weave an imaginary world for themselves, a world that is deplete of the unpleasantness and vulgarity of an adult world. Taanimausi gives the girl the will to live and realise her dreams in a male-dominated society. As the girl comes to terms with the changing environment, she faces harsh truths about life, which mould her thoughts and help her realise a better tomorrow.

The lyrical nature of the movie, with its subtle tinges of humour, gels together into a sensitive and well-narrated story. Backed by some fine performances, this film, with seven debutants, journeys into the mind of a child with eloquence and charm.

Palekar talks about the film as a dream realised after 18 long years and advocates the need for fresh subjects in the now stagnant mainstream cinema. He blasts the myth that mainstream cinema is the only cinema prevalent in the country and explains his point of view with the same sincerity that one witnesses in his films. Excerpts from an interview with Faisal Shariff:

Do you have a target audience in mind every time you make a film, or do you make it because it appeals to you?

Of course, I don't make a film for myself; of course, I have a target audience. The target audience is probably a combination of all the good qualities in my friends; various friends who I have been fortunate enough to have experienced in my life so far.

It's like, when I read a poem, my first reaction when I love the poem is to call a friend and read it out to him or her. While I read it out, I am not only re-enjoying the poem, I am also sharing it with him or her.

And I do it to as many people as possible. Which is exactly my experience when I make a film, I want to share it with like-minded people. I want to share it with as many people as possible. And the good side of it is that the number is always increasing.

Amol Palekar So what is your target audience for Kairee?

Sensible people! People who are looking for something which is dear to the heart, for a touching, emotional experience. All those people are my target audience.

Kairee was first thought of 18 years ago. Why did it take you so long to get started?

There are various reasons why it took me 18 years. At one level, getting finance was a problem. But, at the other level, I think the confusion of people who want to support this kind of cinema was also a problem.

At one time, the NFDC script committee very strongly recommended this script and everything was like, yes, now in a month's time you can start the shoot. Then the top boss of NFDC calls me and says that this is a lovely script, but why don't you make something which is a little more mainstream and a little more commercially viable!!

Now, I think that is not my problem. It is NFDC's problem. They don't know what they want to do. They don't even know why they exist. It is their confusion. I can't deal with that. Where is the development if they want to produce mainstream cinema like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai? I have no problem with that. But then, why do they exist? It is their problem, not mine.

Is the subject still relevant after 18 years?

Yes, absolutely. Not only that, I am in fact thankful for those 18 years because it gave me that much more confidence and that much more distance to look at myself and that much more objectivity.

There is this scene in the movie which I could not follow. The part where the girl starts to stammer.

There is nothing to follow in that. It is very simple. This girl is uprooted from her original place and taken to another school where she can't mix with the children. Then again, she is uprooted from there and taken to another school. And she sees that she doesn't belong there either. She can clearly see that she is isolated. Now what is the simplest way of being accepted? This is the simplest ploy. And the moment she does that, everyone feels that she is a part of them and she is accepted.

But, in the scene before that, she seems to be enjoying herself when the teacher acknowledges her talent and appreciates her.

That is the way a child's mind works. A child is innocent and extremely ruthless. In all their innocence, they are ruthless.

What were you looking for in Yogita, who plays the little girl?

I was looking for innocence. I didn't want the typical see-how-pretty-I-am written all over the face. I didn't want 'see how innocent I am' in inverted commas. No, I didn't want that kind of a child. I wanted a child who could just be and not act. And I think Yogita has given the most marvellous performance, without performing really. I didn't want her to perform. I didn't want her to ACT, in capitals.

Why only Yogita? In the entire film, no one acts. That has been my strength throughout. The biggest criticism I faced when I was acting was that I don't act. I know so many actors today who want to underline and say very loudly, see how I am underacting. I think it is just not required.

If you are underacting or if you are making statements which are very subtle, then that's it. If you want to say something in a whisper, say it in a whisper. You don't have to stand on rooftops and use megaphones throughout. Yes, you want to be heard, but that is not the only way to be heard. A whisper can be equally effective.

Kairee In the original story written by G A Kulkarni, the character is a boy. You claim not to have affected the original story by changing the character to a girl.

I think it makes a hell of a lot of difference. It is for the better. Take the example of Taanimausi. Things which are denied to her, she and her generation accept it at one level. Maybe they call it fate or whatever. Despite their intelligence or their being educated, they only go upto a level. They don't go out and rebel.

But Taanimausi does rebel when it comes to a girl of the next generation. I think it is absolutely important that she does it for a girl. Doing it for a boy would be no different from the way it normally happens in our society. A boy is supposed to be the light of his parents' eye and he is supposed to be the person who carries the family flag ahead. If she has to fight for a boy, what is so great about it? If she does it for a girl, it adds another dimension and I think that is absolutely important.

Don't you think you have changed the essence of the story?

No, I have not changed the essence of the story. The essence of the story is that the woman does have strength and, despite the male-dominated society, Taanimausi does have the strength of dreaming and the strength of seeing a beautiful tomorrow. That has not changed anywhere. So the girl who grows up on those strengths, on something that Taanimausi has given her, has not changed. The fact that she is a girl does add another dimension and I think that is beautiful.

Was it just a story written by G A Kulkarni that you were giving life to or was there a message which you wanted to convey? Something that was close to your heart as well?

The word, 'message', is something I am very scared of. We keep getting messages from politicians everyday. I run away from messages. I am not a messiah. I am not here to give any messages. In fact the producers, the ministry of health and family welfare, didn't want a message. That's why they approached me.

If they wanted to make a propaganda film, they would have approached anybody. They wanted a film dealing with issues about some of the areas which are of common concern to all of us as conscious citizens. That was my concern as well. So both of us together made a film which makes us conscious and aware and probably that much more enlightened.

You said it was your job as a director to make a movie and the job of the producers to take it to the audiences. Doesn't it upset you when your film does not reach the audiences at all?

No, I did not say that it is up to the producer. It is ultimately the producer's property. My role ends once the film is ready and censored. Then my job is over whether you like it or not or I like it or not. That is the crux of the matter. After that, the producer takes over. I will give my suggestions and my ideas, but eventually it is the producer's property. So, to that extent, the producer will take this product and take it to as many people as possible.

How would you critically review your own film?

I am extremely proud of this film. I think it is one of the finest films made in our country. Looking at it very objectively, I think it is one of my most beautiful experiences. I, along with my creative team, am extremely proud of it. And I am very happy that the producers think likewise. There could not have been a better combination.

Kairee What does film-making mean to you?

Film-making, to me, is a part of my existence. The moment I stop feeling that, I will stop making films.

What is your view on the current brand of humour used in Hindi films? You had a distinct flair for comedy even as an actor.

I think the humour that I have used in Kairee, which is prevalent throughout the film, talks about my idea of humour. It is very eloquent, specific and very loud. That is, the humour is not loud at all, but my idea of humour is very loudly conveyed.

What is your opinion on mainstream cinema?

Which mainstream cinema are you talking about? The cinema which flops 95 per cent of the time? Why do you keep talking about that and why do you keep using that as the yardstick, is my counter question.

Why do you keep talking about cinema which is not wanted by the audience? Otherwise, it would not flop. Ninety-five per cent of the cinema flops, yet all of you and the film-makers keep talking only about that and say that it is mainstream cinema. What is the logic?

This is not what the audience wants, otherwise why would they keep rejecting it one after the other. And we still keep screaming that this is mainstream cinema. It beats me. I fail to understand by what yardstick is this mainstream cinema. Just because of sheer numbers?

Do you think Kairee is a film that everyone would want to see? Would you call it a mainstream film?

Of course! Absolutely! I can go a little further and theoretically prove it to you. When have the audiences rejected something bad? Anything good, anything sensible has been accepted by the audiences. Otherwise Amol Palekar would not have existed.

The Amol Palekar-Basu Chatterjee combination or Amol Palekar-Hrishikesh Mukherjee combination stood on an equal footing with the Manmohan Desai-Amitabh combination or the Shakti Samanta-Rajesh Khanna combination. All existed together. So why are we saying that mainstream cinema is only that and not Amol Palekar-Basu Chatterjee?

Or go before that and see any sensible cinema, it existed along with mainstream cinema. The audiences have always loved that. It is today that, unfortunately, a situation has come where, instead of opening up avenues and bridges, we are trying to shut all the doors and make only one kind of cinema.

I will ask you another question. This is a country which has so many different religions, so many languages, cultures, food habits. We accept that as Indianess at all levels. Only when it comes to cinema, we say no, only one type of cinema can exist. Is there any logic to that?

Another example, we now have 55 flyovers in the city and we are all proud of it. But does that mean that people must travel in fast, zooming cars and go at a speed of 120 km and that no other mode of travel must exist? If someone wants to go by cycle, are you going to reject him just because he does not want to zoom past? Or, by that same logic, you are saying that people who want to walk have no place in society?

This is all frightening at one level, but don't you also see the fallacy of this argument? It can never be. Of course, flyovers have to be there; of course, fast, zooming cars have to be there. But that does not mean you shut off all other avenues. All will have to co-exist. The cyclist will also exist as part of our society and people who love to cycle at a leisurely pace will exist.

Today we are all desperately trying to prove to each other that only one kind of cinema qualifies for mainstream cinema and it has to survive. I have no quarrel with mainstream cinema. I loved Satya as much as you did. I would take 20 friends and go and see it. But I will quarrel with anybody who says that only the Satya kind of films should be made. That I will not accept.

Kairee So what is the reason that these films don't achieve the kind of success that mainstream cinema does? Especially since you believe that the audiences like them.

That is because you are not giving it a chance. Which theatre will release Kairee? And who are the people who control this process? One has to go into a different kind of analysis.

There was a theatre called Akashwani in the seventies. In Akashwani, only parallel cinema films were released and it was a huge success. All Basu Chatterjee, Mrinal Sen, M S Satyu, Gulzar, Hrishikesh Mukherjee films were released there and were patronised. It was difficult to get the tickets.

Tell me, why was Hyderabad Blues a success? Why did Bombay Boys succeed? They was not mainstream. Going by the same logic, have you ever bothered to ask the same question to someone from mainstream cinema, someone who has flopped miserably, someone who has given five flops one after the other? Why don't you ask him to try something different instead of wasting his money and time and bearing colossal losses?

You and I have put blinders on and we accept in blind faith that this is what succeeds and therefore this is what mainstream cinema is and that it should be perpetuated. Excuse me, this does not succeed and that is why it should not be perpetuated.

So which is your next project?

I am working on yet another non-mainstream cinema film called Kal Ka Aadmi. It is 85 per cent complete and I'm hoping to complete it by the end of the year.

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