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Promises to melt the heart

The Ashok Pandit-directed Sheen is due to be released this Friday. ANJANA RAJAN speaks to the emotionally charged director.



Ashok Pandit... All set to sparkle with Sheen. Photo: V. Sudershan.

ASHOK PANDIT knows how to roar eloquently from a podium, and no wonder. He is a veteran of IPTA, the Indian People's Theatre Association, a movement that started out with fiery words and the inspired guidance of giants in the realm of theatre and thought. From directing and acting in IPTA productions to becoming associate director of comedy tele-serials like Wagle ki Duniya and Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi might be a long shot. But Ashok Pandit has re-entered the realm of fire and brimstone with his feature film, Sheen, which has been chafing in the stables for months. Expected to hit Delhi theatres this Friday, Sheen portrays the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits who have been forced into exile due to militancy in their home State.

Ashok Pandit, who was in the Capital this past week to publicise its release, maintains that the film - starring newcomer Sheen and one-film-old Tarun Arora - is neither a glamorised Bollywood version of reality, nor a piece of sloganeering.

"I think this tragedy itself is a piece of art. I've not created anything. It's a mirror to life," he declares. "I believe in raising human issues." Pointing out that he was among the first to go to Gujarat in support of the minority population during the genocide of 2002, he clarifies, "I raise my voice against all issues that are inhuman. I am not just a dream seller. I am also a dream seller."

The seeds of Sheen were sown that day in January 1990, he recounts emotionally, when militants broadcast over loudspeakers that the Pandits should desert their homes, leaving their womenfolk behind. "We left then. It was a question of our dignity. It took about four years to come out of this shock. We were about 80 people in Mutti camp in Jammu. Panun Kashmir was organised at that time. I used to do theatre workshops and other activities in the camp."

Over 14 years, as politics continued taking its tragic-comic turns, ignoring the human experience, Ashok Pandit says he tried in vain to get directors interested in making a film on the Kashmiri Pandits, who are refugees in their own country. "But nobody came forward," says the man known for directing thought-provoking serials like Mukammal that till recently was airing on Sahara TV, as well as for his association in the 1980s with the Nukkad series on Doordarshan and the Raman Kumar-directed film Saath-Saath.

Finally he took the megaphone himself, but Ashok records his appreciation for Mahesh Bhatt, who "was with me heart and soul." The final script, he adds, is the 15th draft, resulting from passionate discussions between the two along with Raman Kumar, who has written the screenplay. All the while he gives the credit to Sahara, the film's financiers, calling himself and his team mere "karmcharis".

The current India-Pakistan bonhomie, he feels, will end with elections, with both parties receding to their antagonistic positions. Who really cares about the victims of conflicts - be they in Kashmir or Gujarat, asks the director, confident his film can change the attitude of terrorists. It remains to be seen whether Sheen - which means snow in Kashmiri - manages to melt the hearts of fantasy-fed Bollywood fans. Meanwhile, after this intense experience, it is a "super-hit comedy" the director promises next.

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