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Cinema with sense

Anuj Kumar takes veteran filmmaker Sai Paranjpye on a nostalgia trip

Photo: S. Subramanium

DIFFERENT SHADES Seasoned director Sai Paranjpye is coming up with two new films

A nine-year-old used to go for walks with her uncle, Achyut Ranade, a noted filmmaker of the ’40s and ’50s, up Fergusson Hill in Pune. The laudable reason, as she puts it now, was to lose weight, but in fact it was an opportunity to lis ten to some fascinating stories. He would tell stories as if he were narrating a screenplay. They might go flying into a village, focus on a house, followed by a hand turning a roti on the tava. Once she was not allowed to watch a film, as it was the story of folk singer Ram Joshi, who was an alcoholic. But Ranade told her the story where the singer decided to give up drinking out of embarrassment after he reached a concert dead drunk. Ranade beautifully described a scene where the singer was in a hurry, his muslin dhoti gave way and with it a surahi (pitcher) fell down. Ranade asked the girl, did you get the import. The girl quickly replied, “Of course, he didn’t give up alcohol.”

Some days after the incident she watched the film and discovered that the scene was not as well executed as she had imagined. The girl grew up to become Sai Paranjpye, whom we know for cinema that at times appeals to the mind, at others tickles the ribs but always touches the heartstrings. Like her personality, her filmography is short and sweet – Sparsh , Katha, Chashme Baddoor, Saaz and Disha . “That very day I found a writer and director in me,” Sai gives the gist of the absorbing story. As for the short part, she asks, “Where was the finance for my kind of cinema?”

In Delhi for Osian’s Cinefan film festival, where she is a jury member, she emphasises her role as a writer, because writing is exactly what the industry needs today. “The film first takes shape on paper. I write everything before I go for the shoot…even the editing patterns.”

Comeback films

Now she is making a comeback with not one but two films. “One is with Firoz Nadiadwala.” What? “Yes, he happens to be a fan of my films. He approached me to make a thriller. It is called Khoon To Hona Hi Tha... a light murder mystery. Another is Qisse (Episodes). It is close to my heart. It is about HIV/AIDS…no preaching, the message is laced in the drama.” She says the screenplay is ready, but again finance is an issue.

Cut to the past again, to her films which had no villains. “My biggest villain was Farooque Sheikh in Katha...Bashu, the endearing rascal.” Ask her if it has something to do with her gender and she laughs. “Female filmmakers are more sensitive. Their characters are well-rounded. Men tend to get sentimental. There is a difference in being sensitive and sentimental. The latter gives way to crying mothers and dominating fathers.”

She points out the blind character Naseeruddin Shah played in Sparsh. “At times you feel like hitting him. In our films blind characters are generally infused to evoke sympathy, which is not the case in reality. Naseer’s character was based on a real life personality who was the principal of the Blind Relief Association. People were scared to approach him.”

She reminds us there are lots of shades between pristine white and midnight black. “People said Saaz is based on the professional rivalry of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. It was indeed inspired by their lives but the issue is universal. What we are seeing today between Venus and Serena is something similar. One is very protective of the other, but once on court, they are fierce rivals. Like Aruna Irani answered Shabana Azmi in Saaz: ‘There is lots to do in life but there is space for only one at the top’.”

Back to the present and Sai,70, still loves to spend time in a sea of movies as she used to during her tenure at FTII.

“Even the names excite me. I want to know what a film with the title Egg would be all about, or how naughty would be Peeping Tom or for that matter what’s happening in Turkish cinema.”

We leave her dreaming at Siri Fort auditorium.

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