Mumbai: Sai Paranjpye’s Disha (Whitherbound), filmed in 1989, has been selected for screening at the prestigious Festival des 3 Continents in Nantes, France, on November 24 and 27. The 10-day-long festival concentrates on cinema from Asia, Africa and Latin America.
A special section this year highlights the best films of the 1970s and ’80s made in the three continents. Among the other stalwart Indian directors whose films will be screened are Bengal’s Ritwik Ghatak, Kerala’s G. Aravindan and John Abraham, and Mumbai’s Saeed Akhtar Mirza.
The feisty 84-year-old Paranjpye, in an exclusive conversation with HT, stated that despite a shoulder ailment, she would be travelling to Nantes to be present at the screenings. She intends to spend a week after the event in her “beloved Paris” before returning home.
“Ironically, Disha which deals with the plight of immigrant workers in the city,” she narrated, “didn’t win a single honour at the National Film Awards, 1990. As I have written in my autobiography, The Patchwork Quilt, I suspect that this was because of three of the jury members – Honey Irani, Kalpana Lajmi and J.P. Dutta — had persuaded the rest of the jury to take an anti-art cinema stand that year.”
Yet, upon being screened at the Critiques Film Festival in Cannes subsequently, Disha won two major awards – the Jury’s Award for Best Film and the Audience’s Favourite. Next, it was invited to 16 film festivals worldwide, including those hosted in London, Montreal, Cairo, Sydney and Fukuoka.
Disha was released theatrically, next, in Mumbai, Pune and Delhi where it performed well commercially but she added ruefully, “it was handicapped because I had produced the film myself. And the distributor was particularly clueless and that was none other than myself.”
Featuring Nana Patekar, Raghuvir Yadav, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi, the filmmaker recalled, “Disha tells the story of two close friends eking out a grim existence in a village. Believe it or not, it took me 17 years to complete the screenplay which fell together piece by piece.”
The project’s genesis was Paranjpye’s visit to social activist Vilasrao Salunke’s village Naigaum. He believed every drop of rainfall in the village belonged to the tillers of the soil.
She remarked emphatically, “As importantly, it was there that I met Soma, a man possessed, convinced that there was water down below in his arid land. After 12 years of incessant digging, he finally hit water. In the script, it has been depicted that Soma and his friend named Vasant are forced to come to Bombay to earn their living, and become millworkers. Since no one was willing to touch a film about labourers and farm workers, I turned producer myself.”
Wasn’t Sparsh (1980), about a blind schoolteacher, headlining Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi, invited originally to Nantes this year? Answer: “Yes. But unfortunately the print was not in mint shape, to put it politely. Alas the producer had never looked after my precious print. Fortunately, Disha was on hand. In any case, I feel Disha is the best of my lifetime’s work.”
She smiles, “It is strange that Disha which was rejected at the preliminary round itself of the National Awards, went on to be honoured at 18 major film festivals worldwide. This is what I could call my sweet revenge.”