Saturday, October 28, 2006

Close encounters of the unexpected kind

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

A meeting with a film director leads to an enriching experience

Shevlin Sebastian

As a journalist, sometimes, you go to cover one event, stumble on to another one and have an interesting experience in the end. One day, I had gone to see a particular documentary on the flamingos of Sewri. When the documentary ends, and as I get up to leave, Niranjan Prakash, General Manager, Communications, of E-City Ventures, which runs Fun Republic, announces the screening of the much-acclaimed Shwas, as part of the ‘First Films’ by directors festival.
This Marathi film, as is well known, was India’s entry for the Foreign Language competition at the Oscars this year. Prakash also mentions that director Sanjay Sawant, 40, is present and will take questions after the screening.
The movie, of course, is powerful: it is about the relationship between a man and his grandson, who is suffering from ocular cancer. They come to Mumbai for treatment and the film delineates the effect the illness has on the duo and the family, which lives in a beautiful village in the Konkan. Made with honesty and passion, there are moments when I could not breathe, such is the intensity of emotion that is generated. So, when the movie concludes, I decide to meet the director.
But, by the time I come out, a small group of people already surrounds Sawant, who is wearing an untucked shirt, with long sleeves. “Sir,” says a young man, “if you make a Hindi film, please consider me. I have been working in television serials.” Another man, with an intense, pleading look in his eyes, says, “Please read my script and tell me what you think about it.” A muscular young man clicks open his phone book on his mobile and asks for Sawant’s number. He punches in the number and says, “I’ll call you.” To all of them, Sawant nods and smiles. Then, a middle-aged couple offer congratulations and walk away. Finally, I get a chance to introduce myself and Sawant agrees immediately to have a chat.
We sit in the outdoor quadrangle and order tea, although it is 10 pm. Naturally, my first question is about the young people who had surrounded him. “Because, I have made some sort of a name, a lot of people approach me,” he says. “To be honest, I never get irritated since I am deeply aware of the frustrations and difficulties of being in a creative profession. This is a struggle I have experienced first-hand.”
He goes on to say why he selected the story and decided to make it in Marathi, and not Hindi, “because the condition of the industry was bad. Of course, I never expected it would have such an impact.”
He smokes often, sips his tea rarely and is intently focused on the conversation. He talks about how he trained the child actor in the film: “four months of rehearsals”; the reaction of the audience in different countries to the movie: “People had a sense of peace when they came out after a show”; his future plans: a Hindi film is in the works and, lastly, I ask him his artistic philosophy.
“Whether you are a painter or singer or director, it is very important to surrender to the muse,” he says, as his eyes bulge out in intensity. “Basically, you have to give your heart out to what you are doing. Then your art becomes powerful.”
I tell him that a couple of days earlier, I had read something similar by American writer Joyce Carol Oates: “To write well, you have to write your heart out.” He nods quickly and says, “I agree.”
It is 11 pm and time to say goodbye. A cool breeze is blowing and as I set out towards Andheri station, I feel a sense of elation that I had the opportunity to talk to somebody like Sawant. In the past one year or so, thanks to my job in HT, I have had the privilege of talking with a sexologist, a photographer, a publisher, a temple priest, a former cricketer, a diplomat, a judge, a lesbian, a belly dancer and a jail warden, among numerous other interesting people. So, it is no surprise for me that an evening, which began with the flamingos, ends with a conversation about the muse with an artist whose stunning debut film suggests a brilliant oeuvre of work ahead of him.

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