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"Today, it’s more about the commerce than the craft"

National Award-winning director Shrabani Deodhar is putting the finishing touches to her comedy film Sata Lota Pan Sagla Khota. Due for release in November, this film is her first with youngsters and a young team. Deodhar tells Sagorika Dasgupta what went into making the film and why it was a cathartic experience

How did the idea of Sata Lota come about?

I had this idea for quite a while. It is a mad comedy on the lines of a Rohit Shetty film but I thought it up way before Rohit Shetty became a director! Don’t get me wrong, I have immense respect for him as a filmmaker and I love his movies but this is a film I had planned to make long ago. Unfortunately, due to personal circumstances, I took a break of four years so the film is being made only now.

Was it difficult to make an out-and-out comedy film when you were going through an emotionally stressful time?

No, it wasn’t. I believe it was cathartic. My parents were doctors and my mother was a strong support system for me and a vibrant lady. She was diagnosed with cancer and I lost her a few years ago. That came as a huge shock to me. In 2010, I also lost my husband Debu Deodhar, who was a veteran cinematographer. He had worked on over 20 films including Nana Patekar’s Prahaar and Smita Patil’s Sutradhar. I owe all that I have learnt about filmmaking to him.

He taught me that there is a whole different science that goes on behind the camera and marrying that science to the art of motion pictures is what films are all about. It was he who encouraged me to join FTII and take up the film appreciation course and pursue my interest to become a filmmaker. He worked with me on my first film Lapandav and after that, I worked with him on every film of mine. In fact, Sata Lota is the first film I have worked on without him.

Very few filmmakers manage to bag a National Award with their very first film and you did that. How did it feel? 

I was very surprised! In fact, Lapandav, which means hide and seek in Marathi, was also a comedy and I was very apprehensive about how the audience would react to it since it was my first attempt at filmmaking. But I was very nervous on the day we got to know that the film had bagged the award. I felt utter disbelief. Debu got to know that I had won the award first and he broke the news to me. It was my daughter Sai’s birthday and my house was filled with people. So I was super excited when I got to know that I had won.

Also, my second film Sarkarnama created quite a stir when it released in 1998. It was the first time a female director had directed a hardcore political thriller. So I attracted quite a bit of attention for that film. It was the first time Bombay Times had carried a front-page story about a Marathi film directed by a woman. It was completely different from my first film and I deliberately wanted to try something new. That year also, the film was nominated for the Swarna Kamal at the National Awards along with Dil Toh Pagal Hai and JP Dutta’s Border. We lost out to Border.

What was it like to return to cinema after four years?

It was a sea change. The industry had really changed. In fact, Sai was the one who sat me down and told me that we had to move with the times. She said that we had to go with the current and not swim against the tide. I knew I couldn’t rest on my laurels and leave the history of awards and accolades behind. I had to work with new minds and mingle with the younger generation to know what they want from us. That’s the only way I could cater to their tastes. I have, of course, hung out with Sai and her husband Shakti at parties and a lot of their friends. That’s how I learnt the pulse of the younger generation and got a sense of their energy.

Was that the reason you decided to work with music director Shankar Mahadevan’s son Siddharth for the music of the film?

Absolutely! The younger lot comes with their a fresh set of ideas. So while people like him and the cast, including Adinath Kothare, Siddharth Chandekar, Mrunmayee Deshpande, Pooja Sawant are all young, there are also some senior technicians like the DoP Rahul Jadhav. So there is a mix of people across all age groups in the film. The ADs were all young and ready to slog. The combination of our aesthetic experience and the younger generation’s excitement and eagerness were beautifully juxtaposed in this film. I hope the audience will like that creative blend.

Who is the target audience of the film?

Just like the mix of people behind the film, the film will cater to a cross-section of people. Let me put it this way, it is a youth film, which will be enjoyed by the family audience and kids too. It’s a mad comedy, which will have the audience in splits. I have never been the kind to make comedy films that are awkward for people to watch with their families. I want the audience to go with their grandparents, parents and kids for it and have a really great time.

How much has the audience evolved over the years?

They have evolved a lot, which is why it is they who have paved the way for better stories. Thankfully, we have moved ahead of those jaded ideas and films. But I also have a slight grouse towards this trend. I usually get invited to a lot of festivals and juries to judge Marathi cinema and I feel that anyone and everyone is making a film these days. I don’t know why that is so but I guess financers are easier to find these days. So, let’s say, someone wants to pump money into only one film so he finds a director who would make just one film with them and not care about making another. Nowadays, it’s more about the commerce than the craft, which is why some of the films being made are rubbish. Even corporate studios have come into the picture with their money bags now. But filmmaking is an art and if you don’t have aesthetic sense, no amount of money will deliver a hit.

Do you plan to make a Hindi film?

I made Silsila Hai Pyaar Ka with Karishma Kapoor in the lead, and it was produced by NN Sippy. It was the most horrific experience of my life. I can’t tell you how much I suffered mentally during that film. I went into depression while it was being made. I had written the story and it was the first time the producer had asked me to work without a bound script. There were three other writers and I faced so much interference from the producers and the script changed almost every day! By the time it released, it was completely distorted. It was a big film but it was also my worst experience with a film to date. After that film, I made another film Pehchaan and then I made a film Ghraunda for Amitabh Bachchan’s AB Corp. Now I have another story in mind, which I will make in Hindi. I plan to make a Bengali film too.

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