The walls of the fine arts department at the Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai were decorated with nude art on Thursday, mirroring a sequence from Ravi Jadhav’s new Marathi movie. The artwork was created for the launch of Nude, the story of two women who pose for art students for a living, one a veteran (Chhaya Kadam) and the other her niece (Kalyanee Mulay) who has fled an abusive husband.

The real star of the evening, however, does not appear in the April 27 release. Lakshmi, a middle-aged nude model from Tamil Nadu, got the loudest cheers from journalists and art students who had gathered to hear her speak. “I have been a model here for 30 years,” Lakshmi said at the event. “While I started doing this out of obligation when my husband died, I now do this because I want to.”

What are the experiences of women who choose this profession? What is their relationship with the students? How do their families react? These are some of the questions that Jadhav aims to answer with Nude.

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Nude (2018).

The filmmaker is an alumnus of the Sir JJ School of Art, and has been wanting to make a movie on the subject ever since he graduated in 1995. “I remember looking at these nude models eating their tiffin on these benches, and as a student I used to wonder about their lives,” Jadhav told Scroll.in. “Until then, I thought nudity was something that was confined within four walls. There is usually a negative connotation associated with nudity. I studied graphic designing here. So I know the importance of anatomy, and for that we need models.”

Jadhav’s research included interviewing nude models and getting to know their stories. “Once I started interviewing them, I realised that there was no need to look elsewhere for a story because their stories were so interesting,” he said. The screenplay is by filmmaker Sachin Kundalkar, who has previously set two of his movies, Gandh (2009) and Aiyyaa (2012), in an art college.

Jadhav’s screen credits include Natrang (2009), the National Film Award-winning Balgandharva (2011), the acclaimed comedy Balak-Palak (2013), and the blockbuster Timepass (2014). Although he felt that he was finally ready to embark on Nude, the pre-production process was challenging. The mere mention of the movie’s title raised suspicions about his intentions. “So we had to work at each and every step by explaining the film to everyone,” he recalled. “A lot of people suggested that I change the name of the film. But since the early days people have been calling it nude art and nude photography, not only in English books but also in Marathi texts.”

Chhaya Kadam (left) Kalyanee Mulay in Nude (2018). Image credit: Zee Studios.
Chhaya Kadam (left) Kalyanee Mulay in Nude (2018). Image credit: Zee Studios.

Another challenge was to be sensitive without compromising on the subject. “We wanted to talk about the visuals of a nude body, but at the same time we didn’t want to spoil the dignity of the models,” Jadhav said. Kundalkar’s screenplay has pulled off the balancing act with perfection, he added. “You should not preach, but rather just merely show – that is the film. We are saying a lot of things, but we are doing it subtly.”

Despite Jadhav’s best efforts, the Zee Studios production ran into trouble at the International Film Festival of India in Goa in November. Despite being selected as the opening title of the Indian Panorama section at the festival, the movie was dropped on the orders of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

“It was unfortunate,” Jadhav said. “But the way the censor board supported the film was creditable. People always wonder what is there on the other side of the wall and how a film with the title Nude will be. But as a filmmaker, you need to have patience. I waited.” The film was cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification with an Adult certificate and no cuts.

The movie takes great pains to reflect real-life experiences in every frame and shot, the filmmaker said. “Almost 70 per cent of the film comes from the real-life experiences of various models,” he said. “There are no junior artistes in the film. All of them are real painters from the institute. All the locations too are real.”

Kalyanee Mulay in Nude (2018). Image credit: Zee Studios.
Kalyanee Mulay in Nude (2018). Image credit: Zee Studios.

Even the nude paintings created by the students in the movie are of the actresses. “For the longest time, my office became a painting studio,” Jadhav said. “Fifteen students used to come to my office and paint them. In today’s day and age, it would be great if everyone looked at women the way these artists look at them. There is so much respect.”

Kalyanee Mulay and Chhaya Kadam, who play the lead roles, also did their own research, such as studying the posture of the models. “Normally in any film, you read a script, after which you think of how to act out the character,” Kadam said. “But here we had a huge book in the form of the JJ School of Art. We had Lakshmi in front of us, and we could learn from her and many others. None of these models in the institute came to this profession out of their own liking. Society made them do this. But now, Lakshmi has so much respect and love among the students.”

Kalyanee Mulay, who plays a battered wife in the film, said that the nude models were highly inspirational figures. “Their profession itself was the first thing that drew me to the script,” Mulay said. “We recognise the courage of women who are fighter pilots, doctors and in the armed forces. But we do not know about the courage behind the nude models. Their courage was the most interesting. The film is also about the nudity or transparency of the mind and soul.”

Kalyanee Mulay and Chhaya Kadam in Nude (2018). Image credit: Zee Studios.
Kalyanee Mulay and Chhaya Kadam in Nude (2018). Image credit: Zee Studios.