INTERVIEW

Community screenings are bringing a movie about river conservation closer to its audiences

‘Nadi Vahate’ is Sandeep Sawant’s second project after the 2004 Marathi hit ‘Shwaas’.

Marathi movie Nadi Vahate (2017) does not provide easy answers or spoon-feed the audience. That was not the movie’s purpose, said its writer, director and producer Sandeep Sawant. “People are used to seeing a solution at the climax. For me, cinema is not the medium to give you solutions, but a medium to present the situation,” Sawant told Scroll.in.

Nadi Vahate (The River Flows) traces a water body’s relationship with people living along its banks. The movie, for which Sawant won the Special Jury Award at the 2017 Pune International Film Festival, is set in a Konkan village and centred on the fictional Antee river. When a group of youngsters discover that the river is set to be taken over by an eco-tourism project, they launch a movement of resistance to protect the Antee, by building small dams along the river’s route and encouraging farming on its banks. The movie stars Vasant Josalkar, Poonam Shetgaonkar, Asha Shelar, Hridaynath Jadhav and Jayant Gadekar, among others.

This is Sawant’s second film after the acclaimed 2004 Marathi movie Shwaas, which won the National Film Award for Best Feature and was also India’s submission for the Oscars Best Foreign Language Film.

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Nadi Vahate.

Released on September 22 last year, Nadi Vahate is now being taken to remote corners of Maharashtra and Goa through community screenings in various towns and villages. So far, 35 screenings have been held in parts of Maharashtra, including Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Aurangabad, Vidharba, Ambajogai, Parbhani and Kolhapur, and four places in Goa. “We want to continue doing this for a year,” said Sawant. “The effect of the cinema is more through such screenings, I believe. These are all paid screenings and we make a point to take our cinema to those places where there is no movie theatre. Also after the screening, during discussions, people share issues related to their river bodies.”

While making a film about conserving a river, Sawant chose not to explore concerns like water pollution or degeneration through mining activity and reclamation. “People generally talk about these issues. But, no one talks about utilisation of a river in better way,” said Sawant. “If a villager actively works for and near the river body, then only the river will continue to flow.”

Sawant’s vision is complemented by cinematographer Sanjay Memane, who cleverly captures different moods of the river.

The filmmaker said four years of research went into making the movie. “We hear, read, and watch so much about river issues,” he explained. “But, I didn’t know what exactly to do. So, I started doing ground research and met many farmers and people who work near the banks of the river in various parts of Maharashtra. I then concentrated on the areas near the Western Ghats of Goa and Maharashtra.”

Nadi Vahate doesn’t preach – it simply narrates a story from the point of view of villagers who want to protect a river. At its heart is the idea that if you are disconnected from nature, you stand the risk of losing precious resources. Looking for simple, actionable solutions is another driving force of the movie, Sawant said. “I feel that by agitations, stone pelting, morchas, you can’t actually save a river,” he said. “If you genuinely want to save especially the smaller rivers, then you need to positively work on the river. Even in the climax of the film, the group continues to build the ‘bandhara’ [check dams] even after opposition. We need that positivity.”

Owing to the unconventional premise and treatment, Sawant had a tough time finding financial backers for Nadi Vahate and decided to don the mantle of producer. “Film financing took more time then research,” he said. “Then I took a break and decided to fund this film myself.”

For a filmmaker who is credited with infusing new life into Marathi cinema by bringing Shwaas international acclaim, wouldn’t the struggle for funds have been disheartening? Sawant said he remains optimistic. “I believe that the situation of Marathi cinema is much better now compared to the times when I had started,” he said. “Now there are more initiatives, film production is being studied and new avenues have opened for independent filmmakers. It does not mean everything is positive, but it is leading towards positivity.”

Sandeep Sawant.
Sandeep Sawant.
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.