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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