Chaitanya (Shrinivas Pokale) is an eight-year-old boy growing up in a village in Maharashtra’s Bhandara district. While running after a clutch of chickens in his house, Chaitanya poses an intriguing question to his father: “Won’t the egg’s mother miss its eggs?”
The thoughtful Chaitanya is the protagonist of Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti’s upcoming Marathi film Naal (Umbilical Cord), which stars Sairat director Nagraj Manjule as the boy’s father and Devika Daftardar as his mother. Manjule has also co-produced the November 16 release along with Zee Studios and written the dialogue.
Yakkanti’s film examines motherhood through the emotions and experiences of its young lead, who, in the film’s trailer, asks his strict mother why she never cries. “Chaitanya is like any other child, who is mischievous,” the filmmaker told Scroll.in. “What is a mother for a child? What is a mother to a father? The film aims to explore the various aspects of motherhood.”
Naal marks the feature filmmaking debut of Yakkanti, who has worked as a cinematographer in Telugu, Marathi and Hindi films, including Mirch (2010), Deool (2011), Nautanki Saala! (2013), Highway: Ek Selfie Aarpar (2015), and Sairat (2016).
Naal had been on the anvil for more than 15 years, Yakkanti said. “I had this script with me for quite some time. But I couldn’t get the time to work on it,” he explained. “I thought I could work on the script after finishing the camerawork for Sairat. I spoke to Nagraj Manjule and wanted him to act in it. He loved the script and offered to write the dialogue as I am not a Marathi speaker.”
Manjule was hugely supportive of the film in other ways too, Yakkanti said. “When I narrated the script to him he told me that there was something very personal about it. He played the character just like I imagined.”
The two got to know each other when Yakkanti was lensing Umesh Kulkarni’s Highway, in which Manjule played a supporting role. “We hardly knew each other before that and [Manjule’s] Fandry had just released,” Yakkanti said. “He then offered me Sairat. He is a very open director who tries to get the best of everyone.”
Yakkanti prefers not to compartmentalise cinematography and direction. “I have directed short films in the past and I do not see both the professions as separate,” he said. “But direction consumes a lot of time and I did not have that time.”
Making his debut with a Marathi film was a natural decision for Yakkanti. who said he felt the script was right for Marathi cinema. “I always wanted to come to Mumbai and do different kind of cinema,” the filmmaker added. “But what I like about Maharashtra is that there are no star worship in the Marathi film industry. You have the possibility of exploring different kinds of stories. When there are stars, you start to make films out of the star’s milieu and age. But in Maharashtra, you can cast anybody and make a film.”
Despite its setting and language, the film’s story is universal, Yakkanti emphasised. “The script is very emotional in nature,” he explained. “There is nothing culture-specific in the film.I could have set this anywhere. But it was easy for me to set it here as I am familiar with the geography of this space.”
Was it hard to extract those kind of emotions from a newcomer, and an eight-year-old at that? “He [Pokale] is a mesmerising kid,” Yakkanti said. “When I was writing the film, I was constantly in worry as the scenes were for a kid. His character is very complex in terms of expressions. Every scene is about the kid. But when I went to the village to cast the role, we shortlisted a couple of kids from schools. It was like magic to work with him.”