The first day of the shoot was a potential disaster: a sandstorm whirled over the location.
Sanjay Mishra, the movie’s lead actor, was unperturbed. Could the sandstorm be incorporated into the screenplay? It was.
Dinesh S Yadav’s Turtle captures other such hardships that cannot be resolved so easily. The Rajasthani-language movie explores acute water scarcity through the travails of Ramkaran, the character played by Sanjay Mishra. Moved by the plight of villagers who struggle for even a bucket of the precious liquid, Ramkaran decides to dig a well. Ramkaran also has a personal motive: the birth of his grandson coincided with the wells running dry in the village, and he wants to dispel the idea that his grandson is jinxed.
Turtle recently won a National Film Award in the Rajasthani-language category – the first to do so. For Yadav, a Film and Television Institute of India-trained director from Madhya Pradesh who made his debut with Turtle, the honour was especially sweet. “It was a proud moment for me,” 33-year-old Yadav told Scroll.in. “The chief minister tweeted about the award too, so the appreciation is not only for me but for the people of Rajasthan.”
Yadav hopes to secure a release for Turtle over the next few months. His screenplay has been inspired by the stories of legendary writer Vijaydan Detha, as well as from the depleting water table that Yadav had been all seeing around him. Wherever Yadav went – Indore, where he completed his early education, Pune, where he trained in filmmaking, or Mumbai, where he currently resides – people were struggling to fill their buckets and tanks.
“Water scarcity is the biggest problem in the world now,” Yadav observed. “The greatest civilisations have always been formed near water bodies. Water is the base of our society.”
The idea of locating Turtle in rural Rajasthan came from Ashok Choudhary, the film’s producer. Choudhary is from Gehlot village, and was keen on making a movie that spoke about his world. Choudhary was also keen that Yadav explore the region’s socio-political issues through the film.
“In Rajasthan, there are these small villages of 20-50 houses that have their own culture,” Yadav said. “We wanted to show that if you don’t have water for two days, your rich traditions can come crumbling down. It’s not just about that small village – we are speaking about the whole world.”
Turtle has been shot on real locations, includes villages that face water scarcity. The crew filmed in the blazing heat of May and June. A doctor was on standby to ensure against illnesses caused by the heat or dehydration.
Yadav had Sanjay Mishra in mind while writing the screenplay. “I am a big fan of his, especially after watching him in Ankhon Dekhi,” Yadav said. Mishra’s character is not similar to the blind debt-ridden farmer he played in Nila Madhab Panda’s Kadvi Hawa, Yadav clarified.
“Many people have compared my film to Kadvi Hawa, since that film too is based on climate change,” Yadav said. “But Turtle is a different film. My movie has dark humour, as I wanted to give a message in an interesting way. I want audiences to cry and laugh.”
Yadav hopes that the National Film Award for Turtle will encourage Rajasthani directors to make movies in their own language. In 2017, Shreyans Jain’s Hivade Me Fute Laadu had a respectable box-office run. But by and large, Rajasthan serves as a location for outside film crews rather than nurturing local talent.
“There are so many artists in Rajasthan, the local theatre is so strong, but there is very little in terms of local cinema,” Yadav observed. “I received at least 700-800 calls from random people who expressed happiness over a Rajasthani film winning a National Film Award. For me, this is a bigger achievement than the award.”