Last Friday I had watched Ajoba, and reviewed the film here, do watch it if you haven’t till now. Impressed by the film, I spoke to the soft spoken director Sujay Dahake over phone about Ajoba, his style of film making, quality of film reviewers, his influences and more such stuff. Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.
I was reading newspaper stories about how every week a leopard was coming into the city. My brother is a wildlife biologist; he was the one who spotted the potential of this story even before me. There was ignorance about leopard, if you ask people in Borivili, they would say leopard is a man eater, this issue was serious, we cannot wish that by ignoring this we can solve this issue. Then I met Vidya Athreya who shared her experiences, and while she was sharing her experiences, I felt it had lot of drama, that’s when I decided to make this film. As a film maker it was interesting for me, also the subject was so relevant for our future.
Different filmmaking style
It was extremely conscious effort on our part; I never knew Shala would be appreciated and win a National Award. We did not except this kind of positive response from all quarters,Infact Ravi Jadhav offered me Balak Palak to direct. I thought people are going to compare my second film with my previous movie, and by then SHALA’s release came up. I had to leave BP. So again I and my DOP talked a lot about cinema in general and I narrated this incident about leopard to him, he too was excited with the subject, I knew this subject could allow me to push our boundaries.
I am fan of Indian Classical Music; my ears are extremely musically sound. Any note or anything, which misses, I can catch it. I don’t know how to explain it – but I would know something’s wrong. Somewhere the taste of music matters and another aspect is the placement of music; it is of course the decision of the music director. Luckily I got a music director Saket Kanetkar who understood me. I remember telling Saket , my music director that I wanted a kind of music which flows with story. I did not want any special melody, which is a forced emotion, and I did not want it to be a melodious experience. And I was happy that his obsession with his own music was less.
Luckily the concept was such that we could go to in any direction, the subject matter was allowing us, so why stay true to this so-called structure? It was difficult to make people to understand this.
Marathi reviewers have slammed the film, and they may have not understood is the structure because there is grammar in the film. Structure is for us film students not Critics. They are unaware that film can be told in such a way, OR they are not ready to accept this. If you see all English papers, they have praised it, while Marathi newspapers have done the opposite. The amount of sensation they have done in reviews is to be seen with personal care for the future filmmakers. How can something talking about society be false? Yes Mr.Pote? Somewhere this trend of sensationalizing review with misleading titles like as you mentioned- “Ajoba Nahi Fasoba” is a dangerous trend.
I tend to visualize films first; in my mind I had the visuals of leopard’s journey, where he is making a quiet journey while people around him are making chaos. In the film also if you see, the leopard is calm, while the character of Purva is the one who is creating chaos.
The name Purva- It is tribute to my girlfriend, Purva .
Shiva calls the character of Dnyaneshwar, Mauli?
In Maharashtra Mauli means God’s person. Somewhere I had this thought of how we urban people have discarded nature, while rural people are in sync with nature. The name of Dynaneshwar’s wife is Indu, with reference to the political scenario of Indu Mills, I wanted to show how even rural people are in sync with politics.
I feel every director in this country should be or must be politically aware. Any socio-political structure sort of designs our society, I wanted to touch this point that even villagers/tribals read newspapers and are aware of political situations.
Mahatma Gandhi Quote
I follow lot of Gandhian philosophy; though I am not as calm as Gandhi.
Being a fan of History, I think freedom of expression and liberalism is must. And my friend history shows me that any new idea, back in the days was always shot down upon. Only after tonnes of debates and stuff written on it made them successful. My first film Shala opens with a Jim Morrison’s freedom Quotes.
Big Bad Ugly City
It was to show that we have clustered the entire city. The chimneys and lots of cars is from point of view of a leopard, the change which leopard perceives from his eyes.
The subject matter allowed me to explore cinema in various forms. I have juxtaposed the film with fact and fiction. I am talking about true events, but fictionalized with what might have happened then. I kept shifting focus between, narrative and structure in between.
Secondly, my animations in the movie have been taken wrong. My thought behind the animations was a comment on media, like how the media shows animation in slapstick way, when any accident occurs. Those animations were not supposed to look good, but they are thinking I could not pull it off. May be I failed to give it a source, the audacity of media to use cheap graphics and pass judgment.
On Urmila’s Character Purva Rao
I did not want to show her as miss goody shoes; I felt a woman who is working in such a field cannot be true to its society and its norms. When we had screening in Delhi of this film, a lot of women, came to me saying they liked that the woman in this, all of them are not clichéd woman. She drinks, smokes joints and she is still ruling despite the male chauvinism, which surrounds her. But then there are some people who did not like it.
I shoot real people, and their reactions. Actually I captured this reaction of people when people saw Urmila in their village.
I wanted to be Urmila to be extreme raw, but she had a point and I was convinced by it. She told me the character is that of a city woman, she will do her hair and shower every day. Just like normal people when they go to wildlife visits, they don’t behave like tribals suddenly.
Shiva’s Love Story
Nowadays a girl in village does not have taboo about sex; she will happily submit herself to a boy, especially when somewhere she is expecting a marriage out of it. Shiva’s story is the present of the film. That particular moment is NOW. It talks about youth. 75% of the youth loves time pass, it is only when we find our niche we become serious.
In the same way Shiva in almost 75% of the film is seen doing nothing. In fact Shiva’s story is yet to begin. It is the last 5 mins that Shiva’s story is told. I have shown him on a bike and then dissolved the shot to show leopard cubs, somewhere at the back of my mind I wanted to convey that Shiva has got a meaning in his life now. Even his family is blossomed. He is a married man now. I would be happy if a 12th std kid goes to study wildlife, after seeing this character. It would be a great and genuine response to this film, which is why I did not end the film with Urmila. Urmila’s character put up lot of inspiration, especially for women.
Casteism in film
There is lot of casteism in film. I observed Marathas are considered to be rugged and physically strong. You may have noticed the officer stressing on Dynanoba’s caste, secondly if you see even while eating Dynanoba sits down, while Purva is sitting up, I wanted to comment on equality and caste is no more.
There was always this thought induced upon us, that you have to go to Bombay and struggle to make movies. Wherever I have read, you take Godard or Bergman; they all have stayed in their cities and made films which have reached world. Even our own Ray made films in his hometown, which were acclaimed all across the globe. This thought of going to one place and make movies is outdated.
You know what’s gonna be the most beautiful thing ?
Somewhere in India or Maharshtra, a girl is gonna take her father’s mobile phone, shoot something and show it to her dad, and later to the world and this is gonna go crazy. There are new Godard, Bergman, Fellinis in the nook and corner of India.
Try criticizing that! yo!
The idea of this character came when I was doing research interviews. I met this father whose daughter was killed by a leopard, he was quite furious about leopard; he wanted to kill each and every leopard. So I said if I do not show this side of story, it will be unfair as a filmmaker. I wanted to show the other side of leopard, his power should not be underestimated.
In fact Nawazuddin was supposed to do this movie, one of the reasons I made him Bihari or UP, because he comes from Aarey Colony, where most of these people reside, he is a man who might own milk booths. He is not frantically going and killing leopards, he is studying about these incidents as to why leopards are behaving this way; the only difference is his reaction to leopards.
In search for Home
Everybody is trying to find his/her home, my endeavor is to find out what is a real home, Purva says where Ajoba will get food, that is his home. It is same with human beings or any other animals wherever there is food and water, civilisation has prospered in that place, also the thought was somewhere moving is living. Do not be stationed at one place, keep moving and somewhere you will find your home.
Giving back is such a big thing in lives of tribals, it is a way of life for them, and they worship wildlife, and more profoundly the leopard. Whereas we when we see animal we shoo it away , we do not care about these animals, we do not want anybody in our territory, we do not want neighbors visiting us, we do not want people to visit us, we are comfortable with our four walls, there is something wrong with our psyche.
At the point when this scene comes, she is completely immersed herself in this village and how she has started to enjoy the village celebrations. That is why in dinner scene, she express her thoughts about her mission to all the people presented, it is kind of Biblical reference, where Purva is a kind of Jesus😉 who is sharing knowledge.
I do not know why we do not have dinner table scenes in Indian Cinema, if you look at Scorsese movies; they have lot of food scenes. I have used this even in Shala, in the scene where Joshi’s mother is always seen making food or plucking spice leave, and this is our culture, in Marathi household mother is always preparing something to feed their children.
It must have come out subconsciously, that my characters are outsiders as you mentioned. Shirodkar in Shala, because she left, which means she was not born to settle there, similarly Purva in Ajoba. Even when I was starting out to make Shala, nobody was even ready to listen to my ideas, till today I am facing it. It is not the reviewers who are writing bad reviews, but the amount of pressure exerted by Industry on these reviewers is forcing them to be safe.
I follow European cinema; mostly my influences come from European cinema. If you have seen the French film The Prophet, Ajoba’s editing style is derived from that film, the animation part is influenced by Waltz with Bashir, if I have made the whole leopard with CGI, it would have been much easier for me, but what dimensions would have I given to it? nothing. When this animation comes in, I can see a six year old suddenly loving this Ajoba, a whole new set of audience. That’s the goal. Ajoba’s animation avatar makes it endearing it to the children.
I am possessive about my films, I am wary of other editors. I had given the edit to a friend, but then I again got selfish and took the film back from him. My hands burned at night when I thought of a cut and didn’t have FCP in front of me. In older days Directors were Editors.
So I ain’t bored yet. J
I send my DOP the script in English, and then he both puts forward his idea. We work quite closely, I am very comfortable working with him, I am assured of what I want I will get, I get quite insecure when I am working with someone else. I wanted entire movie to be handheld as movie represents journey, so either the camera moves or characters are moving or both are moving. We have kept the camera still, when I am showing the nature as it represents calmness. We shot at ratio of 6:1, since it was handheld, it helped me in editing.
It took me 30 days for Urmila’s portion for Ajoba. The leopard portions took me a year; it involved getting permissions, co-ordination with wildlife guys and forest department. I have shot this film in Rajasthan, Footage from Sri Lanka & Maharashtra. I had under estimated certain things; I had to wait for permissions for months while shooting for this film.
Aerial photography permissions took 4 months. We mostly shot with a helicopter, air balloon and those tiny helicopters.
I did not think of commercial viability or audience acceptance while making this film. I did not think while writing as to how to manipulate the audience.I hope this opens up lot of avenue for other budding Marathi film makers as well. In a society It’s always “hey look this guy is doing it – so we can. Maybe my wont be a commercial. Maybe theirs will be. Talking about Shala also nobody was making film on 16 year old or 14 year old at that point of time.
Somewhere I am happy that my movies are out on torrent, that there is audience for my films across India; I feel I could have monetized it way like SOT guys achieved. I do not know if anybody is willing to buy this film’s satellite rights, maybe I will upload it on internet for nominal charge say 40 rupees and ask them to download.
I get lot of emails about screening of Shala in universities and schools across country.
I am getting a sense now that I have captured an audience of my own. I want to see if we can accept original thoughts. Ajoba is very personal expression, that I am conveying it to mass, I have learned something- check this out, and it’s that kind of a thing. Since the Friday of release the occupancy level is 60% -70% across cinema halls, it is one of the few films where audience is accepting it for its originality and freshness.
Success of Shala
Shala’s success helped me to make Ajoba. I am confident that I have gathered large audience of my own. I never thought it would be a commercial success. It opened lot of doors to me. Ajoba will land me bigger films. The trade knows I can handle big productions, take big decisions, work with a star and keep the budgets tight.
Today at 5 feet 4 Inch
The world has changed, my height and age does not come in my way, and my work speaks for me nowJ
One film every 2 years
I am a filmmaker. I voice myself, comment, show thoughts of society on the screen. It takes time to study a subject. Come out of one. Every film makes you a wise human being, either by watching it or by making it. Those 2 years makes me be wiser. Study, travel, write and come up with a brand new thing yet again.
Social Media Promotions & Low Key Promotions
SHALA was a total social media product. Ajoba being an experiment had to go both ways.
Cinematography and casting will always be USP in my future films too, I spend a lot of time on my casting, I take lot of auditions, I do lot of screen testing. We screen tested with Urmila also.
Lot of Hindi offers are coming but I have not decided on my next film yet. Right now I am looking for finance for a film that my friend Dharmakirti Sumant has written, its called Vulgar Activities Incorp.
Filmmakers who have influenced him
Ingmar Bergman, Michael Haneke, Martin Scorsese & Ritwik Ghatak, Steven Spielberg, Brian de Palma. I love the directors who worked in 70’s America.
“My teacher used to say, take any art be it writing, painting they are all 3000 year old art, cinema if you take is just a 100 year old art, So anything you do with cinema will be a part of history, So make cinema.”
Photo Courtesy- Sujay Dahake