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IFFI 2017: Ajay Kurane’s Baluta is a strong statement on women’s empowerment

The film has a widow taking up her dead barber husband’s scissors and cutting through the patriarchal fabric of society, emerging a winner in the true sense.

Blessy Chettiar

The beauty of regional cinema is the stories it brings to the big screen. These tales would otherwise become folklore; plagued by geographical limitations at first, they suffer dilution and are eventually forgotten. Marathi filmmakers in the past decade or so have been instrumental in telling stories from the hinterlands. The realistic portrayal of village life and customs often makes these stories mirrors to the society.

Ajay Kurane picks one such inspirational story and chooses the difficult format of a short film to highlight it. The first-time director has been earlier nominated for the Biggies Award for his camera work on the television series Crime Diary. He was also nominated for the Sanskruti Kala Darpan award in 2015 for his work on the Marathi serial, Jayostute.

Baluta is the story of Shantabai, who has lost her husband, Shirpya, and has four young daughters to feed. When Shirpya’s brother comes to takeover his late barber brother’s business, Shantabai displays great courage to put him down.

She refuses to bow down to societal norms and decides to learn hair-cutting herself to support her family. As expected, the deeply patriarchal society tries to shame her for picking up a ‘man’s job’. But the subtly fiesty Shantabai does not budge. Eventually the village accepts a female barber. Shantabai’s tale of redemption is simple, yet a strong statement on women’s empowerment.

Director Kurane picked the short film format as he found it challenging to show Shantabai’s story. “To show a good story in less time, is what I found challenging,” he told Cinestaan.com ahead of the Baluta screening at the 48th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) 2017 currently underway in Panaji, Goa.

Shantabai’s tale takes a more poignant turn as Kurane chooses to end his film with a scene of the real Shantabai still active in her business. “Shantabai Yadav is still living in Gadinglaj taluka of Kolhapur in Maharashtra. She is 75 years old now. My film is about her struggle after her husband’s death. To raise her daughters, she took up their barber family business. She had to face opposition in society, nobody supported her. Even then, she stood her ground and did well for herself and her daughters. They are all educated and well-settled today,” Kurane said.

Kurane chose non-professional actors for his film to keep it realistic. He informed that except the editor, all his cast and crew were non-professionals.

Director Ajay Kurane

“We wanted the film to be realistic, and so we strove to show that. The way we want to show things, according to that time, is how we tried to achieve those. All the things came together so beautifully. The cast, crew, editor, background music, that I got was something like bhatti zamte (things come together organically). This was the first time I felt I should make a short film,” Kurane added.

Applauded for his effort in promoting women’s stories, the proud director said he felt responsible and would strive to do better with his subsequent films.

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