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Pavsacha Nibandh was my toughest film, says Nagraj Manjule

The award-winning filmmaker met with a barrage of questions about the striking short at MIFF and spoke of the provenance of the subject and the difficulties faced during shooting.

Nagraj Manjule speaks at the 16th Mumbai International Film Festival. Photo: Press Information Bureau of India

Keyur Seta

Sonal Pandya

At the recently concluded 16th edition of the Mumbai International Film Festival, Nagraj Popatrao Manjule’s Pavsacha Nibandh (An Essay Of The Rain) won the coveted Silver Conch for Best Short Fiction Film 'for its evocation of a grim social reality through the metaphor of rain that transforms into an unwritten essay'.

Manjule said the subject of Pavsacha Nibandh, his second short film after Pistulya (2009), had been with him for six or seven years. “It’s not necessary that you will get to chose your subject each time," the filmmaker said later at a press conference. "Sometimes, the subject chooses you.”

Manjule said he could not go ahead and shoot the film because it needed natural rain and whenever it rained he did not have the money to shoot. The filmmaker finally began to shoot the film in 2017 and only completed it in 2018.

In 2018, he had money during the monsoon. Explaining this, Manjule said he was always clear that he did not want anyone else to produce the film. “I felt I shouldn’t include a producer for a film that can’t gain commercially. So I thought of investing my own money. At that time I realized I have time as the shooting of Jhund [his upcoming Hindi film starring Amitabh Bachchan] was stalled,” he said.

Pavsacha Nibandh was shot over seven and a half days near Pune in Maharashtra at a village named Pawna, which is also the location of a dam. There are some beautiful visuals of the Western Ghats drenched in the rain in the 26 minute film.

Manjule revealed that for one shot early in the film, he had to roam for around half a day, catching the sky just as the rains stopped and the weather cleared. Thankfully, he did not have to resort to computer graphics.

Manjule said that as he wanted to shoot the film on a very low budget, he employed a lot of people related to him in the crew. His cousin Sheshraj Manjule played the drunk man in the film while the filmmaker's own daughter played the drunk's daughter. Similarly, costume designers Sarita and Sonal Manjule are related to him. The film has been produced by Sheshraj and by Balkrishna Manjule, another cousin.

There is always this worry in films that are shot in the rain as to what would happen if the rain suddenly stops. But Manjule said he never faced this problem. On the contrary, he and his team had to work through torrential rains.

Photo: Press Information Bureau of India

“We shot in the period when it rains continuously and that is exactly what happened,” said Manjule. “We got scared. On the first day we could take only one shot. At times our jeep used to get stuck in the mud. We somehow did the makeup and our clothes would not dry. I was also worried that people might get electric shocks. At the end of the shoot, the soles of the entire unit were swollen.

“To shoot in the monsoon is difficult anyway, especially when you are shooting during the rains and making a film about it," he continued. "Creating rain in a secure environment like a studio, only your character is getting wet, but the director and the entire crew and the camera are out of it.”

The raincoats worn by the crew often got ripped by the strong winds in the hilly region. For that very reason, using umbrellas was out of the question.

“I have shot two films, and a short film before those, but making this film was the hardest," said Manjule. "It was tough on me and my crew.”

Rains are generally believed to make people happy, but Pavsacha Nibandh narrates the tale of a family that faces a grave crisis because of the rain. Manjule said the idea came from personal experience, from what he and his family went through during the rains when he was a child.

“I have seen my mother and everyone else hate the rains," he said. "It makes things so difficult for you. You do like the rain when you feel romantic. But romance happens only when you look at the rain from inside your air-conditioned house. When you are faced with reality, you realize that the world isn’t what it seems.”

Manjule also revealed that whenever his teacher would ask students about their favourite season, he always used to choose the summer. The teachers and other students would find this strange because summers can be unbearably sultry in Maharashtra. “I used to feel as if I had committed a crime [by choosing summer] and would feel guilty,” he said.

The filmmaker said his grudge against the rain began to reduce as he grew up. “I thought about why I don’t like the rains," he said. "My experience was put across in this film. But, largely, the rains have scared me in my life. Not now, I’m good. I have seen cows and buffaloes and people [being] really troubled by it, and tired of it, and especially of life.

“Whenever it rained, [my mother] would curse. I couldn’t understand it [at the time]. All the poets I was reading then were praising the rain, but my mother was cursing it!”

There is a video on the making of the film which Manjule hopes to put out on a digital platform soon.

His next film marks his debut in Hindi cinema. Titled Jhund (2020) and starring Amitabh Bachchan, the film is based on the life of football coach Vijay Barse, founder of the non-profit organization Slum Soccer. Jhund is slated for release on 8 May.

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Mumbai International Film Festival