Interview Marathi

She had faith in me: Santosh Pathare on his documentary on late filmmaker Sumitra Bhave

The director opened up about his bond with the academic and auteur and how he went about creating the film.

Poster of Sumitra Bhave: Ek Samantar Prawaas and Santosh Pathare

Keyur Seta

Veteran filmmaker Sumitra Bhave died on 19 April this year at the age of 78. A social scientist and researcher, she ventured into filmmaking in her 40s. She, along with her co-director Sunil Sukthankar, has received plaudits for making path-breaking films on various social issues featuring characters that are deeply rooted in reality.

In order to document Bhave’s fascinating journey and inspire others, filmmaker Santosh Pathare has come up with a documentary on the late auteur titled Sumitra Bhave: Ek Samantar Prawaas [a parallel journey]. 

The film sheds light on Bhave’s journey right from her formative years as a student who completed her master's degree in political science and sociology from Pune University. Her life took a major turn after she obtain another master's degree in the same subjects from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences [TISS]. 

Sumitra Bhave

After a stint with All India Radio, she decided to venture into filmmaking despite not knowing much about the subject. Her first film was a docu-drama Bai based on a woman from the slums and her daily battle for survival. As they say, there was no looking back. 

Pathare, who has a PhD in inorganic chemistry and has also studied journalism and mass communication at the University of Mumbai, has been the secretary of the Prabhat Chitra Mandal, one of the leading film societies of India, and a film critic and editor of the Marathi magazine Vaastaw Roopwani

In a chat with, Pathare, while speaking about his journey making the film, said that he had known Bhave before making the film but they weren't extremely close. “I used to do screenings for Prabhat Chitra Mandal,” he said. “I did a few screenings of her films too. We used to talk then. We had met during festivals like MAMI and IFFI [International Film Festival of India] and seen films together. I had written few articles on her films and reviewed her films.” 

Needless to say, Pathare's mind was blown by Bhave’s work. “I was attracted to her work. She used to do research and like me, she was also a professor. So I used to get encouragement from her. If I look at Rohit Shetty’s films, I know I can’t do the kind of films he does. But I can do the type of films Sumitra Bhave did. That is my genre. Our careers are also similar. She started her feature film career by 45-50. And I did this film in my 50s. I think my life can be parallel to hers,” he said.

Asked about her initial reaction to his proposal of making a documentary on her, Pathare said, “I told her this was my first film. Maybe she had that faith that I would be able to pull it off. Else she would have said no. Secondly, she wasn’t willing to do such a thing based on herself. I had a doubt that maybe people like Umesh [Kulkarni], Sachin [Kundalkar] and many of her followers would do such a film on her since they also learnt under her. But that didn’t happen.”

Pathare found her very approachable. “She instantly said yes and asked how I would like to go about. I brought out a list of questions. I chalked out my team for research and cameraman. My aim was to do it as a proper film. We didn’t think of just taking a camera and shooting randomly. It was all pre-planned and done in a professional way. We had a three-camera set up with a Sony FS7 camera.”

Bhave and Sukthankar’s creative collaboration birthed a number of acclaimed and appreciated Marathi films. Some of them are Doghi (1995), Devrai (2004), Vastupurush (2005), Nital (2006), Ha Bharat Majha (2012), Samhita (2013), Astu! (2014), Kaasav (2017) and Welcome Home (2019). The drama Dithee (2021) was Bhave sole solo endeavour.

Sumitra Bhave: Our films have won several awards, but most Indians haven't seen any of them

The documentary features a number of film personalities or people from the world of film who have worked with Bhave or known her speaking about her career, including Sukthankar, Sachin Kundalkar, Girish Kasaravalli, Manu Chakravarthy [veteran film critic], Amruta Subhash, Sonali Kulkarni and Ganesh Matkari [who has also done the subtitles for the documentary]. 

Bhave is one of the filmmakers who will be paid homage at the 52nd International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa this year. 

Unfortunately, Bhave couldn’t watch the final film as she died while it was in the making. This didn’t hamper the film much though. “I had already got the inputs I wanted from her,” said Pathare. “I was sure about what I wanted from the shoot we did [with her] for 2-3 days.”

But the passing of Bhave prevented Pathare from executing one idea. “I wanted to shoot her shooting and giving instructions and her process,” he said. “That’s the only thing I couldn’t do. It would have added to the visual richness. As her films were already low budget, they had never shot a making-of video, which I could have used. And I didn’t want to change my format by including a video shot on a mobile [phone] as it would have affected the film’s structure.” 

Sumitra Bhave (1943–2021): Filmmaker who continued her social work through cinema

Other than that and economic constraints, there weren’t many challenges as everyone came forward to help. “Sunil [Sukthankar] and I discussed what scenes [from their films] should we include in the documentary. Sunil helped me with this. We took formal permissions to use those clips, although it’s half a minute or one minute,” he said. 

Pathare and his team shot for eight days in total. Apart from shooting in Mumbai and Pune, they had a session in Bengaluru as well to film conversations with Girish Kasaravalli and Manu Chakravarthy. 

The big question is where will the documentary be available for viewing. Pathare said that he has just started approaching various over-the-top [OTT] platforms. “So that it reaches out to more people. It is a long process. I am very clear that I only want to give them OTT rights. I don’t want to give them whole and sole rights because I wish to screen it at film festivals and institutes,” he said. 

He added, “Basically, I want this film to be seen by those who are studying filmmaking. So I want it to be screened in various film institutes. I already have my own circuit of film society. I wish to screen this film in film societies in various cities. It is because of film societies that Sumitra mavshi’s films are known to people. They know her well.” 

Sumitra Bhave: Ek Samantar Prawaas will be showcased at this year’s International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala [IDSFFK] and International Film Festival of Shimla [IFFS].