Mainstream cinema is overlooking rural hinterland: Shaiwal

Mainstream cinema is overlooking rural hinterland: Shaiwal

Awarded recently as the best scriptwriter at the Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival for the thought-provoking movie Das Capital, veteran author Shaiwal is walking tall. The 62-year-old screenplay and dialogue writer is now heading to Goa for special screening of his movie, which is a satire on corruption, at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) on November 29.

Shaiwal shot to fame 28 years back when he wrote the script for Prakash Jha’s movie Damul, which eventually bagged the National Award for Best Film in 1984. Not the one to sit on his laurels, he came up with a gripping story in 1997 for Madhuri Dixit-starrer Mrityudand which depicted widows’ plight in Bihar.

Fifteen years down the line, the script-writer of Das Capital is again making waves as the movie has been internationally acclaimed at the film festivals in Norway, Canada, Vietnam, Hanoi and the US. The Gaya-based writer tells Abhay Kumar of Deccan Herald how and why parallel cinema has declined, how mainstream filmmakers have condoned the problems of those residing in villages, and why Bhojpuri movies, which are mostly lousy and vulgar, are still ruling the roost.


Excerpts:

You have recently been awarded the best scriptwriter for Das Capital? Please tell us what is this movie all about?

Set in the backdrop of 1980s, Das Capital is the story about a cashier who, after being caught in a vicious cycle of circumstances and corruption, is forced to sell the body of his wife to a man who is into  illegal business of making skeletons from unclaimed and deserted corpses.   

How come this character cropped up in your story?

I was born and brought up in Bihar and also served the state government. Therefore, I have seen corruption at the grass-roots level from close quarters. My writing, at times, is inspired from some true incidents.

It is said that till sometime back when you were ready with the script of Das Capital, no one was willing to produce it given the sensitive issues you had raked in?

That’s true. But eventually Shyam Benegal’s protégé Rajen Kothari (who was earlier Benegal’s cinematographer in Zubeida) agreed to direct the movie which was produced by Muktinath Upadhyaya. Since it was a low-cost movie, the entire scratch-to-finish shooting took place on the outskirts of Mumbai for 23 days. Tragically, Kothari passed away a month back. Another moot point is that no actor, mostly from the National School of Drama, including Yashpal Sharma and his wife Pratibha did not charge a single penny to work in the film.  

But why is it that nowadays even before the film is released in theatres, it is taken to different film festivals?

Film festivals are opportunities for actors, writers, artistes and producers to showcase their talent. If the film wins an award, it can be marketed very well. Alth­ough it is difficult for Indian cinema to compete with big budget Hollywood productions, but if a film has a good script, it can be made into a good work of art.

Films like I am Kalam was also nominated in the Best Film category at Jagran Film Festival (JFF)….

Not only that, Irfaan Khan-starrer  Paan Singh Tomar too was in the race, but eventually Das Capital was adjudged the Best Film at JFF.

Do you regret that in this era of crass commercialisation, issue-based movies are no more on producers’ radar?

See, in this multiplex era, it’s the cash-box which matters most. This is precisely why very few filmmakers are willing to touch upon issues related to village folks. As a consequence, Bhojpuri movies have, unfortunately, occupied the space of parallel cinema. Although Bhojpuri movies have become lousy and vulgar, still they draw the rural audience to the theatres.

You wrote the story of Damul. Although it was critically acclaimed, but the movie was not commercially successful. True, but don’t forget that it bagged National Award for Best Film in 1984.

And Mrityudand? The Madhuri Dixit-starrer movie, which was set against Bihar backdrop and depicted widow’s plight, did average business.

One should not judge every movie in monetary terms. Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal never made movies for money. Mrityudand too was widely acclaimed, so far as I remember.

You are recipient of Renu award too. How and when did you start writing?

It started when I was in class VIII. Initially I used to write poems and send it to different magazines. Then I started writing for Ravivaar, Sarika  and Dharamyug  (when Dharamveer Bharti headed it). But my big break came when I wrote the script for a serial Naseeruddin Zinda Hai for Aakashvani, New Delhi. My other writings include Samudragatha, Yahan Koi Gulmohar Nahin Hai.

It is said that you have roped in your son Shubhankar Shaiwal too for your next project Babylon?

Yes, Shubhankar can visualise and write very well. That’s why he is the co-author of my next script Babylon,  which I am about to complete.


Has the star cast been finalised? And who will direct the movie?

I am not in a condition to divulge much about the project, but all I can tell you is that Babylon is the story about developed and underdeveloped nations working
together to fight recession.

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