The changing face of cinema

The changing face of cinema

No other word suits Amole Gupte as much as the term ‘missionary’. Looking like an aging Blackbeard, that benevolent ghost immortalised by Walt Disney, he is genial, matter-of-fact and focussed in his social and cinematic purpose.

Amole has just delivered his third noble celluloid exercise, Hawa Hawaai.

His sincerity has been rewarded by the audience that gave it a thumbs-up amidst a mélange of six releases in that week.

Best known as the writer and ‘creative director’ of Taare Zameen Par (2007), which highlighted dyslexia to Indian viewers in the nick of time, he next made his maiden directorial, Stanley Ka Dabba (2011). T

hough it failed to get the kind of epic success Taare… got, it received a generous share of critical hosannas.

This time, Amole has come up trumps again.

“I was inspired by my wife’s (editor-filmmaker Deepa Bhatia) bold documentary Nero’s Guests on farmer suicides, and I thought that my subject would be another metaphor for social inequality because, as it happened, my son Partho was learning speed-skating — an expensive sport — at a street club in Mumbai’s plush commercial area at night under two wonderful teachers, Ajay and Dheeraj.”

Like all of Amole’s movies, the lines between real and reel blur in this cinema. “The skating class shown in the film along with its location is real, and most of the children too are its real students,” he reveals. With true missionary zeal again, he himself runs skating classes with seven coaches and two head coaches in a Mumbai suburb for underprivileged children, free of cost, during summer vacations.

“Such classes are technically open to all, but obviously the upper crust kids are not encouraged by their parents to mix with those from poor families,” he points out.

Another rule that he strictly follows is to see that no child — his son or anyone else — misses a single hour of school when shooting films.

“As with Stanley…, my film was shot when there was no school,” he says gently.

“The idea is to have fun,” he adds, saying that he has also made a strong case against child labour in both his films by showing Stanley and Arjun (his respective protagonists played by his son in both the movies) working to earn money.

Adding that a truly authentic feel cannot possibly come without such real-time aspects, Amole concedes that the story is completely fictitious. If the film was a mission, however, why did he not choose the release date well?

“Such things happen,” he says.

“My film was to come on the same date that it released alongside Habib Faisal’s film for Yash Raj. But they postponed their film and in came five or six others. But I am glad that my film has made a mark, because it is important that Fox, which has produced the film, gets back its money.”

His son Partho has shown rare talent in both films. Has he decided to choose acting as his career?

Laughs Amole, “At 52, I have no idea what to do next! How can Partho decide now? He is studying and learning various things. Children should have fun, as I said, and do what they enjoy, whether it is making a cup of tea or a painting.”

Outside films, Amole continues to do other social work too. He is a counsellor at a leading suburban missionary school and also runs workshops for kids to learn cinema. “The kids who have aptitude are unbelievableAt seven-and-a-half years of age, they know terms like ‘final draft of script’, ‘shot breakdowns’ and more, and are familiar with world cinema including black-and-white masterpieces that existed decades before them, from Chaplin to Ray and others to the extent that they can deconstruct them shot by shot.”

Proudly, Amole adds, “One of our students, Ashish Gaekwad, was given a Rs 16 lakh scholarship by Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods International after he wowed them with his Marathi short film Tahaan on thirst and water politics. It was shown as the closing film there when 100 years of cinema was celebrated.”

Once again, Amole stresses that these classes are for the poor, though all are welcome in theory.

“We have to rise above the cliché of poor people learning carpentry for males and sewing for females,” he says. “We open each class with a dal-chawal meal, because you cannot learn on an empty stomach.”

As the chairperson of the Children’s Film Society of India, Amole is also on his own personal crusade.

“I am aghast that children are made to work for 20 hours at a stretch in reality and talent shows on television. I have been trying to raise awareness and promote a Child Welfare Board just like the Animal Welfare Board,” he thunders — but then, Amole’s thunder is also gentle, though it has all the force of a volcano behind it.

What next in cinema? “I have worked on some ideas, let us see what works out,” he replies. “I believe in giving positive content, and leaving the rest to the audience. So far, they have endorsed all my films.”

And Amole is in no hurry. Because his films, dealing with issues around children — those entities that shape the country’s future — will decidedly be made on his terms.

As he says, the idea is to enjoy the creative process.

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