Of schools that burden

NEW-AGE FILMMAKER

Of schools that burden

Milind Ukey is a known name in Marathi cinema. His only film, the box-office hit Devaki, won a record 27 awards across State and National levels. He began his Hindi directorial career with the 2002 Desh Devi produced by internationally-renowned production designer Nitin Chandrakant Desai and his 2005 Hanuman has the rare distinction of being Indian cinema’s only animation feature to become a certified hit. Ukey’s latest, Paathshaala, starring Nana Patekar, Shahid Kapoor and Ayesha Takia was released last week in theatres around India. Excerpts from an interview with Ukey:

Of late, many films in Hindi and Marathi have explored deficiencies in the education system. How is your film different from them?
We are looking at the rank commercialisation in schools, irrespective of whether they are of Indian origin or affiliated to overseas institutions. Their exorbitant fee structures and showy facilities make them look like 5-star hotels, but the educational standards are not higher. Such schools burden parents, the children and also the teachers who are forcibly given too many responsibilities.

Do you have research to corroborate your stand?
Ahmed Khan, the well-known choreographer who has produced this film, has based the story on his personal experiences. And a part of the research is mine. We have delved into a lot of facts available through newspapers and the Internet. And we have been fair, we have looked at the good aspects. But the bad side does dominate.

Despite having saleable heroes, why was your film delayed?
The shooting took a long while because we had to coordinate their dates. But yes, we waited for a vacation release.

Why couldn’t you shoot it in a real school? Were there objections because of the stand you were taking?
No, it was about getting collective dates as I said. We could not restrict the shooting to schedules according to a school’s convenience. So we got a huge set erected in Film City. Also, we needed to do workshops as most of the children are not actors, and also for the featured cast that has brilliant child artistes like Ali Haji, Swini Khera, Dwij Yadav and Avika Gor who have all made a mark in films or television.

There was this publicity release about puppies. What is your strategy for marketing the film?
In keeping with the subject and message, we have avoided flashy stuff like having events in malls etc. We have largely involved schools and kept it sober. The puppies sequence was needed and it turned out to be amusing because the puppies would be perfectly disciplined till the cameras rolled. Then they would either scamper in all directions or go to sleep!

Nana Patekar’s persona tends to intimidate people. Weren’t you apprehensive about approaching him?
Nana is someone I know from my Khamoshi days. If he has a filmmaker who has done his homework, who can answer any query that he has, and has an organised way of working, he is a dream to work with. In this film, he represents the face of commercialisation and Shahid Kapoor, who is the English and music teacher, opposes him.

You like to make films which haves messages and realistic stories. Are stars necessary for this?
Yes, they are. Look at what happened to my films Desh Devi and Humne Jeena Seekh Liya (2007). Stars are important not only for drawing the audience but also for commercial appeal. They are vital because they are better and experienced actors who understand your requirements faster, and take your film to a higher level with their performances, like Nana, Shahid and Ayesha have done here.

You directed the only hit animation movie in India to date, ‘Hanuman’. Why do such films not do well over here?
There are a lot of reasons. Firstly, in USA for example, there is a century-old tradition of comic strips. Characters are well-established and can be easily transported onto a new medium. Here the producer should be willing to spend Rs 50 or 60 lakh only to market a fresh character over months, which also requires investment in time. With the corporate guys, who think that they have all the answers, it becomes a game that you lose before it begins.

And what about content? Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Hanuman Returns’, the sequel to your film, was something most people could not sit through.
That’s the other big, weak area. Roadside Romeo, at a technical level, was brilliant. But a cartoon film must be primarily for children. There is trouble if only adults identify with their content. I turned down Hanuman Returns for this reason, but they all thought that they knew better! No one has the acumen to place 10 kids in front of Cartoon Network or Pogo channel, and watch how they react or see the way their conversations go when watching a cartoon film or a show for children. Till all these errors are rectified, animation in India will never succeed, and I have decided to abandon my shouq for making them!

What next?
I am planning a supernatural romance and another film on the battle of Panipat.

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