As the talented Amole Gupte’s Hawaa Hawaai hits the screens, he talks to Harshikaa Udasi about why there are no lights or night shoots when he works with children
His wife Deepa Bhatia is by his side as he gets back to work. He may be steadying himself for this but I am not very prepared. It’s not easy to ask questions about his new film to a man who has lost his father just 24 hours ago.
Amole Gupte does not mask his emotions. “It’s still fresh… I am sensing the loss of a great influence in my life,” he says, talking of how his father initiated him into the arts. “Music with Sawai Gandharva, the renaissance on the Marathi stage, Prabhat Films…." Amole’s father was called MGM because of his vocal paralysis. “He sounded like that,” says Amole, attempting to mimic his dad’s growly voice.
Best known for the heart-warming 2007 hit Taare Zameen Par, Amole’s latest Hawaa Hawaai is another milestone. After Stanley Ka Dabba, he teams up again with son Partho to put together a poignant story of a poor boy's struggle to succeed as an individual. The story unfolds through the sport of skating and Saquib Saleem plays Partho’s coach. “What my father sowed in me, I am sowing in the next generation,” says Amole. “I am an outsider here. It’s an uphill climb in this taaya-chacha industry.”
As creative director of Taare Zameen Par, Amole oversaw what was a turning point in Indian filmmaking, specifically in children’s films. “It’s the intent,” he says, “I have had 2,000 children working in my last two films and none of them has missed school for a single day. Not because I worship schooling but because peers are an inherent part of growing up and I wouldn’t want them to miss out on that. Also, I don’t want any child ‘workers’.”
During the shoots, Amole carries a recorder for live sound and a basic DSLR. There are no lights on the sets and no night shoots. “If a child spends 10-14 hours on the sets, what’s the difference between them and those at Sivakasi’s fireworks industry?” he asks. For every film, Amole holds a series of workshops at Pali Chimbai Municipal School, where children from three different schools land up. And contrary to popular belief, Amole says it isn’t difficult for children to act, since they are such generous givers. “Children at my workshop dramatise Tughlaq with utmost ease. The privileged ones come but I call them tourists. They go away as easily as they come. The underprivileged walk 3 km to my workshop. One of them, Ashish Gaikwad, has just graduated from Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods International as film editor. Seven years ago, when 12, he joined my Aseema Cinema Studies Class. On my birthday, two years ago, he presented me with a three-minute film Tahaan (‘thirst’). Unknown to him, Subhash Ghai showcased it as the finale for Whistling Woods’ graduation day and gave him a full scholarship,” says Amole.
Amole is today the chairperson of Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI) but does not know how long he will continue. “Children’s Rights is my agenda. If they agree to it, I will continue. Nothing has happened for the last 14 months. I think it is criminal to make a child work long hours. Take children’s reality shows. There is no counselling, no logic. Children can be traumatised and depressed but no one cares. If there is a provision for animal rights, children deserve it too. The NCPCR has asked me to contact the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC). But this isn’t a complaint; it is to ensure that tomorrow there are no mutton shops here. But even as the head of an industry body I am not getting any traction.”
Ask him about working with Partho and he says, “I was given utmost respect by my parents when I was growing up. We do the same with Partho. He plays the guitar well. I am not raising an actor. For us, shooting is just ‘chalo ek workshop karte hain.’ After Stanley Ka Dabba, Partho had some 100 offers including commercial endorsements, but that’s not on our horizon.”