What happens when a farmer makes a film? The result is “Dekh Indian Circus”, a stinging comment on contemporary India.

Mangesh Hadawale spends 15 days in Mumbai and 15 days in his village Rajuri near Pune. His father and two brothers are into farming. Whenever he is in Rajuri, he loves to tend the 11 cows that the family has. So what makes him worthy of Friday Review? Mangesh also makes cinema about issues that concern you and me. The 30-year-old self-taught filmmaker is one of the young Turks of the Marathi film industry who have turned the fortunes of what was considered for long a country cousin of Hindi cinema. Be it the National Awards or box office window, Marathi cinema is the new toast of cinephiles.

“In cities the dialogue among the inhabitants is disintegrating. This is not the case in villages. When I am in Mumbai I yearn for the little joys of life that I get in my village. I feel I don't belong to the place. When I am in Rajuri, I miss even the basic amenities and want to go to the city to tell my stories. So in a way I keep travelling between Bharat and India.” But hardly anybody is telling the stories of rural India. “I don't know why,” says Mangesh, “I feel the stories that excite my father and friends will excite everybody.”

As of now Mangesh's confidence is proving right. For his first film “Tingya”, which talked about the state of farmers in Maharasthra, won international acclaim and a National Award, and now his second film “Dekh Indian Circus” (in Hindi), which once again captures the concerns of the countryside, has won the audience award at the prestigious Busan Film Festival. Mangesh wears the acclaim lightly. He maintains truth is beautiful in itself. “You don't need much creativity to tell the truth but you do need courage and honesty. Circus is a metaphor. The film is trying to question whether the life people are leading in a village is reduced to a circus in the otherwise shining India. Is it any different from the circus the parents (in the story) are trying to take their kids to, against all odds?”

Inspired by the cinema of Bimal Roy and V. Shantaram, Mangesh is not too enthused by the portrayal of poverty in the intellectual pursuits of the so-called parallel cinema of the '70s. Mangesh says he wants to make a film which could be appreciated by both an illiterate viewer and a student of cinema. “There are certain universal emotions which appeal to everybody. I often say in a lighter vein that when I was young I used to dig into my nose. Sometimes Barack Obama also does it while making a speech.”

In the so-called intellectual films on rural India, adds Mangesh, he has seen situations where there would not be a single grain to feed the kids, but the mother's sari will be well ironed or the director will ensure that the strap of her undergarment is noticed. “Isn't it unfair manipulation?”

Being an insider, he knows that those living within limited means do not necessarily carry the burden of poverty on their shoulders. “People living below or just above the poverty line don't get jealous if somebody is going for a European holiday. They are happy if they manage two square meals, education for their kids and medical help. For them entertainment is a ticket to the neighbourhood circus. Even when they don't get all these basic amenities they don't break into rona dhona or melodramatic songs, as many of our films show. They try ingenious ways to make ends meet. The film reflects their positive spirit. The treatment is subjective but I feel it is closer to reality.”

Mangesh says like the society, cinema also has a varna system, a hierarchy. “We make 1200 to 1300 films every year but out of them only around 24 make the cut at the box office. It means nobody really knows what will work. Still not many are ready to try something fresh. Many in the industry seem to believe that India lives in four metros and eight other big cities. The rest of the country and its stories remain unrepresented. We proudly say that India is a young country, but how much cinema — or for that matter literature — is being made keeping children in mind,” he asks.

‘Kids are my sugar'

Mangesh has a way with kids. “Dekh Indian Circus” has Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Tannishtha Chatterjee playing the parents but the focus is on Virendra Singh Rathod and Suhani Oza, whom he selected after auditioning more than 11000 kids. “Tingya” also raised a serious issue through the friendship between a village boy and a bull. “Working with kids is the most painful job,” Mangesh protests. “They can literally make you cry because when they are not in the mood, even God cannot make them act. However, you can easily convey a serious message through kids. They work like sugar. If the same thing is said by adults, the audience might find it preachy. In ‘Tingya' there is a scene where a 10-year-old is trying to hang a hen by tying a rope around its neck. The hen makes a sound and his friend says it seems she doesn't want to die. They drop the idea. Later the audience discovers that it is the ‘suicide-suicide' game that kids in the famine hit regions of Maharashtra play.”

On moving to Hindi and picking Rajasthan as the backdrop, Mangesh says he opted for the state because of the colour it lends to a simple story. “Also, like Sachin Tendulkar's face means India, a Rajasthani backdrop lends an Indian identity to the film in the international market. People easily relate to the context. As for the language, when I decided to become a filmmaker I didn't decide to tell my stories only in one particular language. Tomorrow, it could be English.”

Compare him with his contemporaries like Umesh Kulkarni, and Mangesh points out his lack of training. “He is from FTII while I saw the film camera for the first time on the sets of ‘Tingya'. I was rejected by 41 producers before getting the nod. But being a student of theatre I know the basic craft and aesthetics. And like others from the new generation of filmmakers, I want to bring back the visual appeal in our films. For years we have been caught in the verbosity of dialogues. Character ko sar dard hai to audience ko feel hona chahiye.” Of course!

A new Prabhat

“Harishchandrachi Factory”, “Jogwa”, “Vihir”, “Deool”, Marathi films are not only hogging the limelight at the National Awards, they are also making heads turn at international festivals and names like Paresh Mokashi and Umesh Kulkarni are being discussed at film institutes and at the box office.

Seasoned film critic and historian Ashok Rane says the tide turned with “Shwaas” (2004), which not only brought the National Award for Best Film to Marathi cinema after 50 years but was also India's official Oscar entry. “Traditionally, Marathi films are known for either comedies or social family dramas. The new generation is trying offbeat subjects but have been able to put them in the mainstream. If you ask them they won't like the term offbeat. I use it because before the '90s these were bracketed as offbeat. The right phrase is ‘matter of fact' cinema.”

Putting things in perspective, Rane says Marathi cinema has got national attention at a time when the quantity of quality films from the South has come down. “Bengali cinema is also going through a low phase. So critics and juries are looking towards Marathi cinema with a new hope.” Comparing them with stalwarts like Jabbar Patel and Amol Palekar, Rane says the new generation's concerns are different. “They are products of today and very sound with technique. Earlier there were hardly any stories of the Konkan belt in Marathi cinema but that is no longer the case. Being surrounded by the behemoth of the Hindi film industry, Marathi films have struggled to find their independent voice but the likes of Umesh and Mangesh have shown the way. Having said that, it is still early days and I would like to see a little more maturity in the treatment.”