The voice of stifled childhood

Madhur Tankha
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Film-maker Shashi Verma.
Film-maker Shashi Verma.

After directing a series of documentaries on child labour, drugs abuse and road safety for a decade, Delhi-based film-maker Shashi Verma is finally making a foray into Bollywood with a socially relevant film, Papa Please.…

The film highlights nervousness and anxiety among students facing parental pressure to score high grades in examination. It focuses on the widening communication gap between parents and children.

“An important story in today's time, the film will be a lesson for all those parents who put unnecessary pressure on their kids to become engineers or doctors instead of allowing them to pursue a career of their choice. The need of the hour is to give liberty to children to pursue their ambition rather than compel them to study books on subjects that do not interest them,” observes Shashi

The film is not influenced by an overnight experience. In fact, Shashi has seen school life closely because for ten years he has been conducting theatre workshops at schools in Delhi and the National Capital Region.

The film, with Sanjay Suri in the lead, Rajesh Sharma of No One Killed Jessica fame and Heema Singh, an alumnus of Film and Television Institute of India, is based on a real life incident.

While Shashi was conducting a theatre workshop at a prominent school in Delhi, he came across a reticent female student who stood first in her class in Jharkhand, but after migrating to the Capital started lagging behind. “As I too hail from the same State, I was curious to ascertain why she was not keen on honing her theatrical skills unlike her other classmates. She explained that though theatre was her passion, excelling in her class was her top most priority.”

Unable to cope with insurmountable pressure from parents to excel in academics, the girl eventually committed suicide. And Shashi thought that he could pay a befitting tribute to the girl by directing a film that highlighted the predicament of children who are put to relentless pressure from their peers at school and also their parents. “ Papa Please… is about Abhilasha, a Class XII student brought up in a traditional family in a small town. Her family consists of her parents and her younger sibling. “Her father, a doctor, has lots of expectations from his children. Abhilasha (Heema) is a topper but after she is enrolled at a new school in Delhi, her rank starts slipping. Being a topper, she tries hard to maintain her position but parental pressure starts demoralising her.”

The film's unique selling point is that it breaks stereotypes in Bollywood by speaking from a girl's perspective. “The Hindi film industry is guilty of representing the woes of only male students as in films like 3 Idiots and Udaan . If a film focuses on hostels, then it has to be only of boys.”

In the film, Sanjay Suri, known for portraying sensitive characters in meaningful films like Onir's I am and My Brother …Nikhil , is playing a Physics teacher for the first time. “The teacher acts as a friend, philosopher and guide to Abhilasha. His role bears some similarities with the character enacted by Aamir Khan in Taare Zameen Par in which he as a teacher motivates a child suffering from dyslexia. But there the similarities end.”

After Shashi narrated his story, Sanjay quickly came on board. “In fact, Sanjay, who has also produced films, has even promised to take the film to international film festivals.”

Educational system

Papa Please… is also a comment on our educational system that lays emphasis on cramming up lessons rather than on understanding them. To give his film an authentic feel, Shashi roped in two faculty members of a school who gave him an insight into the mind-set of students and the lingo they speak. “It is important to show students speaking the language they are comfortable with.”

He chose a girl student as his central character because the girl child is discriminated time and again at home and even in school.

After studying Political Science (Hons.) at Delhi University's Dyal Singh College, Shashi did theatre at various colleges in the city and the National Capital Region like Jawaharlal Nehru University. “It was Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts that played a major role in honing my skills in theatre. Right from the onset I was clear in my mind that depicting social issues on stage or screen was the need of the hour. And this is exactly what I have been doing for the past ten years.”



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