From farmer to filmmaker

One of the important turn-of-the-century developments has been the democratisation of cinema. The steady spread of cine literacy, the strong influence of moving images combined with an easier access to technology and emerging online exhibition platforms has meant that potentially anyone who dreams of making a film can now turn it into a reality and find an audience for it. Even at the grass roots. Filmmaking can become a mode of self-expression, of telling a story or highlighting an issue one feels strongly about. In a nutshell, an empowering tool, the voice of the voiceless. One such voice rises from the very margins to go mainstream this week at the movies. Khwada (Obstacle), the Marathi debut film of Bhaurao Karhade, a farmer from Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra, finds a commercial release this Dussehra. On the plight of the migrant shepherd community, the making of the film is as much a tale of hardships as the theme it deals with. It is a story that needs to be told.

Till 2010, 30-year-old Karhade had been reaping wheat, millet, sorghum and onion in his five acres of family farmland in Gawadewadi village in Ahmednagar. Now, as he himself puts it, he is “harvesting cinema” in Pune.

Khwada is a significant new addition to the Indian film roster of 2015 that is already brimming over with some remarkable first-timers — Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court, Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan, Avinash Arun’s Killa, M.Manikandan’s Kaaka Muttai, Kanu Behl’s Titli, Raam Reddy’s Thithi, Ruchika Oberoi’s Island City, Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Asha Jaoar Majhe among others. What makes Karhade’s debut more notable is how he rose above his underprivileged background, even selling his five acres of land to make the film, with an investment of Rs. 1.20 crore.

In his semi-literate family — his mother is unlettered, father studied till third standard and elder brother till fourth standard — Karhade is a rare graduate. The love for cinema was fuelled by the hardcore Hindi commercial flicks he saw on Doordarshan: Sooraj Barjatya’s Maine Pyaar Kiya, Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay and Indra Kumar’s Dil. “By the time I was in tenth standard, I had made up my mind on becoming a filmmaker,” he recollects. The family, however, wanted him to join the military or the police. “They still can’t understand filmmaking. For them a director is someone who is a bank, company or society director,” he smiles.

Initially Karhade turned to the Film and Television Institute of India for training, but he didn’t clear the exam. So, he went on to do a course in communication studies at the New Arts, Commerce and Science College in Ahmednagar. He made two short films after graduating in 2009: Talab (Addiction) and Vanchit (Deprived). It was in college that he got introduced to his cinematic Bible: Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, a film he has seen 32 times. He also got exposed to the international classics of his other gurus: Vittorio de Sica, Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini.

Khwada is a rough, rustic and gutsy film. Goa-based film critic Sachin Chatte describes it as “Shyam Benegal’s Ankur meets Sergey Dvortsevoy’s Tulpan [a much celebrated Kazakh film on steppe herdsmen]”. Says Mumbai-based filmmaker-editor Bela Negi, “The film is marked by an organic rawness, there is a relevance to the story and a very interesting sound design that is bereft of any background music [in a film that has a lot of tension and drama].” Khwada won the special jury prize at the 62nd national awards and another for best audiography (Mahaveer Sabbanwal).

Karhade’s own rural upbringing helps bring in an authenticity and immediacy to the theme. Apart from Shashank Shende and Anil Nagarkar, all the actors are new, which also adds to the film’s realism. According to Karhade, the inspiration for the film came to him, of all the places, at a railway station where he had met some farmers from Aurangabad. “Despite owning 35 acres of land, they had been forced to migrate because of the famine,” he says. Set against the dry landscape of central Maharashtra, Khwada is about a shepherd family that is forced to migrate in search of fodder for its flock because the government has grabbed their land. At its core is a prolonged legal battle: a shepherd’s fight to get his land back from the forest department. Karhade hopes that he too will get his five acres back some day.

Overcoming obstacles

The film lives up to its title. It has had to face many impediments, most important of all financial. However, despite his own hardship and penury, Karhade persisted in making it with passion and commitment. He began writing the script in 2010 and locked it in 2012. When he couldn’t raise finances from anywhere, Karhade was left with no option but to coax his mother and brother to sell the land and move to Pune where they now run a small hotel, Ran Meva, that offers simple village fare to immigrants and blue collar workers. When the shoot got stalled for lack of funds, his friend Chandrakant Raut made an additional contribution: the lead actor sold a truck he owned. Finally, the rest of the film got shot and was completed in May 2014. The final print was out in January 2015.

Khwada premiered at the Pune International Film Festival in January where it won the best director award. It was the first time in her life that Karhade’s mother got to watch a film in a theatre. Chandrashekhar More, one of the leading art directors of the Hindi film industry, has now come forward to be the presenter of the film. It finally releases commercially with 200 sub-titled prints across Maharashtra. Karhade intends to take it to Goa and parts of Madhya Pradesh — Indore and Gwalior in particular — in the next phase. Eventually, he aims to reach out to the whole country. Meanwhile, he has already started work on the next project, which will also be rural-centric, about how our villages are changing rapidly in the post-globalisation economy. “I hope my films will make the country more aware about the plight of farmers in Maharashtra,” he says.

(Namrata Joshi is a noted film critic. Email:

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 11:56:01 AM |

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