Sumitra Bhave passed away in April 2021, way before Kaasav could release on Sony LIV.
Ahead of Sunil Sukthankar's National Award-winning film Kaasav's OTT release, the director spoke to OTTplay about the movie and the misconceptions around them. While still grieving that his co-director Sumitra Bhave is not present to see the reactions the movie receives, he explains what Kaasav is all about and how sea turtles have been beautifully incorporated into the film to convey a message.
The National Award-winning filmmaker also spoke about the film formula that he believes helps him connect with the audience and their changing perspective towards Marathi cinema.
Excerpts from the interview...
After all the critical acclaim, Kaasav is slated for an OTT release. And thanks to that, now not only in India but people across the world can watch and experience the film...
Yes. It's a nice film. We are feeling a little bad because Sumitra ji is not with us. She passed away in April. She won't be able to see the responses we get for the film. I'm glad it's releasing on OTT. For the past few years, I have been saying that the cinema which can be enjoyed in big theatres also, could be enjoyed in solitude when you watch it on OTT. It's the feeling this film demands. OTT brings together the scattered audience around the world. Otherwise, with theatrical releases, we don't get an audience beyond Mumbai and Pune.
You had a previous release Tithi on OTT as well. Did you receive responses from other countries too? Were you surprised that they are also watching Marathi cinema and sharing their feedback?
In my last 30 years of filmmaking, right from our first film to other 18 feature films have been screened all over the world at film festivals. We always felt that the world audience doesn't care about the mainstream Hindi cinema or South cinema, which is big in grandeur and feel. They care about the cultural nuances. Language does not matter to the world audience. I remember one of our films Ek Cup Chaha was screened in Sweden. It was minus 16 degrees and snowing but that didn't stop the people from watching our film. We saw a big queue near the theatre. Kaasav was very well received in New York. It was also shown in and appreciated at various Indian and International film festivals. It was released on October 6, 2017. We received a great response in Mumbai theatres too. The non-Marathi audience also saw the film because we released it with subtitles. It was well-received even back then. We didn't have the funding to create a big publicity buzz. That hampered the bigger picture of the film, which I think it will now get on OTT.
I'm sure people have opened up to Marathi content, thanks to OTT. Don't you agree?
Yes. Since the past few years, the overall image of Marathi cinema has gone up. If people are looking for good and matured cinema, they can browse through Marathi content. There are various experimental films taking place here. It's what critics in Bengal and Kerala have also been stating. For the last 20 years, people have been looking up to Marathi cinema.
You spoke about Sumitra Bhave at the very beginning. How was it like working with her on this film? Do you have any memories with her that you would like to share?
It was a very long and enriching partnership. I started working with her at the mere age of 17. My mother would call her a social scientist. On the other hand, I'm a theatre enthusiast. After crossing 40, she (Sumitra) made her first short film to present the outcome of her social studies. That is when I realised it is a medium I want to work in. She would mainly write scripts. On the sets, she would take care of the hair, costumes, editing and the likes while I took care of the camera, lights and acting team. We had our roles divided. She was more instinctive and spontaneous. She had a more brave way of looking at films and would venture into new adventures. It took us forward. Sadly, she passed away this year and she isn't there to see the responses for the film. She was always eager to know how people felt about a movie. She was never interested in the commercial success of a film but in reaching out to various audiences.
Talking about that, the movie is releasing at a time when people are at their lowest. Many lost jobs and everyone is struggling, owing to COVID-19. During this time, suicide rates are said to be at an all-time high. So was releasing Kaasav at this point an intentional move?
It happened accidentally actually. We have been trying to release it since 2017 but it happened this year. It's indeed more relevant today when we are lonely and locked in our houses. We realise that we don't have the creativity to create happiness in our own life. We're too dependent on various modes of entertainment and other people. With this loneliness and being detached from other people, all of us are facing a mild depression. The film would help us to understand and acknowledge that life around us is beautiful. Of course, there will be ups and downs. We have to face life as it is. It would certainly give us courage.
What do you think connected people to Kaasav since the movie was well received and even won the National Award?
The film is addressed to the larger society. It isn't a film about mental illness. We can categorise it as being a film about one man's depression. It's about caring, unconditional love and a supportive atmosphere when a person isn't mentally well. Another thing this film conveys is that those who have suffered it, become good healers for others. The character of Janaki can understand Manav. She creates an atmosphere around him that helps him to come out of his shell on his own. In Marathi, we use the word Kaasav for turtle. Many people mistake that Kaasav is the story of the rabbit and the tortoise. The whole story happens in the backdrop of sea turtles, which takes place in the Konkan area of Maharashtra. While the male turtles live in the ocean, the female ones come on to the shore to lay their eggs. They take 55-60 days to become fertile. You have to take care of those eggs or people will eat the eggs and even turtles. The conversation began with that motive. When you take care of the eggs, the turtles come out and walk into the ocean on their own. They are then ready to face life. A person going through depression is like a baby turtle. When he or she is in the shell, you just have to create a warm and caring atmosphere around him or her. Then, that person must go into the ocean of life and face it.
While we all know and love the film, what has been your takeaway from Kaasav?
I realise that sometimes I'm Manav and sometimes, Janaki. When I feel helpless and vulnerable, I want someone else to take care of me and create that comforting atmosphere for me. When I'm confident, I consider it my duty to do the same for another person.
Since you are a regular at the National Film Awards, would you say there is a certain formula to films that connect with the audiences?
It's an attitude and religious commitment to your creativity. Once you have achieved that, then you are likely to connect with the audience. While not all the big successes are bad, many of them give the audience a kick. While we need those films, they cannot be consumed regularly. The kind of cinema we're trying to create is based on what we have observed. It's healthy food. It might not be 'spicy' like the masala entertainers but is necessary for the nourishment of the mind. I will keep creating that kind of cinema.
Your last film Welcome Home was in 2019. Do we see you direct more projects anytime soon? What are your upcoming projects?
I have written three scripts - two movies and web series. Those projects aren't yet picked up by the producers. Apart from that, I'm directing a feature film. It's not my script but I have worked on it partly. It is likely to go on floors in November or December. I'll be shooting for it in Mumbai and it should be ready for release by May if things go well.