Meenakshi Shedde: Pune diaries

Pune and I share an intense bond, ever since I did a Film Appreciation course at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) there in some previous lifetime — even though I hardly got out of the campus then, grabbing two-three movies a day, and then discussing them with the gang over beer under the wisdom tree until 2 am."

This time, I was visiting for a reunion of old journalist friends, who had worked together in mid-day in the late '80s, when its office was in Tardeo. One of the mid-day alumni, let's call her R, had winged it from Canada. R, who was visiting her family in Pune, has constantly reinvented herself, as a journalist, author, chef, and more. After a lovely feast at her home, she talked about the quality of life in Canada, the employment insurance, housing benefits and old age pension, and frankly discussed why she would like to choose euthanasia when she's old, and feels the quality of life is not worth it.

A still from Nagraj Manjule's Sairat
A still from Nagraj Manjule's Sairat

In the evening, we head for the Pu La Deshpande Udyan, a beautiful Japanese-style garden on Sinhagad Road. It is a wonderfully landscaped oasis, with flowering trees, rolling lawns, running brooks, and a pond with benches, where you can splash your feet in the water. If you so much as put a toe on the grass, policewomen in khaki saris will whistle their heads off, like you're doing something seditious. I wonder if it's the only way to keep a public space civilised in India.

Next, I caught up with Nagraj Manjule, who'd directed Fandry, over a superb lunch at his house, that included a fiery drumstick dish. We had an overwhelming reception to his powerful new film Sairat (Wild) at its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February, and he's prepping for the film's release here on April 29.

He's been re-shooting his songs. Wha-a-a-t? After its world premiere? It seems his final songs arrived only after his shooting dates, so he shot the songs without the songs, the first time round, ie. he shot them as generic love-play stuff, coochie-cooing in the sugarcane fields — and when the actual songs came in later, he tweaked the edit accordingly. Only Indians have this talent for creative jugaad - I couldn't tell at the premiere that this is how he had pulled it off. He was busy putting out promos of its jhakaas song Zingat, with onscreen lyrics — it's Marathi
karaoke now.

Later, I met Prakash Magdum, director, National Film Archive of India, who seemed keen to revitalise the archives, source foreign films on India, and do outreach — he even tweets. At the FTII, I met staff and students, and visited an editing studio, where rows of old editing machines sat warily, like pensioners awaiting bad news; each with a large blue sack attached, in which edited, 35mm film clips could be collected. The evening had a big surprise — I met a Maharashtrian screenwriter based in Pune, who has written for an award-winning feature, and had just returned from Argentina, Peru and other Latin American nations, as part of research for his next film. I just love where Indian cinema is going. I was all agog, but he preferred to keep it low key, as we tucked into aappe (fluffy, spherical, rice-urad steam-fried thingies), rasam wada and kharwas, that very Maharashtrian sweet, at Wadeshwar restaurant on Fergusson College Road.

I caught up with the ageing parents of a US-based school friend. They live in a sprawling Pune bungalow, surrounded by gardens, and have a staff of six or seven. After my friend's dad had a stroke, I'm impressed by how her mother actively wards off dementia, through diet and mind games. After a morning walk and yoga, his breakfast includes ABC (apple-beetroot-carrot) juice, oats and bran flakes in milk with almonds, walnuts and dates, steamed broccoli, sprouts and garlic. She makes him read and explain newspaper headlines, play Sudoku, and list, for instance, "all the freedom fighters since 1857."

Finally, I caught up with another mid-day alumnus, a journalist-activist, who has been working in human rights and the arts. A Parsi, she has a dog who rules her life — and she is, I discovered, a big collector of clocks. Large ones that go bong, with beautiful wooden Art Deco panelling, and different chimes as the hour strikes — Big Ben, Ave Maria and Dick Whittington. Thank God for the Parsis — and for Pune!

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at

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