Erdal Sabri Ergen with his wife at the Sairat screening at Roxy Cinema, Opera House
Sitting in their plush BKC office, sometime last year, Belgian vice-consul Pinkey Ahluwalia recalls having an animated discussion over the movie Sairat with her expat colleagues. The Marathi film, which was made on a shoestring budget by Nagraj Manjule, told the story of an upper caste girl who fell in love with a lower caste boy amid harsh, and often, unsettling social rules. "While reading the papers, we were discussing the buzz that the film had generated. Even the consul general, Peter Huyghebaert, seemed piqued and wanted to watch the film. However, it seemed difficult because none of us knew the language," she says. Ahluwalia, who was born in Belgium to Indian parents, has been a Mumbai resident for six years. "None of the foreign delegates, including myself, had ever watched a Marathi film because we didn’t get a show with English subtitles," she says.
Almost three weeks later, Ahluwalia along with top consulate officials from a dozen countries like the US, Turkey, Belgium, South Africa, Argentina, Japan, Serbia and Brazil found themselves at Roxy Cinema for a special screening of the movie. The screening with English subtitles, was organised by Pritam Sharma, vice president of event management firm Sherman Communications Private Limited, which produces short films and documentaries. "I had met Pinkey at a consulate party, and during our interaction she mentioned how eager they were to watch the film," says Sharma.
(From left) Belgium vice consul Pinkey Ahluwalia, Roxy theatre owner Feroz Lakdawala, Turkish consul general Erdal Sabri Ergen, and (in blue dress) South African consul general Lerato Mashile
Theatre owners and business barons, Feroze and his father Yusuf Lakdawala also happened to be a part of the conversation. "They were generous enough to offer their venue for a special screening, and did not charge a rupee," he says. The impact of the Sairat screening, Sharma says, was greater than he fathomed. "In the last shot, which is one of the most disturbing scenes in the film, I heard a collective screech from the audience. They were so immersed in the film, that it took them some time to get their bearings," recalls Sharma. The turnout of 50, too, he says, exceeded his expectations. Interestingly, the event was organised within a week’s time through emails sent out to all embassies in the city.
An appetite for Marathi cinema
The success of the event has prompted Sharma to organise Marathi film screenings for the diplomats and the expat community in Mumbai. Next week, the 46-year-old will screen Karaar (May, 2017), starring Subhodh Bhave, Urmila Kanitkar, Kranti Redkar and Suhasini Mule. "I realised that foreign dignitaries are eager to soak in local culture, and Marathi evoked quite a bit of interest," says Sharma, who also straddles a public relations job for the Mangeshkar family, Anup Jalota and Grammy award-winner Ricky Kej. "They are looking for 'real' stories that deviate from mainstream Bollywood narratives," he says. While Sairat was about honour killings, Karaar looks at surrogacy. It’s the story of an insurance agent-turned-businessman, Sunil Mokashi (Bhave) and his wife Jayashree (Kanitkar), who are happily married. However, a complication in Jayashree's pregnancy jeopardises their plans to become parents. The housemaid Radha (Redkar) agrees to carry the child to term as surrogate mother.
Pritam Sharma, Organiser
Erdal Sabri Ergen, the consul general of Turkey, who has been in Mumbai for two and a half years, admits he didn’t know what to expect at the Sairat screening. "By the end, though, we were left mesmerised," he says. Ergen found himself drawing parallels between Turkish and Marathi cinema. "Some locals apologised for the sad ending. I do not understand why, since Turkish movies also frequently have sad endings and I therefore, enjoyed the movie which had a good cast, good storyline and beautiful scenery," he says.
Very often, it’s the sharp contrasts that regional films present to their country of origin that give Indian movies an edge.
"Back in Argentina, we have had a long standing tradition of movies. We even have great directors whose films have won us two Oscars in the past: The Official History and The Secret of Her Eyes, coincidently both speak about situations related with the terrible years of dictatorship. Apart from that, we even have very good comedy directors," says Andrea Alba Gonzalez, deputy consul of Argentina, who moved to Mumbai in April 2016. What intrigues her is the culture and idiosyncrasies of different regions in the same country, especially when expressing family bonds. "It is shocking how consanguine relationships lose their due importance before those of the society," she adds.
Andrea Alba Gonzalez
While many diplomats have an interest in cinema and culture, the absence of English subtitles proves to be a hindrance. "I have only seen three Hindi films with English subtitles, that too because Aamir Khan organised it for all diplomats," says Ahluwalia, who will be moving to Shanghai this month. While she has made it a point to lap up regional movies of the country she lives in, she has a special place for Punjabi films. "I remember how back in Belgium, we used to order Punjabi films from the UK because they were never available there," she recalls.
Ergen, at whose insistence, Karaar been be screened at Famous Studio on July 12, hopes to watch a Turkish story in a Marathi movie. "We have many Turkish language books already translated into Marathi. In fact, Turkey is second largest exporter of TV dramas in the world. Television dramas go hand in hand with movies," he says.
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