Mumbai: This novelist's short film based on DDLJ is an inspiration for sex workers
Novelist Pankaj Dubey's debut short film turns the lens on Maratha Mandir, and the impact its longest-running film has had on sex workers
In 2015, novelist Pankaj Dubey received a call from a Sydney-based journalist seeking his comments on the sudden announcement of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge being pulled out from Maratha Mandir at the end of 1,009 unprecedented weeks. "For most people of Indian origin, Bollywood is a fascinating topic, no matter which part of the world they are in. While there was a massive outcry here, people there were curious to know more. It's a different matter that I had nothing to do with the film," he laughs.
Pankaj Dubey. Pic/Satej Shinde
The film was eventually reinstated, thanks to public demand. At the time, Dubey gave his opinion, but the subject's continued relevance piqued his interest. "DDLJ's fandom is well-known. But my interest lay in exploring the socio-cultural impact of the film." The result is a new short-film, titled Maratha Mandir Cinema, that marks the 39-year-old's foray into direction. Starring actor Sarika and lyricist Swanand Kirkire, the 14-minute short explores the effect of DDLJ on the life of sex workers in the neighbouring Kamathipura area.
A still from the film
"I read up material on the film on the Internet, but nothing interesting emerged. Having worked as journalist, I knew that the best stories usually emerge from the field," he says. He then decided to drop by at the cinema to dig deeper. While there, he chatted with the shop vendors, ticket seller, young couples in the audience. "I also noticed a couple of sex workers. I went up to them and casually struck up a conversation. That's how I learnt that they come to watch the film because that provides an escape from their sordid existence. We tend to reject popular cinema as mainstream, but little do we realise how it's changing the lives of people in that strata. I felt the story had to be told."
Dubey also met a girl named Simran whose mother, a sex worker, had joined the brothel around the time the movie released and would frequent the cinema to catch the shows. "Because Simran's mother was a die-hard fan of the film, she decided to name her daughter after the lead actress. My lead character is loosely based on her life, and how after the mother dies, young Simran is raised by a fellow prostitute. In the film, the foster mother's character is played by Sarika," he says.
Dubey admits shooting in the area was a challenge. "If you aren't talking business with them, they don't want to speak to you. In fact, some of them, when they realised we are shooting, started hurling slippers at us," he says. For now, the film has been nominated for the Best Short Film at the Filmfare Awards, and is the most watched film in that category with over a lakh views.