It all began with Shailesh Narwade thinking how Ambedkar would want his 125th anniversary to be celebrated. It was the year 2015 and even the right-wing groups had jumped on the Ambedkar bandwagon, playing up their own distorted versions of Babasaheb and his legacy. The Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra had set aside a fund for the celebrations. Narwade, who had worked in the mainstream media, and pursued theatre and made short films alongside since his college days, applied for a grant for a Marathi feature film on a young man discovering Ambedkar’s true thinking. But the grant did not come through, so he opted for crowdfunding. There was a lukewarm response to the online appeal for funds and soon Narwade, 43, realized it was too late for the film to be completed and released by 14 April 2016, the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar.
This could have been a story that ended in disappointment, of dreams unfulfilled. Instead, a more holistic idea began to take shape as Narwade talked to potential stakeholders. They suggested that the scope of the film be broadened to include the contribution of Jotirao and Savitribai Phule and Shahuji Maharaj to the Bahujan ideology and even to Ambedkar’s thinking and the Ambedkarite movement. Narwade rewrote the script for the two-hour film.
Narwade says, “If I had made the film just on Ambedkar, it may have been perceived as a film for a particular caste. But Phule and Shahuji Maharaj would give it a wider appeal. All three of them fought against the caste system and they have had a nationwide influence. Besides, Ambedkar used to consider Phule his guru and Shahuji Maharaj helped Ambedkar start his first newspaper.” So, this will be a film on their shared legacy.
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Some of Narwade’s Dalitbahujan friends from Nagpur and Mumbai made the initial investments in the film. These investments covered the cost of shooting the film, which was completed in February 2020, and the editing, but there were still unpaid dues. That’s when they again resorted to crowdfunding online. Narwade and his team plan to release the film in April 2021, the month we celebrate the birth anniversaries of Phule and Ambedkar. But for that to happen, they need to complete post-production by October this year.
Narwade says, “From the beginning our desire was that only Dalitbahujans invest in the film. But now that we have resorted to crowdfunding to cover the remaining expenses, we have no control over who contributes.” Contributions worth Rs 9.5 lakh have been received so far while the post-production can cost up to Rs 50 lakh. Narwade plans to screen the movie in 200 theatres across Maharashtra, and even abroad.
Narwade, whose most recent work is the Marathi feature film Roommates, says he has tried to use the best talent in the industry and top-of-the-line equipment because he wants to prove wrong those people who think Dalitbahujans can’t make good films. “Ninety per cent of those who have worked in the film onscreen and offscreen are Bahujans”, he says.
For details on the making of the film and to make your contribution, click on this link: https://gocrowdera.com/jayantiafilm/
(Copy-editing: Amrish Herdenia)
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