My son Atharva is 13. Last year, he asked me why his female cousins and the girls from our neighbourhood didn’t play with him any more. I was stumped. Here I was, this evolved parent who thought talking about the birds and bees was the most natural thing. And yet, strangely, I got queasy about his question,” says filmmaker Ravi Jadhav, who’s made acclaimed films like Natrang and Bal Gandharva. It was Atharva’s innocuous question that led him to make Balak Palak, a film on the need for sex education and the opening up of dialogue between parents and children.
Jadhav, who grew up in a middle class milieu, says he was about his son’s age when he first got curious. “The city was plastered with posters of a wet Mandakini in Ram Teri Ganga Maili. Sagar was released soon after and I remember being gripped by the song ‘Jaane do na’. Then came Tarzan starring Hemant Birje and Kimi Katkar, and though he was a children’s character, our parents astutely kept us away from the movie. I had questions about the way I felt, but all I could do was ask a senior about it. He encouraged us to read street-side porn, and catch BPs or ‘blue prints’ (which we called Bhakta Prahlad).”
When his son asked him why the girls didn’t play with him anymore, Jadhav realised how little had changed since he was an adolescent. “Soon after, I chanced upon a Time magazine article on the rising problem of teenage pregnancy in the West,” he says. He was en route to Pune with writers Ganesh Pandit and Amber Vinod Hadap when they told him about their 20-minute one-act play on sex education, called ‘BP’. “I told them I wanted to make a film on the subject, and after some convincing, they agreed.”
Jadhav has handled large canvases in both his earlier films. Yet, he feels Balak Palak was tougher. “I didn’t want to hold back on what I wanted to say, yet I felt that both children and parents should be able to watch the film together comfortably. I’ve always used humour in my ad films, but for this, if I wasn’t careful, there was the danger that it could become vulgar or ribald. Right from the writing stage to the shoot and edit, this is what made the process longer than usual and I spent one year on the film.”
The film was screened at the Marathi International Film & Theatre Awards in Singapore last week. Film critic Amit Bhandari says he was amazed at the 1,400-plus audience’s response. “With Natrang, Jadhav re-visited the long forgotten tamasha movie genre; with Bal Gandharva, he took on a larger-than-life personality and humanised him; and now, with BP, he has again pushed the envelope,” says Bhandari.
Before its release in theatres, Balak Palak will travel to New York for the South Asian Film Festival and then be screened at MAMI festival in Mumbai on October 20.