From American Indie to Marathi mainstream

Sunday, 30 March 2014 - 8:05am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

After producing many an indie film in the US, Shrihari Sathe is ready with his Indian mainstream directorial debut, Ek Hazarachi Note. There are plenty of ideas that he wants to translate into cinema, the festival favourite tells Yogesh Pawar

He speaks Marathi but can't help slipping into English and that too with a pronounced American accent. The cast of his soon-to-be-released Ek Hazarachi Note (EHN ) smile indulgently as their director Shrihari Sathe takes questions, his boyish charm only emphasising his earnestness.

"Yes, we want to send EHN to festivals but we hope the film works with the average cine-goer too. After all, we've taken great pains on the subject and its treatment, keeping that in mind," says Sathe. "In a way, we are testing whether an honest story strikes a chord with audiences anymore."

Then again, Sathe should know what he's talking about. After all, the 2009 graduate from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who majored in Film & Video Studies and Global Media & Culture, has received fellowships from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Producer's Guild of America, Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), Film Independent and the Sundance Institute in recognition of his talent.

While EHN is his Indian mainstream directorial debut, he has received the Entertainment Partners' Best Producer Award at the Columbia University Film Festival for his thesis short film Breaking the Chain, written and directed by Stuart Weinstock.

He has produced Eliza Hittman's It Felt Like Love (IFLL) which world premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival (US) and the International Film Festival Rotterdam (Netherlands) to great reviews. It's set for release at US cinemas next month.

"This was big and I felt a rush to see my work up there being acclaimed on that scale," he says. In the same year, the Sundance Institute Creative Producing Fellow was also selected for the 2013 edition of Trans Atlantic Partners, a multi-country production fellowship.

His 2012 production Pervertigo, another American indie feature, this one with writer Jaron Henrie-McCrea, also came in for a special mention at the Warsaw and Mumbai Film Festivals in the same year.

"In 2011, I was selected to attend the Film Independent Producer's Lab with a feature project titled Man With Van (MWV), co-written by James Windeler and Ed Blythe. That was all set to go into production but I wanted to come back and make a Marathi film first," he says. "I was clear about coming back and making a film on a local subject in a local language."

EHN is essentially about the simplicity of rural folk who enjoy whatever life offers. "The story revolves around an old lady (played by Usha Naik), the exceptional circumstance she finds herself in and how her native wisdom and simplistic approach helps her out," Sathe cryptically divulges.

"It's an honour to have Naik on board. I'm sure people will like to see her essaying this character," he says, admitting that he had seen her work in typical tamasha-based films on television as a kid. "When I was suggesting her name, I went to meet her and she agreed immediately. We actually read a bit from the script right there."

When asked if he's jumping onto the Marathi film industry's underdog bandwagon given its runaway success, first with Fandry and then Dhag, Sathe says, "I'm flattered you have placed my work on the same level as these powerful films. But I don't think people go out seeking to tell a story about a certain class. At least I don't. If the story grips me, I'll be happy to make a metropolitan film too."

The month-long schedule and the heat and dust of shooting in rural India had gotten to him, he admits. "If it weren't for my team who backed me totally, I don't know how I would've done this," he offers."But the saturation was too much for me. I took a break from the work and only revisited the footage after a month. Then for three months I just edited on my laptop."

Once EHN releases, the 2010 BAFTA nominee (for Off Season, a short film with writer/director Jonathan van Tulleken) will begin work on MWV with Ed Blythe as director. The screenplay for MWV incidentally was also a quarter-finalist in the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship, administered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "You know, there are so many ideas that one has and wants to translate into cinema," he says.

We can only wish the Mumbaicha mulga all the best!

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