Gujarat Literature Festival 2018, GLF

Themed around the all too important questions surrounding the freedom of expression as artists and the portrayal of women in the Indian cinema the second day of the Gujarat Literature Festival saw one of the most riveting panel discussions, so enriching were they, that even after the stipulated time, the audience refused to move.

R Prasanna of Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Advait Chandran of Secret Superstar, Tanuja Chandra who has written screenplays for a myriad of movies like Dil toh Pagal hai to Zindaggi Rocks to Sangharsh, came together in a dynamic discussion about the way the Indian cinema refuses to budge from the Oh-so-tantalizing image it has of women. Interestingly, all three of them employ more women than ever in their crew they say; working in times like these where the path for women-centric movies has already been paved by the generation that has come before them. But the India movie industry, Tanuja said is more regressive than the Indian society we live in. And that is saying something. Even though these are writers who have refused to bow down to the stereotypes with their women characters, the acute concern they had for women in the industry made all of us question the need for an uprising like the Harvey Weinstein movement in Indian industry as well.

Heading along the afternoon was the very powerful “Literature of Resistance”, with Kajal Oza Vaidya and Aditi Desai who were very unabashed and refreshingly frank in their take on the need for Literature to take up resistance as a cause. Hailing from a family that has been breaking glass ceilings since the past 115 years, Kajal Oza Vaidya firmly believes that it does not do well to dwell on the pain that comes with resistance but gaining more people to support and love is what gives you inspiration to write about stories that matter. A crowd pleaser, this session saw the entire audience laugh and cry and clap all the way! Come end, the laughter still hadn’t stopped!


But it was Anjum Rajabali and Ketan Mehta who delivered a discussion none of us were ready to walk away from! With Saiwyn Quadras who wrote Neerja and Mary Kom, Sanjay Chouhan from Pan Singh Tomar and Ketan Mehta, who has worked on numerous biopics like Maanjhi- the mountain man, Mangal Pandey and RangRasiya – the group was talking about how Biopics are the most endangered genres in the Indian Cinema.

An honest to god heart to heart with no qualms, the men talked about what draws them to a story to actually make a biopic out of it, the importance of an emotional investment on the part of the writer and then the audience. With critically and commercially acclaimed movies under their belts their take on how to distil the facts about a certain story and grasp the essence of the man, which then ends up telling a story which is easy to be invested in lead to a series of questions about each and every movie they made.

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Ketan Mehta, someone who choose to produce his own movies told how RangRasiya, even though highly controversial, became his way of questioning the purpose of art and storytelling. Highly disturbed with acclaimed painter MF Hussain being persecuted and banished from the country for his art, Mehta discovered that Raja Ravi Varma had gone through the exact same thing 100 year ago with his distinct style of painting his multiple muses. Parallels between both the stories and the times in which he is living in, made him question if he was happy just stating facts and wanted to ask some questions that needed to be put out.

The story of a sportsman who took up arms to protect his family and eventually turned to the Chambal Valley, Pan Singh Tomar is a biopic that has stayed with us, even today. When it came to extracting the essence of a man from the facts, Sanjay Chouhan spent more than a year trying to dig up information about Pan Singh Tomar, who wasn’t listed in the Sports registry or the Army. Chambal was the only place where people still remembered him as a “bhala insaan” (generous man)

Interestingly none of the writers thought making a biopic is about stating facts. Be it a story as recent as Neerja or Mary Kom or as old as Mangal Pandey and Bhagat Singh, each person who tells these stories holds on to a hook that drives them. That keeps them invested in telling this story. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the complete facts.


In an ongoing discussion about the Padmavati debacle and self-censoring that has become now a part of the industry, the utter frustration as an artist was very evident. But what remains a comfort is the fact that inspite of all this, there are still people willing to invest in stories of men and women choosing to stay and fight for the greater good. And that one way or the other, poetic justice prevails. Or we hope for it to.

Yatra Archives Literature and Candy Floss : Gujarat Literature Festival as experienced by teen author Vishwesh Desai

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