In sharp focus

Mitali Parekh | Updated on August 01, 2014 Published on August 01, 2014

Real adventures: Ashish Gaikwad with students of Mumbai's Pali-Chimbai municipal corporation school, where he attended filmmaker Amol Gupte's weekend classes on cinema and theatre   -  PAUL NORONHA

A still from Gaikwad's short film Tahaan

From Mumbai, the true story of a young slum-dweller who made it to film school and is now touring film festivals with his maiden production

Ashish Gaikwad insists it’s not that he has opportunities others of his ilk don’t, it’s that he has the grit to mine the potential in them.

The 22-year-old Mumbai slum-dweller has just graduated from Whistling Woods film school with a degree in editing and is now promoting his short film Tahaan at film festivals.

Gaikwad’s father died when he was four, and as compensation, his mother was given a sweeper’s job with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. “We live in the Rahul Nagar slum area in Bandra, where an NGO called Aseema Foundation conducts tuition classes,” says the young filmmaker. “When I was seven, the teachers urged my mother to put me in school. I had to give an entrance exam for St Stanislaus High School, and we weren’t sure if they would take me into Class I because I had never been to school. But luckily, I aced it.”

The NGO also conducts tuitions at the Pali-Chimbai BMC school from 4pm to 6pm to help underprivileged children with their homework and keep them out of trouble. Filmmaker Amol Gupte works with the NGO and teaches at these classes. “But sir wanted to teach something more than the school subjects since we were already getting help with that,” says Gaikwad of his mentor. “He thought of teaching us cinema and drama.”

“I truly believe that cinema is a modern art form that can change the world,” says Gupte, who has made the critically acclaimed films Taare Zameen Par, Stanley Ka Dabba and, more recently, Hawa Hawaii. “I want these children to have a skill, so when they join the industry they can do so as scriptwriters, editors, camera people and actors, and not just as spotboys and light men.”

The Mumbai film industry is one of the largest employers in the city and an economic powerhouse. The Aseema cinema and theatre classes are held on weekends. The children are exposed to world cinema, and in class, they discuss what they liked or didn’t like about a film, the techniques used, motivations of characters; they then create their own scripts and play them out. When Gupte’s production house is not using its equipment, the students borrow it to make their films.

Going beyond skills, clearly the classes have also shaped Gaikwad’s thoughts. “I just trained to be an editor, but I want to be a filmmaker and make meaningful films like sir,” he says. “You should learn something from a film. How many people read a newspaper? But everyone watches cinema. When we show car chases, bike stunts and tapori (slang) language, you can see it in society around you. Don’t you see helmet-less bikers racing down the road every day? Do we need more of that?”

While studying at National College, Gaikwad assisted Gupte on Stanley Ka Dabba. He decided to gift the director with a short film for his birthday. Tahaan (thirst in Marathi) centres on the water situation in Mumbai’s slums. “For as long as I can remember, my mother had to buy water,” he says. “It’s never been a free commodity. I wrote the script and convinced my mother to act in the film. As I presented it to Gupte sir, I confessed to him that I had been bunking college on Saturdays to attend his classes at Aseema. He is very strict about not missing school. But he got so emotional after seeing the movie that I knew it was the right time to tell him — he wouldn’t reprimand me. In the end, he reasoned that I wouldn’t have made this film if I had not bunked, so it all worked out.”

Gupte circulated Tahaan among his peers, including director Subhash Ghai. At a function to commemorate 100 years of cinema, Gaikwad was called on stage and gifted a full scholarship to Ghai’s Whistling Woods. “I had no idea this was going to happen,” he says. “When Ghai sir called me on stage, he said, ‘We are not gifting you this scholarship, you have snatched it from our hands with your talent’.”

Like every other opportunity that came his way, Gaikwad made full use of his time at Whistling Woods before graduating in January 2014. And like his mentor, he tries to help others around him grow too. “I used to visit a friend’s village in the Konkan region [of Maharashtra] and wanted to make a film with the children there called Kshan (moment) about the bitter-sweetness of the last days of Class X,” he says. “Unfortunately, they weren’t very interested. They didn’t show up for the workshops and shoots. Now the actors have had growth spurts, so we can’t shoot them. But a friend tells me we can still make the movie if I act in it. With make-up, I could look like a 15-year-old.”

This is Ashish Gaikwad, after all. He’s not about to let this opportunity pass.

( Mitali Parekh is a Mumbai-based writer)

Published on August 01, 2014
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