Ahead of time: Ajit Nag’s directorial debut Rihla was a true story on a special needs child
The smell of fresh paint greets you at the Chitralekha Studios at Srinagar Colony and so does the deep voice of Ajit Nag saying “Sorry for the mess”. But the state of the studio is a reflection of a new beginning for the studio and its director. A new plan of action has been charted and Ajit and his colleagues can’t wait to get started on projects. At events, while father Narsing Rao stands tall as an authority on everything related to Telangana, Ajit is the kind of person you would find immersed in his own work.
“When I heard about the art camp I got really excited. Initially, all I knew was that I wanted to do a film, I did not know what exactly though. I just wanted to be there with my camera. I did not want to intervene and speak to any of the artists. So we just focussed on capturing footage of an artist’s process of creation.”A screening of Glimpses of Art@Telangana, the curtain raiser of a full-length film that Ajit is working on was held at Salar Jung Museum last week. Ajit, who also helped design a coffee table book on art, says, “The film will have most of the artists covered on celluloid in this first of its kind initiative.”
As an “outsider” to the art world, Ajit is busy building contacts and comfort zones starting from the artists he likes. However, around 2008, Ajit had already worked on a film on veteran artist Vaikuntam. “I have not studied art or even filmmaking for that matter. I just went to Mumbai and started working in the industry with whatever I had. I have just done a film appreciation course from Pune,” says Ajit, who returned to the city in 1999 and set up Chitralekha Studios.
In the city, one can only imagine the pressure of being the son of the revered Narsing Rao. “Consciously it never occurred to me to take his cause further. What was important to me was the process of developing my own style,” he explains.He adds, “During my childhood, I saw that dad never brought much money home. So when I wanted to do films, I wanted to balance commercial as well as the artistic pursuits.”
Ajit survives on ad films and other projects that get him enough money to sustain himself, the studio and also his own calling as a film-maker. In 2007, he made his directorial debut with Rihla a real life story revolving around a special needs kid. “I worked with Geeta Karan of Gitanjali High School, which is an inclusive school that has regular kids and children with special needs studying on the same premises. The story was based on an incident that happened to a special needs child in the school, who was molested by an autorickshaw driver. We built a story around it.”
The cast had Vinay Apte, and to play the role of a single mother, Sonali Kulkarni. While the film earned critical appreciation that took it to film festivals like the Cairo Film Festival and even the National Children’s Film Festival in the city, Ajit rues, “Commercial success means reaching out to more people. As an artist you always crave for that.”
It was only after a year of Rihla, did Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par release with a similar theme. “But when I approached people with the film, there were a lot of problems. And when Taare Zameen Par released, some people told me how much the film reminded them of Rihla,” he shares.
All these are lessons for Ajit, who now has several plans for his studio: “I want to expand Chitralekha into something beyond film-making. The studio will soon become a platform for all forms of communication. I am also planning to work with the Telangana government to bridge a very crucial gap between the leaders and the people.”