After making waves in Maharashtra, the biopic of Dr. Prakash Amte will soon be seen in Hindi. Anuj Kumar catches up with the film’s director Samrudhi Poray and Nana Patekar, who plays the title role.
At a time when materialism and individualism are eating into the innards of the moral fabric of the society, Dr. Prakash Amte and his wife Dr. Mandakini Amte provide hope. Son of Baba Amte, Prakash and his family have been quietly working for the uplift of the tribal people in the jungles of Hemalkasa in Eastern Maharashtra.
The Magsaysay Award winner recently made headlines when a biopic on him became a super hit in the State. Directed by National Award winner Samrudhi Poray, the Marathi film has Nana Patekar and Sonali Kulkarni playing Prakash and Mandakini respectively and Mohan Agashe is Baba Amte. Soon the Hindi cut of the film will make it to the theatres. One caught up with “Dr.Prakash Amte: The Real Hero” at IFFI-14 and despite its technical limitations found the story of the film stimulating.
Here is a man selflessly working away from the media glare to bring the marginalised into the mainstream. Situated on the border of Maharashtra Hemalkasa, for many of us, is known for the activity of Naxals and wild animals. It is a zone where development schemes haven’t reached yet, an area which is nothing but an exotic spot for the adventure junkies. Prakash was also introduced to Hemalkasa on a picnic arranged by his father, ostensibly to pick his son’s mind. The young doctor was so moved by the plight of the tribals and the state of wild animals there that he adopted both and refused to return for his post graduation abroad.
For Patekar, who has been associated with Amte’s family for four decades, it was an honour to play one of his icons on screen. “The subject was difficult to pick for a film because there was no guarantee of return. I am glad that Samrudhi made the film. She came to me for the role of Baba Amte. But I said I am already researching on Baba as I want to make a film on him. I met Baba Amte 42 years ago and since then I have been constantly in touch with the family. I know Prakash since he went to Hemalkasa. The place is known for cerebral malaria. If you get afflicted with it, even if you are cured, you have to take medicine for the rest of your life. So when Prakash decided to live in Hemalkasa, Baba asked him to leave his kids with him. But Prakash refused saying that there are 360 tribal kids and Baba has to take all of them.”
Patekar says the couple makes us realise what a limited life we are leading. “It is all about myself, my wife and my kids. We see only that portion of the sky that we can observe from our window. In the metros, even that much sky is blocked by skyscrapers. Birds and their chirping and the trees are fast becoming a thing of the past. We go to places like Hemalkasa for our honeymoons. I often joke with Prakash, that you haven’t returned from your honeymoon. His brother Vikas is also into social work. I can understand when the sons do it but I am amazed that their wives are equally dedicated. And not only them, their kids and wives have also dedicated their lives to the service of the poor. Who injected social service in them? Sometimes, I feel, that sacrifice is also hereditary. Here if we donate 10 rupees we ask to put a nameplate of our parents.”
On the transformation that he had to go through, Patekar says Prakash is genial and mild mannered. “He doesn’t know anger. You can imagine how as a doctor he must have felt when he started operating in a torch light. On one hand he had to grapple with Naxalite leadership and on the other corrupt bureaucracy. He doesn’t allow frustration to set in even when he is dealing with wild animals. I have seen him taming a leopard by just looking into its eyes. The realisation that we are very small in front of the nature is in itself a big thing. I am very impulsive so it took me time to get his body language”
Some cynics find Prakash soft on Naxalites but Patekar feels that it has to be seen in the socio-political context. “One should also ask, what led the people who don’t have clothes to cover their body, stand against the State. Is it years of ignorance?”
Samrudhi says, “We have screened the film in different jails across the State where naxalites are lodged and have got a tremendous response from both the convicts and the officers. Many convicts felt that had they met a figure like Amte, they would not have crossed over to the other side. Sometimes, you are tarnished for life for a momentary lapse of judgment.”
Patekar says Sonali was not the first choice for the role of Mandakini. “I needed two months to get into shape for this role. The actress who was chosen had other commitments. Sonali had to join at a two-day notice. And I am glad that she did. She surpassed our expectations.”
Curious to know about the life of Prakash Amte, Sonali says the film opened a new world to her. “Samrudhi was not looking for facial similarity and it helped me.” Plus, this is her third film with Patekar and the two share a remarkable chemistry on screen. “I tell her husband asal mein teri, aur screen par meri,” jokes Patekar. On a serious note, he adds that he salutes her courage because she was nursing her baby at the time of the shoot. “She also came to know about cerebral malaria and when she askedPrakash said , ‘your baby is as much at risk as my grandchildren.’”
Over the years, awareness has increased about the work of the couple and Patekar says the film has added to it. “You don’t have to tell people anymore. They go and contribute on their own but now the danger is that it should not be turned into a picnic spot.”
The film has made profit but Patekar maintains that Marathi films still lack funding. “Unlike Hindi films, we can’t talk like one crore, two crore. We also stop at 1.50 crores. Jo amount unke mazaak mein kharch hote hain usme do Marathi film ban sakti hain. That’s why I don’t need to promote ‘Welcome Back’ but I will go all out to make this real hero reach out to as many people as possible.”
Samrudhi says it is an inspiring tale for the youngsters and they are looking for a window after the examinations for the release of the Hindi version. “The success of the Marathi version has given us the confidence to release it in a big way. The core is the same but the Hindi cut is different. It will be called ‘Himalkasa’. It is where it all started.”