Ode to A Father

Paresh Mokashi
Marathi filmmaker Paresh Mokashi on his film Harishchandrachi Factory, selected as India's entry for the Oscars

Until a few months ago nobody would have spoken of debutant director Paresh Mokashi alongside seasoned filmmakers like Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Aamir Khan or even Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra. But this veteran Marathi playwright's movie Harishchandrachi Factory in Marathi has been selected as India's official entry to the Oscars, catapulting him to an elite league of Indian filmmakers whose movies have been sent to the Oscars.

"I had never imagined my film would get even an award, let alone be selected as India's entry," he says quietly, wearing a striped pullover to ward off Delhi's winter morning chill. Mokashi's film had two packed screenings at the 11th Osian's Cinefan Film Festival on Thursday and has already received four state honours this year. This will be the second Marathi film after Shwaas in 2004, to be sent for the Academy Awards.

Harishchandrachi Factory is a film within a film as it documents the journey of Dada Saheb Phalke and his efforts in making India's first silent film, Raja Harishchandra in 1913, largely credited as the first great movie of Indian cinema. "I wonder why nobody has thought of making a film on him before. We only know of Dada Saheb Phalke by name, but most of us don't understand the extent of his contribution," states Mokashi.

Born and brought up in Pune, Mokashi has been associated with Marathi theatre since the early 1990s and began his career in Theatre Academy, Pune, acting in children's plays. In 1999 he ventured into writing and directing plays receiving acclaim for three of his Marathi plays, Sangeet Debuchya Muli, Mukam Post Bombilwadi and his latest in 2005, a whodunit called Samudra (The Ocean). It was only while browsing through a biography of Dada Saheb Phalke by Bapu Atwe in 2005, he thought it would make a great film. He then started researching the National Film Archives, National Film Institute, and reading other biographies about Dada Saheb. "I knew that I wanted to make a biopic but its treatment would be different. Rather than focus on events from the beginning of his life, I picked out the most significant period, the making of his first film," says Mokashi, choosing to leave out significant portions about the pioneering filmmaker's life as a magician, craftsman and even his stint with a printing business.

The 120-minute biopic uses an unusual cinematographic approach by using "still frames", where the camera does not zoom in and out of a scene, avoiding black and white shots, and flashback. With little technical prowess of his own, Mokashi relied on foreign films for help.

The director had to mortgage his own house to finance the cost of the film that ran into crores of rupees. "Now I have recovered the cost of my house," he smiles, waiting for an American visa as he leaves for the film's promotional tour under the guidance of UTV Productions in New York, next month. "I am new to this. UTV has come on board to help me with promotion," he smiles. The film will tentatively release in theatres by January.

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