Kaasav (Turtle), the Marathi film that is making news at every other festival across the country and beyond, has just bagged the top award for the Best Indian Film at the National Film Awards.

The citation states that this is “In appreciation of the perfect blending of an environmental behaviour and a personal one in a poignantly beautiful cinematic way.” It is directed jointly by Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhtankar who have created their own distinctive genre of films which, though in Marathi, touch upon universal themes, made on small budgets and have touched the hearts of those who have seen their films. Sumitrta Bhave is recipient of Chitra Ratna Puraskar and Kamdhenu Award for her contributions to literature.

SHOMA CHATTERJI caught up with SUMITRA BHAVE, the older of the two, whose films she has been watching since her first docu-feature in 1985.

What is Kaasav all about?

To cut a long story short, the film deals mainly with a young man’s depression and how Janaki, a mature young woman, who has gone through similar depression herself, not only supports this youngster but also helps him come out of it and accept him as what he already is. Like a turtle, Maanav, the young man, comes out of his shell.

So the title is a metaphor for the boy, Maanav?

Maanav is a microcosm of a large section of the youth of today and yes, the title is a metaphor. A mother sea-turtle has to return to the waters leaving the eggs for nesting on the shore….The nests are to be protected so that the newborn turtles can go into the deep waters on their own! The non-violent, non-aggressive turtle is a metaphor and much more…..

Your films always revolve around a social agenda and a message emerges from the film itself. Does this extend to Kaasav too?

We are not very conscious about any message but the subjects that interest us and attract us happen to emerge with a social message and so far, this has worked to the betterment of the film when it is ready for screening. I was an active social scientist. So social issues come naturally to me while Sunil is a FTII graduate and he is more rooted in the technicalities of filmmaking. We agree on a topic and work on the script. It has worked slowly but it has worked well. Yes, in Kaasav too, we are talking about the youth of today who are lost in the mire of trying to build relationships but cannot.

Let us hear of the very first documentary Bai.

I made a docu-feature called Bai, dramatising the life-story of a poor working woman living in a Pune slum, burdened with frequent childbirth and oppressed by an alcoholic and violent husband. The film was screened as part of the Focus on Women Directors at Filmotsav '86 in Hyderabad, going on to win the National Award for the Best Social film of the year. I then made Paani, moving from the individual to the collective, this time capturing real footage of the painstaking efforts of a group of women in a drought-prone area who succeed in bringing water to the village. Mukti was on drug addiction among Pune youths followed by Samvad. And the journey goes on….

What was the trigger that set off Kaasav?

Depression among the young has been a raging problem today. So many young girls and boys, like my protagonist Manav, are attempting or committing suicide. Why? Are the parents not aware of what their growing children are going through? Manav is both depressive and regressive. He lives in a world of insecurity where he feels that he does not belong to anyone and no one belongs to him. He runs away from the hospital where he was admitted for a suicide attempt. He meets Jananki who slowly creates a parallel support system around him which is non-judemental and non-intrusive at the same time.

Why do you, as a qualified and experienced social scientist feel that more and more young people are getting increasingly depressed by the day?

Today’s youngsters are confused about values and cannot differentiate between right and wrong. They lived in a world that gave them space earlier on so they did not feel alienated or lonely. Today, they need to redefine the very concept of ‘family’ In Kaasav we have tried to show how a ‘family’ grows when the ‘members’ care for each other without any expectation. The unquestioned love that grows or sustains between and among family members forms the essence of the term ‘family.’

You do not work with stars. Is it because of budget constraints?

(Laughs) We neither have the ability to pay them high fees nor the space for prolonged dates they need. We shoot on very tight budgets and schedules. Kaasav was shot in a single 18-day schedule at Deogarh in Konkan district. But let me tell that many non-actors and small-time actors have become famous after they worked in our films. Then, we have had big actors actually wanting to work with us in our films. Vikram Gokhale agreed to work in just through one phone call in Ha Bharat Maza. Dr. Mohan Agashe has produced Kaasav and also worked in the film besides acting as an Alzhemier’s patient in Astu who walks away from his family following an elephant. One of Atul Kulkarni’s best roles has been in Devrai in which he played a schizophrenic. Even the late Vijay Tendulkar worked in Nital, about how society makes life miserable for people (especially women) diagnosed with Vitiligo, a disease that creates white patches on the skin. The famous playwright Mahesh Elkunchwar played the main lead in Vaastupurush.

How do you divide the creative responsibilities between you and Sunil since you have been working for 14 feature films now and most of them have won awards?

We have developed a strategy that makes our work smooth and automatic after so many years. I do the script, story and screenplay and dictate these to Sunil who writes it out. I do the casting and the art and costume while Sunil is in charge of the technical crew, the actors and the liaison. Sunil also looks after post-production, music and lyrics. In fact, he has composed the background score for Kaasav and written some lyrics. We do not use any make-up for any of our actors in any film and they happily toe the line.


Yes. Though our films have won 6 International Awards, 12 National Awards, several National level awards, more than 45 State awards and several State level awards, most Indians have not seen any of our films. Even when our films are released well, they mostly flounder at the box office. Our films never get the right kind of promotion and we get a very bad deal in distribution as well.