Shwaas aims for an Oscar

Shwaas, which won the National Award for 2004, will be India’s official entry to the Oscars 
next year. Vimla Patil on the effort that went into making the film.

Arun Nalawade in Shwaas
Arun Nalawade in Shwaas

Ashwin Chitale with Amrita Subhash, who plays his mother
Ashwin Chitale with Amrita Subhash, who plays
his mother

Most films made in Bollywood these days are made by huge banners and are phenomenally expensive, mounted on huge canvases, with high priced stars playing lead roles. The technology is top class, the locations are glamorous and the cost sometimes goes above Rs 80 crores. Very few films manage to recover costs. Lagaan, made by Aamir Khan and directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar was arare success story. Made with an investment of crores, the film earned huge money and was India’s entry to the 2002 Oscars. Last year too, Devdas, a period film made by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, made with an investment of crores of rupees was India’s entry to the Oscars in 2003. Neither of these films won any award at the international awards ceremony, despite huge expenditures and representation.

2004, however, has turned out to be different. Shwaas, a small-budget Marathi film made by a eight men-some of them not even from the entertainment industry — has won the National Award for the best film (Golden Lotus). The film’s young protagonist, Ashwin Chitale, has won the National Best Child Artist award of the year. The film has won almost every award in India — ranging from the Star-Screen award and the Alpha Gaurav award, to the Maharashtra State award for the Best Film. The crowning glory has come now with the news that the film has been selected as India’s official entry to the Oscars for 2005.

"This film was the result of an amazing chain of events," says Vishwanath Nayak, one of the eight producers and a chartered accountant, "Arun Nalawade, a Marathi stage actor and his wife have been my clients for filing their income tax returns of several years. Last year, when they visited me, we began chatting and I mentioned to him that he would have to do something big to have a larger wealth, earned very little. I suggested that he make a film. Soon, he came to me with a story by Madhavi Gharpure, published in a Divali edition of a magazine and said that it would make a wonderful film.

"We then chose Sandeep Sawant to write the screenplay, dialogues and to direct the film. We saw the pilot of Ashwamedh, a television serial Sandeep had made. It had not been accepted but his work was outstanding. So we entrusted him the film. Once the plan of making the film fell in place, we needed to find the money. We brought together eight men Arun Nalawade, Sandeep Sawant, Vishwanath Nayak, Deepak S Chaudhari, Naresh Jain, Mohan Parab, Rajan Cheulkar and Devidas Bapat — who agreed to invest in the film. The total investment in the film was approximately Rs 50 lakhs and it was shot in 30 days in locations in Sindhudurg, Konkan, Pune and at the KEM Hospital in Mumbai. It took us one and half years to complete the post-production and release the film. But the film was an instant success and people of all linguistic groups flocked to see it after it won many awards. Now that it is India’s entry to the Oscars, we are in the process of collecting money to make a good presentation in the US. People from all classes are coming forward with contributions. We are approaching multinationals and corporate biggies to get sponsorships."

Critics say, Shwaas is truly an epoch-making film. Viewers say it restores their faith in the true values of human life courage, love, fortitude and self respect. It is the story of a rural family comprising a wise, loving grandfather, his farmer son, the daughter-in-law and a much-loved grandson. Much to the grief of the family, the little boy Parashuram, begins to lose his eyesight and the grandfather brings him to Mumbai for a check up. It is discovered that the boy has ratino-blastoma or eye cancer. An eminent doctor says that both eyes would have to be removed completely to save the child’s life. The emotional struggle, which the devoted grandfather goes through till he and the child accept this tragic fate, is the theme of the film. The last day — before the operation — which the grandfather and his grandson spend seeing the wonders of nature and experiencing the simple joys of life is captured exceptionally well by the camera and makes for an unforgettable emotional experience. Arun Nalawade, the grandfather and Ashwin Chitale, the grandson have both given exceptional performances.

Produced by Kathi Arts, Shwaas is drawing huge crowds at all theatres in Maharashtra. It is probably the first time that the general public is helping to raise funds to help a film to reach the Oscars. If it wins the Oscar, it will be a stupendous victory not only for India but also for the film’s rather overwhelmed team of producers, technicians and actors and the people of Maharashtra.