I’m a first rate writer and a second rate director: Sai Paranjpye

Despite constantly stressing that she is a writer first and then a director, Sai Paranjpye, known for films like ‘Sparsh, ‘Katha, ‘Chasme Buddoor’ and ‘Disha’ says that ideas and stories come naturally to her, which she then moulds according to the medium she wants them for — films, tele-films, theatre etc. “I have never been known as a writer and scriptwriter, which does bother me. That is why I never lose an opportunity to assert the writer’s part. Maybe the word director has a more glamorous quotient to it — the reason people mostly prefer to associate me with that vocation. But believe me, I am a first rate writer and a second rate director.”

Paranjpye, recipient of the Padma Bhushan honour, whose book ‘A Patchwork Quilt’ (HarperCollins India) recently hit the stand chronicles her creative journey, experiences with fellow artists and working relationships. “A time comes when you find yourself in the departure lounge, waiting for your flight to be called. I have done a lot of creative work– theatre, television, cinema and documentary and always felt a need to put down my experiences. As a writer, a deadline always works — and in this case there was none. Then, a few years back, the newspaper Loksatta commissioned me to write a weekly column on my experiences. It was a pleasant surprise as that was something I had been wanting to do. Suddenly, offers from Marathi publishers started pouring in, and I selected Raj Hans of Pune to publish the Marathi book which came out around five years back.”

She adds, “Considering I am bi-lingual, I translated it into English, which is not a word by word copy of the Marathi version but has a lot of extra material. ‘Patchwork Quilt’ is an account of my creative journey, not personal. It has been a lovely experience as it allowed me to relive those times. My mother used to be annoyed that I flitted from one medium to another and would always ask me to focus on one. I remember her getting bugged and saying — “Not one thing whole, but a pile of rags, you don’t do anything completely’. I have lovingly gathered all the rags together and stitched them to form a warm quilt.”

Boasting of making films as diverse as ‘Sparsh’ and ‘Chasme Buddoor’, the three-time National Award winning writer-director says that there was no apprehension in entering the comedy space after ‘Sparsh’. ” I was working with Doordarshan and had mounted quite a few teleplays which were very popular. Sparsh was originally a tele play called ‘Raina Beet Jaye’. Another one, an out and out comedy was called ‘Dhuan Dhuan’. I narrated the story to producer Gul Anand in Tashkent who asked me to make a few changes and write the script for a film.”

Though she got several film offers post that, Paranjpye feels that people in the Hindi film industry could not really figure her out. ” They expected me to work for peanuts. There were times when we were just not on the same wavelength. With actor Dharmendra, I made three reels of a film titled ‘Bichhu’. But after sometime we both realised it wasn’t working and parted without bitterness.”

Talking about ‘Disha’ and ‘Papeeha’, which she produced herself, Paranjpye says that the subjects she chose were not mainstream enough for other producers to touch. “Nobody wanted to make a film on labourers and farm workers. By the way, ‘Disha’ got two awards at the Cannes.”

Stressing that it is impossible to pinpoint which medium gives her the most satisfaction, the writer-director feels that the influx of directors from small-town India in the past 15 years has brought a breath of fresh air. “They are doing such excellent work. One is getting to see a different slice of life from the done to death family feuds and tensions between generations that most films dealt with.”

Adding that she has some stories for cinema ready including one revolving around a Catholic family in Goa where everybody gets together to celebrate the 90th birthday of a member, Paranjpye says, “Another is a film about Ayurveda, a love story which blossoms in a forest, in an aashram which makes natural medication. It’s almost like a fairy tale.”