Dogri has made a return to the movies after 44 years, no less. Led by a son of the soil and his friends from Bollyland, a motley group of artistes from Jammu has put together a family tearjerker that would bring a smile to the face of those who waited for this, Dogri’s bold step back into pop culture.
It took some coming. So long that Amit Choudhary, the hero-producer of Maa Ni Mildi, wasn’t even born when the last, and the first, Dogri film released – Gallan Hoyian Beetiyan in 1966. The 44-year gap is ineffably wide; seems all the more so when one sees a hilarious, impromptu dance performance by a fan as Pinki (Rittu Mehra) starts singing around trees, wooing Amit (Choudhary). Somebody did want to watch this movie all these decades.
Choudhary, who has also written the script, screenplay and dialogues for Maa, puts this gap down to “lack of guts”. Quite the answer you expect from a man who played Surpnakha in a Ramlila at his village Vijaypur in Jammu, landed in Nineties’ Bombay with only the burning desire to be like Mithunda, meandered his 6-foot frame way through TV and Bhojpuri cinema, and returned when he had the 30 lakhs to make Maa, which released August 13 at Apsara Theatre, Jammu.
Sahitya Akademi-feted Dogri poet Yash Sharma supplements Amit’s theory, “The new generation prefers Hindi and English. It seemed insane to make a movie in Dogri. So to take another shot, it required a revolutionary spirit.”
Sharma would know. Sole surviving member of the 1966 film crew, he wrote the songs for Gallan -- a tale about feudalism, scarcity of resources, and the triumph of hope: Sixties’ staple. It attracted hundreds before a faux pas (see box) ended its run abruptly at Shankar Talkies, now an ice factory.
Maa is describable in a paragraph: Pinki falls in love with Amit and marries him, willing to shun comfort for love and near penury; but realises it’s easier said than done. So she forces Amit to leave his mother(Usha Slathia) and turn a ghar jawai. But Amit has a plan. He makes Pinki realise she was wrong in parting the beta and maa when he refuses to let Pinki meet their newborn. Pinki cries, is forgiven, and they rush back to maa. Butmaa is dead by then. Everyone cries. Credits roll.
Yes, there are curtailed sub-plots, including one with part-time actor Subash Jamwal, an education department employee, as Amit’s brother who starts out bad and turns good by the end. The sad ending, perhaps, is the only remarkable thing in the movie.
But how does that matter when audiences are dancing. It was never meant to be refined; it’s a popular product of passion.
To supplement the passion, Choudhary had an army of Jammu’s thespians and Doordarshan mini-stars willing to work for free, newbies who lined up for auditions in a village 20 km from Jammu, and assistants who shunned assignments for that first shot as heads of music and lyrics (Devinder Rathoure), choreography (Kedar Subba) and editing (Rocki M.). Singers Vinod Rathore and Sadhana Sargam are the only ones who cost some serious buck.
Leader of the pack is director Roop Sagar. A Bilawal native, he assisted master filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee and directed those insistent teleshopping shows through the Noughties.
“I came to Mumbai 35 years ago and never imagined of making a movie in my native tongue. After old friend Amit (Choudhary) started discussing the possibility, I found it was a desire I’d hidden from myself,” Roop says over phone from Mumbai. “Suddenly, after the auditions, I found myself in the middle of talent I’d never expected to find.”
The shooting, mostly around Samba, ended in around a month in Jan-Feb last year, but the movie took another year and a half to reach Apsara. No money and no government help meant Choudhary sold land and his car. “I had no reason not to have put my money where my heart wanted me to. Regional cinema is thriving everywhere,” he says matter-of-factly.
“This movie has sought to bring Dogri back into pop art,” says Lalit Magotra, president of Dogri Sanstha, a body publishing poetry and prose, holding seminars since 1944. “Literature will always have connoisseurs, but language cannot stay indoors.”
Mohan Singh, a DD-Jammu veteran who plays Pinki’s father, adds, “After DD launched Kashir and later a dedicated Jammu channel, stage talent moved to telefilms made on contract for the government. But no one put money into regional cinema due to the risks involved.” Mohan now has plans to partner with four others to make a movie in Dogri.
A little bird also tells how a veteran litterateur-filmmaker asked the state to partly fund a Dogri movie three years ago, but was told “if we give money for a Dogri movie, people would line up for Kashmiri movies as well”. (There hasn’t been a Kashmiri feature film in decades.) No one, not even unnamed little birds, say anything further on this.
Choudhary, meanwhile, is in his own space, desperate to preserve his passion “in the face of all-pervasive negativity of a politically correct, unromantic world”.
“I would welcome government help, but that’s not what filmmaking requires. I hope people put in money and inspire each other. Just the way any thriving industry works,” he says. To that obvious question on whether he’ll make a movie on the ‘Kashmir situation’, he replies with a vigorous left-to-right-and-back motion of the head.
For now, he has plans of releasing Maa in the rest of ‘Duggar Pradesh’ and selling its TV-rights.
Then, if need be he’d sell some more land, gather another motley group, and work on the two scripts he has ready, both of which, he says, have social messages. That’s one thing Choudhary knows how to do: send a message that transcends the movie.
An atrociously rewritten version appeared in HT Magazine dated Aug 29, 2010.