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Nagraj Popatrao Manjule’s brilliant short-film Vaikunth!

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Nagraj  Popatrao  Manjule

Nagraj  Popatrao  Manjule  Interview

The  reticent,  mutely gifted  Nagraj Manjule stunned us with his Marathi film Fandry  in  2013 .He then directed  Sairath in 2015 which brought him into pan-India  renown. He  is  now back with the brilliant short-film Vaikunth which is part of Amazon  Prime’s Unpaused Naya Safar a  haunting anthology on  Covid  consequences

He is now back at  direction  with  a short story  Vaikunth in Amazon  Prime’s anthology Unpaused Naya Safar.It is by far the best segment  of the anthology. In fact it’s so brilliant I felt it should have been an independent feature film.   Replies Manjule, “I am really glad and thankful that you like the film. Of course, it could have been anything, it could have been an independent feature film, it could also have been a novel. It’s a story that needs to be told and it could have been done in any format.”

After the Marathi masterpiece Sairath Manjule  have been missing in action. He says his next film starring Amitabh Bachchan is ready for release. “We are ready with Jhund. We will release the film once the COVID situation improves and theaters re-open with 100% capacity. We want to release the film in theaters and we will wait for the right time.”

In Vaikunth Manjule  has  recreated the stark brutal reality of a cremation ground during the pandemic.

Reliving the experience  of  the  shooting the  Marathi-Hindi  filmmaker shares,  “We shot at a real crematorium, but we only used a premise of it. We built our own set at an actual cremation ground. It was a difficult experience to shoot for this movie, not just physically but also mentally. We were shooting around fire and dust, so physically it was a little tough, but we were also shooting around the corpses, so it was a depressing atmosphere as well. It was an intense experience overall.”

 Nagraj Manjule not  only directs this miniature masterpiece, he also plays the lead of the cremator, burning bodies round the clock and trying to look after his  little son. It’s a tough role. How deeply did it impact  him as an actor and a human being?  “I don’t know how it impacted me as an actor, but it did impact me as a human being. As a person when you’re acting, directing or seeing things happening around you, it obviously leaves an impact on you. Working on a cremation ground is not easy. I could understand what they must be going through, especially during COVID times.

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 Vaikunth  is a bleak brutal dark film and yet you it ends on a note of hope  .

That’s the way  Manjule  wanted  it. “Even two years later, we are still facing the same situation. We are now facing the third wave and still wondering if this will ever get over, if there will be a light after the end of the tunnel. When situations are tough, it’s only hope that gets us going. Hence, we wanted to end this story with hope. Even if people are struggling, they are still holding on to hope. That’s the message behind the film.”

Speaking of his  future plans Manjule reveals, “As an actor, after Vaikunth, I am working on two more Marathi films. As a filmmaker, Jhund is ready. I have written some scripts during the lockdown and now I have to start the work on them as well.”

Sairath seems  like  a hard act to follow. But  Manjule isn’t  daunted.  “Why do we have to follow that hard act, though? Keeping Sairat as a benchmark would mean binding yourself or pressuring yourself to recreate something of that level. There’s always scope for improvement. We may be able to create something even better.When I made Sairat, I didn’t plan it to be such a huge success. I am glad that it happened. If it happens again, I will be happy, and if it doesn’t, I won’t be disappointed.”