As a director what Yellow gave me is something I can’t even express
Well-known Cinematographer Mahesh Limaye who has worked on hits like Dabangg, Fashion, Heroine recently made his directorial debut with the Marathi movie Yellow. The film revolves around the relationship between a mother and her differently abled daughter and is based on the true story of Gauri Gadgil, a special needs child. Yellow won the special jury award at the 61st National Film Awards and was recently screened at the 1st International Film Festival for the Persons with Disabilities where it received a Special Jury Mention for the Director. We caught up with Mahesh to know more about Yellow.
The film was screened at the 1st International Film Festival for the Persons with Disabilities. How was the overall reaction?
It was quite crazy. I think children connect and bond. They connect with Gauri and we have seen that at every place wherever we have kept screenings for kids. The younger lot just enjoys.
How did you get to know about Gauri and her story?
The producer Uttung Thakur’s elder brother is into politics and runs three special schools. Once on his visit to the school he saw a girl with special needs expressing some thing to her friend and that actually shook him. He called me and shared the expression which this girl had. They wanted to make a film around these children. That is how it started off and then we did a lot of research. I thought they wanted me to shoot something for them because I have worked on their earlier film too. But I was amazed when Uttung said that they wanted me to direct. The research for the film took about five to six months.
We went to many schools and the writer made a questionnaire for the parents asking them things like how their day starts with a special child. Through the questionnaire we realized that parents of special children hate the sympathy whereas they always welcome anything positive. To make an inspirational film and to move others was the main idea. There was a two or three line article in Times of India about Gauri and we went to the Paralympics Federation of India and got her number. We then spoke to her parents and heard their story of how they brought her up as an athlete. They have gone through many ups and downs and their story moved me completely.
Tell us about the casting?
Before the casting process began I knew that with the help of prosthetics and make up we can achieve the look. But what would happen when Gauri would dive into the water? So I was not quite convinced about it. But when I met Gauri, I found her to be a total live wire. When I asked her if she would like to be part of my film, she completely agreed.
After the cast was final, did you conduct any workshops for them?
No, we didn’t have any workshop for Gauri or Sanjana who plays the younger version of Gauri. I just wanted them to be what they are. Though Gauri understands things very well, it was a task to get some expressions out of her. But I’ve mostly played with her expressions and the innocence on her face, which really builds up the whole story.
How did you get Riteish Deshmukh on board as a producer?
Balak Palak was produced by Riteish and Uttung. When Uttung had this idea of making a film on a special child, we researched for almost four months. When I started writing I had Mrinal Kulkarni, Upendra Limaye and Hrishkesh Joshi in mind for the main cast. When I narrated the story to them they all agreed. Similarly when we met Riteish we didn’t tell him that the film is about special children. We just said that there is something that we are working on. We started telling him the basic plot and as the scenes started unfolding, he said, “Let’s do the entire narration”. At the end of it, we told him about the entire cast and who was going to play Gauri. When I showed him some of her videos, he asked me if I was a hundred percent sure that Gauri would be able to play the role. I told him that Gauri had agreed and that’s when he too agreed to come on board. That was his instant reaction.
Did being a cinematographer help you a lot because the movie is all about expressions?
Everybody asks me if shooting and directing simultaneously is like double the trouble. But it was easy for me. When you write a scene with a writer, you conceive the scene in your head. Instead of sitting in the office and writing scenes, I would take my writers to the locations to feel the environment. We have spent hours and days on the sets to just get into the groove.
What cameras did you use?
We used the Red Epic. The underwater scenes were shot in Bangkok as we had already shot so much in India. And the quality of water was also a priority. If you see the film we have used an Olympic size tank.
Did you shoot the climax first?
We shot in four different sections. I used to shoot eight days and then take a break as I didn’t want it to be taxing for these kids as they were facing the camera for the first time. We shot for 30 days.
Was the National Award anticipated?
The entire journey of Yellow has been a very different experience. When you shoot films like Dabangg, you get acclaim and recognition but as a director what Yellow gave me is something I can’t even express. For any filmmaker, the National award is the biggest award.
Did you have any dilemma as some previous films such as Iqbal have also been on similar subjects?
I didn’t watch any of those films because Gauri was my inspiration. My focus was to mainly tell her story rather than compare it with other films. I wanted to keep it natural and innocent as the children are. I’m planning to make it in Hindi as well with the same cast.
-Transcribed by Navleen Kaur Lakhi