I want to explore the innocence and understanding of a child
Prasanna Ponde worked in the hospitality sector for 11 years before becoming a full time filmmaker. Vithya, his first as Director is doing the rounds of various film festivals in India and abroad and was recently part of the Jagran FIlm Festival in Delhi. Prasanna talks to Pandolin about his love for making films for and about children, his inspirations and the dream team he got in his first film itself.
What is Vithya about?
Vithya is the name of the main protagonist of the film who is a school boy in his teens. The film is about Vithya’s realization of the hardships the villagers from his village face due to the pathetic conditions of the roads and his efforts in improving the same. He tries to help the people by becoming their voice, visiting various concerned authorities, writing letters to them but to no avail. The story revolves around the efforts he makes, the difficulties he faces, his innovative ideas and drive to make the village road usable. The situation makes him do things unimaginable to others and eventually triumph.
Is the film based on personal experiences? Does Bill Gates inspire you personally?
Yes Mr. & Mrs. Gates, both, are an inspiration to me. I follow the work Mrs. Gates does and like her, I would love to do my bit for society. This film is based on a personal experience that happened in 2013. I used to travel to Malad East on my two wheeler taking the same route through Aarey colony every day. Though the road is quite good now, it use to be in a pathetic condition then. One morning while going to work I saw this drastic transition. The road had changed and was smoother like never before. It was quite odd as I had driven on the miserable path just the night before. How could it change overnight? I asked the toll attendant and he told me how it got done for a big minister’s visit as his vehicle was going to pass from this particular road. The incident struck me and will remain with me forever. Work can be done immediately for VIPs but never for the needy common man.
The story involves young kids. Did you conduct any workshop with the child actors? How did you handle the actors?
We did a workshop with the main actor Ajay Sonavne, who essayed the role of the protagonist Vithya. He is an extremely talented boy. We worked for 3 days prior to the shooting schedule with all the children in the film. Rajesh Pawar who plays the role of Vithya’s father is actually a Class I officer, who works in MSCB, Akola Taluka and pursues acting as a hobby. Chintan Gangar (who played Jallad in Big Boss) enacts the character of the insensitive politician in the film. He is a businessman in real life and has a chain of eye wear shops. I happened to meet him in one of his shops and offered him the role and he readily agreed. Sunita Devgiri who plays Vithya’s mother is a professional actress often seen in Marathi serials. And I approached Ravi Patwardhan Sir who is a very well-known & senior actor in the Marathi film industry to play the role of the senior party leader as he was fit for the role. Mandar Joshi who played the role of the Sarpanch is my childhood friend and the other actors seen in various roles are also friends or acquaintances. So it was easy to discuss and understand each other.
Yes. Children have what you call the ‘purest’ thoughts. Many times in their innocence they teach valuable lessons to elders. I want to explore that innocence and understanding of a child, which is way above an adult’s. Recently, I completed a feature film script and one of the main characters is a child. In the future too I would love to make more children’s films.
Tell us about the DOP Sameer Sawant. How did he come on board?
When the script was locked, I spoke to Sameer Sawant, again a friend, who was enthusiastic to be the DOP. He loved the script and was one of the first people to come on board. Vithya is his first film as a cinematographer. He is an accomplished fashion photographer otherwise.
With the kind of response the film has garnered in festivals, are you planning a feature on the same script or similar lines?
No. I am not, but I have already penned down a new script and will soon be starting pre-production for that.
I was born in Kalyan in Maharashtra. While studying for my boards, I started writing ideas that would erupt in my mind. My fascination with films started from childhood itself when we friends would watch films on a roadside projector. The on-screen images fascinated me but I was always curious about what went on behind the scenes. I had decided early on that I wanted to make movies. But my family’s financial condition couldn’t support my dream. Due to that and also because of the lack of any proper guidance on how to pursue a career in films, I did my B.Com and started working in Hotel Taj in Mumbai. After working in the hospitality industry for 11 years, I got the opportunity to work in a leading international animation studio in the Facilities department. There my long lost dream came alive. By observing the technicalities of films I learnt a lot about filmmaking. After completing 8 years in an animation studio, I realized that only theoretical knowledge is not going to help. I needed to put my learnings into practice and that’s when I decided to make my first film Vithya.
What is your next project about?
It is still work-in-progress. I don’t think it is the right time to talk about it. The only thing I can share about it is that it will be a shocking treat to the audience.
Could you give any tips on how to shoot with children?
I don’t think I am in a position to give tips. It is actually very easy to work with children once you build a rapport with them and a friendly environment for them to work comfortably. I feel the kids nowadays are quite talented and knowledgeable. They are exposed to and know a lot more than we can ever imagine.