Saanjh : A Pahari movie which is trying to redefine regional movie base in Himachal
This interview was taken before the release of the movie. It is kept in the original state for the most part, other than some nominal changes in the end.
Saanjh means evening is a first Pahari movie which is trying to create a world-class platform for the Pahari Cinema. Ajay Saklani, the man behind this idea and the director of the same is someone who is trying to give birth to the industry. A man born in a small village in Mandi district has a great vision for the Pahari culture as he knows how much cinema can do to promote the traditions and culture of an area. Today, here we present our talks with the man with the vision to have Himachali Cinema as one of the recognizable industry in the world – Ajay Saklani.
- First of all, for our audience, we would like to request you to give us a brief introduction about yourself? (like where you come from, where have you studied, your family, what do they do and what do you do currently)
I belong to a small village located in Dharmpur in district Mandi. I’m born and brought up there. My early education was in my village school where I studied till 5th class. At the time when I reached 6 years of age (the age for any kid to get admission in government schools) just then a school was started in my village. One teacher was appointed in that school but there was no school building or any kind of premises for us to study. So our teacher decided to utilize some other places to begin classes. Every day we used to gather in a new location and study there sometimes in any house in the village, sometimes nearby the water tank and sometimes in the nearby forest area. We spent 3 years of our schooling like this and finally a small room was built near our village where we continued up to 5th standard. After that, I got admission in Higher secondary school on the other side of the hill which was around 6 kilometre from my village and completed my Matric from there.
Village life was one of the best learning in my life. After my matric, I moved to Jammu with my family and continued my further education there. My father was in the army so we continued to shift our location according to his transfer every 3 years. I did my graduation from Lyallpur Khalsa College, Jalandhar. I used to do theatre during my college days and I loved acting in theatre but I was more interested in Cinema & TV industry. That was a dream since I saw the television for the first time in my life when I was 11 years old. It was back in 1994 when my Chacha Ji brought the first TV set in our village. The impact of the visuals I saw on TV was such strong that I wanted to be there among the creators of those visuals. But that wasn’t possible at that time and it always remained in my dreams for the future.
During my graduation days at Khalsa College, my interest developed more in filmmaking but I had no one to answer my queries. But till then the Internet was like the best thing happened to me and I started visiting Cyber Café and searching for information about filmmaking. The Internet was costly so I couldn’t spend more time there. The best option was to download the articles & books from the Internet and copy them to my floppy drives and read in my PC at home.
Still, after reading all those articles and books, I couldn’t find any way to enter into filmmaking. So to begin with I planned to shift to Delhi to learn more but my family was not in favour of that decision. Being a son of an army officer, I was expected to join the army after my graduation. But somehow I managed to convince my parents and shifted to Delhi. There I learned to edit while working in a production house and experimenting with editing software. My continuous study helped me fetching a job as an editor with another production company within 1 year. So my career began as an editor and I worked with a few production houses and then with some national TV channels. My zeal to learn more helped me in learning cinematography while working as a freelancer besides my salaried job during my free hours.
- Silent hills studios, you might have worked hard to set up this, give us details about your learning and if you have an interesting story to share during the process, we have all ears.
Well when I started Silent Hills Studio here in mid-2014, I was looking forward to involving more artists, singers, actors and technical people. As per my assumptions, we could collaborate with other artists and form some kind of association to support their interests, rights and provide them with more work opportunities here in the state. I also announced some free courses to strengthen the technical part by teaching know-how of this industry. But all that couldn’t work as connecting those artists are not an easy task. While creating a new technical team was also not so easy as people are not ready to learn here in Himachal even for free. They are ready to spend money and do courses in institutes in Delhi or Mumbai.
- You could have gone for Pollywood, Bollywood or any other cine industry but you choose to create Pahari film, why?
Cinema plays an important role in the development of language and culture of any state/nation. Besides that cinema binds us together and inspires us to grow together as a society. We have many examples from other Indian states. But in Himachal, there is no cinema today. Many people talk about some films made in Himachal as the beginning of cinema but my perspective is different here. Cinema means the films, which are seen in cinema halls. Films, which attract masses, inspire them, motivates them, seed in some values, entertain them and persuade them and much more. The films made till today was a good try but were without any technical and creative knowledge and understanding. Even any non-technical person can see the loopholes easily. Himachal is in need of a cinema that can take us further. Which can inspire the youth to accept our language and culture?
When I dreamt of making films, the stories that came to my mind were related to my own culture & society. They were real stories based on the experiences of my Dada Ji, Nana ji and Tau ji. Then many stories came from the life of my father, his struggle for education, his recruitment in the army as a Sepoy and his continuous struggle to reach to an officer level by clearing the Service Selection Board.
Besides this, my childhood experiences, my lifestyle, my surroundings in my village had taught me a lot of things. All those stories forced me to think about my society, my culture; my people back there in the village. This was one of the reasons that I decided to make my first documentary about the fading culture in my village. Although that documentary wasn’t technically strong it left an impact on people migrated from the villages. For many people who had migrated from the village, that documentary brought back their childhood memories. I found the issue of migration, disconnection from roots, decline in language & culture, decline in honesty which Pahari people used to have and many other things.
My dreams, my feelings, my attachment to my culture, language and society brought me back to my roots.
- Saanjh – why this name? tell us a bit about the storyline.
Saanjh film stands on three words i.e. Separation, Migration and Loneliness. This is a film about the separation of parents and their children, this is about the migration of young generation from hills to the metro cities and this is about the loneliness of the old parents living in villages. The above lines sound like a documentary but while this is not a documentary. But this is how Saanjh is produced. The film talks about all these issues raising sentiments and emotions along with the entertainment.
SAANJH is a story of a 16-year-old girl Sanju, living in a city with her parents. One day due to some reasons, her parents decide to leave her in the village with her grandmother. The grandmother who lives alone in the village while her son has shifted to the city with his wife and daughter. Now Poti (Granddaughter) and Dadi (Grandmother) will have to stay together under one roof rather they don’t like each other. So the film explores the village life through Sanju’s perspective there she explores the issues in the village.
The title Saanjh has a deep meaning in the film storyline. Saanjh means Shaam, an evening so as the film. This is like the time between light and darkness. Our culture, our language, our values, and our society everything has reached in a Saanjh. From here either we can bring it back to the light or it’ll fade into darkness. On the other side, this is the Saanjh of the life of old age parents living in villages and waiting for their children to return home or to see them once before they die.
- Who are the people associated with the act, the people who made Saanjh possible?
We have two actors from Bollywood Asif Basra and Taranjit Kaur who has worked in many Bollywood and Hollywood productions. Asif has worked in more than 40 films while Taranjit has done 5 films. Besides them, all other actors are from Himachal only. For most of the actors, Saanjh is the first film of their career. The lead role is played by Aditi Charak from Chamba, Dadi’s role is played by Rupeshwari Sharma from Mandi and another important role of Jonga is played by Vishal Parpagga from Mandi again.
Besides the many other theatres and no-theatre actors from Himachal have acted in this film. Tanu Bhardwaj, Sumit Sharma, Dhirender Rawat, Amit Patial, Hoshiar Singh Gautam, Medhavini Sharma, Geetika Sharma, Giandeep Singh, Abhilasha Thakur and many others.
- Can you also name the cast and the crew associated? We would like to know more about the hidden talents in the state.
Well, this was one of the youngest team ever associated with any film project. Besides me there was Vikas Rana (Assistant Cinematographer), Varad Bhatnagar (Chief AD), Nitin Kapoor (First AD), Krishna Maheshwari (2nd AD), Sonali Gurung & Shivani Sharma Saklani (Costumes), Raveesh Mrigendra (Production Manager), Shameem Alam & Shahnawaz Khan (Make-up), Biswajit Routray & Yotiranjan Sahoo (Sound), Atul Koundal & Sanjeev (Lighting) and many others. Ararsh Sehra wrote the lyrics of the film and Gaurav Guleria composed the music.
The playback singers are Mohit Chauhan and Pavithra Chari. Mohit Chauhan has sung two songs of the film.
- When are you planning to release it?
We can’t tell the exact release date as still, we have a long process to complete before the release. But we are expecting to release the film by the end of this year. The Music of Saanjh will be released soon.
- As there is no Himachali film industry, the struggle would have been very high. Tell us about all your experiences and adversities and do tell us what kept you bonded with the project.
My Bonding with this project is my urge for the Pahari Cinema. I think my previous answers clarify it all. There were many obstacles during the production of this film from many senior actors in Himachal to government departments to Police administration etc. but I think this is not to right platform or time to disclose those issues.
- It might be like a dream for you, to have a Pahari film made. Having said that, you are now very close in realizing your dream, almost their actually. How does all this feel? Do you feel like thanking anyone for this?
I can’t say we are close to realizing the dream because the release of Saanjh won’t complete what I have dreamt of. This is the beginning of a journey and we have taken the first step. There are many more to come. And when it comes to thanking someone then, of course, there is a long list of people who have made this project possible. My parents were always there, and then my wife Shivani supported me at every step. Anil Chandel ji from Bilaspur came in like a boon for us and without his support, we couldn’t even begin this project. Then all those friends and supporters who contributed to this film financially and morally both. My entire cast & crew. And even all those who tried to stop us tried to create hurdles and abused us many time or those who tried to malign our image.
- What are your future plans? Will you be directing more of such stuff?
Yes of course. Saanjh is the beginning for me. My plan is not just to direct but to invite others to direct and make films as well. Very soon we will announce another initiative where all those filmmakers who feel they can make a film will be invited to show their talent.
- Finally a common question we would like to ask, What is your message for the audience of Himachal regarding saanjh
Saanjh is the beginning of Pahari Cinema and this is not just the one. There are many more to come. There are many other filmmakers eying on this film. We are here to start a meaningful cinema and you are here to help us realize this dream. We have a very few cinema halls but when Saanjh will come to the cinema Hall near you, please go and watch the film with all your family members and friends. And please do not download the film form the Internet and also friends please do not make any pirated copy of the film. This is a hope for the cinema in Himachal and you are here to make it possible.
- Many want to be in the industry you are in, any special message for them.
One simple message, if you want to work in this field, please learn first. Learning doesn’t mean by attending any film school. Learning can be achieved with experience while working with others. And remember one thing, when we say to learn that means learn, leaving all your attitude and ego behind. I come across many people every day who think they are the masters of everything but remember there is no master. Even people with years of expertise are still learning.
We wish Ajay Saklani a great success and thank him for the initiative he took to promote Himachali culture and traditions. We also urge all such talented Himachali to get in contact with the man so that the process of the Pahari Cinema shall be paced.
Thanks for talking to us Ajay.
here is the link to the full movie Saanjh in Pahadi
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