I am from Raigad district, and have been interested in theatre right from childhood. I had heard that Thane was culturally very vibrant and active, and so that was where I decided to look for a job. I moved to Thane, and joined the Zilla Parishad school as a teacher.
In a happy space, personally, I wanted to share with my students the joy and satisfaction I gained from theatre. In 1992, I began writing and directing plays for children. ‘Bhannat Pore’, a play I did with Adivasi, Muslim and Buddhist children from the ZP school in Vagholi, became a big hit. In 2006, I was transferred to the ZP school in Pisavli. This school had classes till Std 7, which enabled me to cast older children in my plays.
Theatre undoubtedly gives me a lot of pleasure, but my other aim in introducing it in school was so that students could do something new and creative, learning from the experience while enjoying themselves. It also gave them the motive to attend school. And so, at the school in Pisavli, we established the interesting tradition of putting on plays.
Two plays that became quite famous were ‘Amcha Mitra’, which dealt with tree conservation, and ‘Birhad’, with its story of bringing out-of-school children from the Dombari tribe into mainstream education.
Over the past 12 years, I have been staging plays at well-known theatres like the Gadkari Rangayatan in Thane, Shivaji Natya Mandir in Dadar, and others in Matunga, Kalyan, Dombivali, and New Bombay, with students from the Pisavli school.
Pisavali ZP School even took part in the Maharashtra State Children’s Theatre Festival. This was something new and unheard of for the villagers, who were most appreciative of the student actors and of the teacher directing the play.
When our play ‘Aamhi Phule Boltoy’, based on Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule’s lives, won Best Play at the district council level, the villagers took out a procession to celebrate the award. The students in Pisavli had started enjoying going to school.
I kept wondering if our plays could be telecast. Our students were undoubtedly talented, but who would give them an opportunity to showcase their talent in this way? I realised that I would have to do something about this myself, rather than wait for an opportunity to present itself.
I knew I needed to learn about the audio- visual medium, and so I enrolled in a six-month, part-time filmmaking course in Kurla, Mumbai. On completing the course, I was confident I could make short films.
I had the will, but not the money. Making films is an expensive venture. I had some Rs 200,000 or less that I was willing to put in, but it would not have sufficed, and so I spoke to my colleagues – some of whom were enthused enough to help.
The next step was to choose a topic. At that time, the government was running an awareness programme on the subject of Dhulwad and Holi. I decided to base my film on this. I wrote a draft and read it out to my students. They responded with great enthusiasm.
The then Sarpanch, Moreshwar Bhoir, and Deputy Sarpanch, Prahlad Bhoir, heard about our play, and offered financial help – with the cooperation of well-off families in the village.
The villagers donated about Rs 150,000 towards the venture, and our work progressed rapidly.
I had identified actors from among the students and teachers of Pisavli School. We located a cameraman, and rented a camera, lights, and trolley. All of Pisavli got involved in the filmmaking. We completed the short, called ‘Dhulwad’, in 2011.
Its narrative goes like this: Parvati is an out-of school girl. The members of the Meena-Raju Manch (a gender equality programme in schools) of Pisavli ZP School enrol her at the school. Her second day of school coincides with the Dhulwad festival. Devika, who has been instrumental in getting Parvati admitted into school, gets injured in the eye because of a plastic water balloon thrown by Parvati.
The film highlights the dangers of using artificial colours, and the importance of playing Dhulwad in eco-friendly ways. We made a DVD of the film and began showing it around in other nearby schools. The response was heartwarming.
At our school in Pisavli we have, in fact, been practicing an eco-friendly Dhulwad, as well as Holi, for a long time. On pieces of paper, the students write out their own bad habits and list customs followed in the village that need to change. We burn these papers along with fallen leaves for the Holi bonfire. We also make our own natural colours in school and use these to play Holi.
These practices, and the film, have inspired other schools to follow our example. With all the positive feedback for the first film, and encouragement from Group Education Officer Lalita Dahitule, I was determined to write and direct more films. I decided to give different students an opportunity to act in each film.
In 1848, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule had started the first school for girls, in Pune. I had already written a play around this, called ‘Aamhi Phule Boltoy’. I made a film based on the play and distributed the CDs and DVDs all over Maharashtra. It is frequently screened, particularly on the Phules’ birth and death anniversaries. Their efforts towards inclusive education never fail to move audiences. I often show this film to the villagers in Pisavli. It has definitely helped in getting more children admitted to the school.
Today, we need to save our natural resources, to them with discretion. Instead of complaining about water shortages, and drought-like conditions in summer, water should be used carefully all year round, and reforestation must be practiced. We tried to convey this message to people through our film ‘Bandhara’, towards the making of which the Pisavli Grampanchayat donated Rs 25,000.
The film that made the most waves, and even made it to the Miami International Film Festival was ‘Mazhya Gurujichi Gaadi.’ It is a documentary about Somnath Valke, a teacher from the Pargao Jogeshwari ZP School in Beed. The music was composed by Harish Hathvte, also a teacher at the same school. The film deals with the relationship between a teacher and his students. It emphasises the point that a teacher must be understanding and patient with students, and it has been seen and appreciated by thousands of people.
When I made my first film ‘Dhulwad’, my son Adarsh Patil said, ‘Don’t restrict it to CDs and DVDs, or just to screenings in our district. There are lots of film festivals happening in India as well as worldwide. Let us send your films there.’
I agreed. Not with the aim, or hope, of winning prizes, but to bring stories of our students and teachers, of their hard work and creativity, to the world. We began subtitling the films in English, and then there was no looking back.
The short film ‘Mazhya Gurujichi Gaadi’ has been screened at 142 film festivals all over the world. ‘Dhulwad’ has been entered at festivals in 87 countries and been accepted thus far in Italy, Croatia, Brazil and the USA. ‘Bandhara’ was screened on Saam TV.
After hearing about us, Mahendra Dhimte ‘Sir’, Centre Head at Shahapur, suggested we enter our films for the All India Children’s Education Audio Video Festival organized by NCERT. We are proud to say that from 2016 to 2018, Pisavli ZP School has bagged awards all three years at this festival. ‘Mazhya Gurujichi Gaadi’ won the Best Film Award in 2016, I won an award for ‘Dhulwad’ in 2017, and Ajita Patil won the Best Actress Award for ‘Aamhi Phule Boltoy’ in 2018.
The NCERT film festival is a treat, and an opportunity not to be missed. People from all corners of the country come here to watch educational films. It is a great learning experience. For instance, you get to know about the teaching methods used in other states like Manipur, Bihar, Rajasthan, Mizoram, while getting to showcase your own work.
Two of our short films are available to watch on YouTube.
Mazhya Gurujichi Gaadi: https://youtu.be/RamnAeDsquc
I, as an artiste, and the students of the ZP School, as actors, were able to express ourselves through the medium of these short films. Of course, this would not have been possible without the support of the villagers.
We had a very positive and encouraging response from everyone who saw the films. We will continue with our endeavour to keep the good work going.
Writer: Ajay Limbaji Patil, Teacher, ZP School Pisavli,
Kalyan, Thane district
mail to: email@example.com
Editing & translation: samata.shiksha team