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Spirited Women

Producer-actor Smita Tambe and actor Shwetambari Ghutte talk to Padma Iyer about their upcoming Marathi supernatural horror, Saavat

How did Saavat happen? How did you come on board the film? And, Smita, what made you want to produce it as well?

Smita Tambe (ST): Actually, Saurabh (Sinha) is the culprit. He is the director and writer of the film. He narrated the story to me and I was amazed. He was enthusiastic and energetic during the narration, and there were so many minute details that he spoke about with great intensity. I also realised the amount of work he had put into it and research that he had done.

He grabbed my attention with his energy. And then the script was the hook. Within the first 15 minutes, I was completely engrossed. And, as if all this wasn’t enough, he told me he wanted me to produce the film as well. I was shocked, at first, but I said ‘yes’ within 15 minutes. I am a very intuitive person and it was my intuition that dictated that I take up the film as actor and producer. But I have to say that when I was on the sets, I was only an actor. After the shooting was done, I got into the role of a producer.

Shwetambari Ghutte (SG): For me, it was a totally different story. The film’s associate director Sudarshan Gamare called me for an audition. I was called again for a reading and after a few days, I got a call saying I was confirmed for the film. Then the journey of Saavat started.

Saavat belongs to the horror, supernatural genre. What more can you tell us about the film?

ST: First, I want to comment on the genre. I love the film The Babadook. It is a mother-son story. My friend Mugdha Godse and I watched it together at a 10.30 night show. Even though it is horror film, it is also a story about relationships. And somewhere there is horror in relationships as well. The layers in a relationship can be so thrilling, you don’t know the kind of energy that is there inside us. The way we think of people around us and how we tend to change our perceptions about them is interesting. And if those thoughts came to life, it is nothing short of a horror and a thriller.

You cannot call Saavat just a horror film. Yes it has a supernatural element but it is a very layered story. And the woman who is at the centre of it all has been interestingly portrayed. Society tends to judge a woman very quickly. When a woman who is constantly scrutinised by those around her reaches breaking point, how does she react? That is what Saavat is about. At the same time, the film also leaves you confused as to whether the horror is real, or whether is it just your mind playing games!

Shwetambari, what can you tell us about your character? The trailer does not reveal much.

SG: My character is the suspense element in the film. So I cannot reveal much. But I can tell you this, I play a simple village girl, who has grown up in a traditional environment. Smita tai’s character is city-bred. Even though both these women come from different backgrounds, their life journeys are similar because the issues faced by women are more or less the same everywhere.

ST: What she is saying is the stories of both these women run parallel to each other. And through this film, I have been able to connect to a lot of stuff. I had read Sandhya Nare-Pawar’s Daakin, which has similarities to what we are saying in Saavat. I fail to understand who has made these boundaries for women? Who has made the invisible lines that women are not supposed to cross? And when a woman breaks these lines, she is labelled as a daakin. But who is daakin, the woman who broke the ‘rules’ or the people who denounce her for breaking these ‘rules’? That is what the film provokes us to think.

How did both of you prepare for your characters? What was the process like?

ST: Your thought process changes your body language, not the other way around. So when I am ‘Aditi’, her thought process is different. She has no time to look in the mirror and see if she looks okay or beautiful. Her mind is preoccupied and that is reflected in her personality, her walk, her demeanour. She is sincere, passionate and dedicated to her work. And that shows in her body language. Her intellect results in the confidence that she exudes.

In cinema, we start with the outer process first; how the character will appear, what clothes will he or she wear. But in theatre, it is different. You grasp the soul of the character first and then the rest follows, like costumes, etc. For Aditi, I used the theatre approach. She is very strong-willed and that automatically reflects in her behaviour. Thankfully, for me, Saurabh had already worked on a lot of those details, especially her quirks. Aditi tends to write down stuff on her hand. She has no inhibitions. She always has a board with her, which is a mirror of her thoughts.

I have added an element of Smita to Aditi as well. I have given her a certain vulnerability which is evident in a couple of moments in the film. And I am happy that I was able to bring that to the role.

SG: We had a lot of workshops and readings for the film. That really helped prepare for the role. After that, I just followed what my director Saurabh Sinha said and I think it worked out well. We often meet characters like these in our daily lives, women like that, and that is what I have tried to bring to the film.

The horror genre is all about entertainment. Is there more to Saavat then we see at the outset?

ST: I relate to a film like this. When we were children, we all heard stories from our grandmother about not going to dark places, or going out alone in the evenings because there is a bogeyman waiting to get us. We get so involved in those stories that at night, even a plastic cover hanging on the window looks like the bogeyman! That fear is an experience and it can also be entertaining. Watching a scary film in the middle of the night, under a blanket with a tub of ice-cream, peeking through half-closed eyes is a different kind of thrill. Saavat is that kind of experience and that is its USP. But behind that entertainment is the story of the woman and her struggles as well.

What do you want the audience to take back from the film?

SG: There is a beautiful social message in the film, and apart from just enjoying the film, that is what I want the audience to take back.

ST: The audience today is capable of taking back more than what we intended for them. For me, this is what I want Saavat to do. There is always that moment when we judge a woman, call her daakin. There is a moment when we judge her and her choices, irrespective of where that woman comes from or what her background is. I want everyone to rethink. I want everyone to celebrate women.

SG: Instead of separating people as men or women, I want women to be looked at as human beings.

What is next on the cards for both of you?

SG: I have a few projects down South, let us see how that pans out.

ST: I am busy with my play, Idiots. The response has been very good and I am very excited about it.

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