Sanjay Mishra on National Award win for Turtle: The government should help independent films find a release
The actor, and director Dinesh S Yadav, talk about Turtle, their National Award film which is yet to find a release date
Rajasthani films are a rare blip on the Pan-Indian radar. That changed last month when Sanjay Mishra’s Turtle became the first Rajasthani-language film to win a National Award. While elated with the honour, Sanjay has urged the government to help secure a release for the film. “Turtle is an independent film made on a low budget. The film addresses the issue of water scarcity. It has urgent educational value. I want the government to assist the makers by waiving off the high entertainment taxes, and screening the film in schools and colleges,” says the 56-year-old actor.
In Turtle, Sanjay essays an aging farmer trying to save his village from drought. The film has drawn comparisons to Kadvi Hawa (2017), another climate change-themed film starring Sanjay. Asked about his commitment to water conservation, the actor shares, “I live in the Lokhandwala suburb of Mumbai and face water-related problems every year. Across India, drought is a major problem. Rajasthan is just one of the many drought-hit states. The water crisis in India needs to be solved urgently. It baffles me how we teach complex lessons to younger generations, but don’t instruct them about water conservation.”
Throughout his career, Sanjay has mixed his popular appearances with independent projects. He played the middle-aged protagonist in Ankhon Dekhi (2013), the despairing father in Masaan (2015), and the asylum inmate in Rakkosh (2019). The actor says independent films are his top priority and not an excursion. “Bollywood has a certain way of looking at me. I mostly end up playing comic roles. They help me get a wider audience and visibility. I like to bring that credibility to my smaller films, which are character-driven and tell real stories. It’s hard for independent producers to secure theatres, so having a popular face on the poster certainly helps.”
Turtle is directed by debutant Dinesh S Yadav. Hailing from Madhya Pradesh, Dinesh graduated in editing from the Film and Television Institute of India. While in college, he made the short film Aashaad that travelled the festival circuit. For his debut feature, Dinesh zeroed in on the folk stories of Rajasthani writer Vijaydan Detha, popularly known as Bijji.
Dinesh was also fascinated by the village settlement pattern called ‘Dhani’ in rural Rajasthan. “In ancient times, dhanis (nucleated settlements) were created around a single well, which fed one family. As the population grew, more wells were dug and more dhanis were made. I found it interesting that such a centuries-old tradition was linked to the availability of water. The moment there’s a crisis, all structure breaks down and people come to blows.”
Turtle was shot in the drought-prone villages of Kudli, Phagi, and Dehlon. Although he wanted to, Dinesh could not shoot at the iconic sand dunes of Rajasthan. “It’s another irony of the state. Because of expensive Bollywood and Hollywood shoots happening in the region, the local rates have gone up. I could not afford the permission costs. As a result, we had to create fake sand dunes on a farm I rented out for 5000 rupees.”
While awaiting a release opportunity for Turtle, Dinesh has already finished his second feature. Titled Waah Zindagi, the film is a comedy about the ‘Make in India’ campaign. The cast includes Naveen Kasturia, Sanjay Mishra, Vijay Raaz, Plabita Borthakur, and Manoj Joshi. “Waah Zindagi is not your typical ‘Make in India’ film,” Dinesh says. “We have presented a critical look at the dumping of Chinese products in India, and how that affects local manufacturers. Both my films are locked and ready. I am hoping to find an audience soon.”