Karkhanisanchi Waari (Ashes on a Road Trip) is the only Indian film at the 33rd Tokyo International Film Festival
Most of Marathi filmmaker Mangesh Joshi's new feature film Karkhanisanchi Waari (Ashes on a Road Trip) is built around a back-breaking journey on an old Omni van by five people from Pune to Pandharpur. The family is carrying an urn containing ashes of its patriarch to be immersed for fulfilling his last wish.
"It was a very tough journey," says actor Mohan Agashe, who plays a stiff elder in the movie. "We were on rough roads everyday and never confident that we would reach Pandharpur," adds the acclaimed actor, who spent "three miserable weeks" after a wall of dust fell on him while shooting a scene in an old house along the way.
The road movie's challenging Omni trip through the hinterland of Maharashtra was a prelude to an even more arduous journey, as months of post-production during the coronavirus pandemic later proved. After wrapping up shooting late last year, the film crew had just started working on the sound design when the lockdown happened.
Against all odds, they began to improvise while working from home like everybody else. "Every reel was going back and forth between me and the sound designer on the internet," says the Pune-based director Joshi, a chemical engineer-turned-filmmaker. "It was not easy work to do from home."
Then came the good news that the movie had been selected by the Tokyo film festival scheduled to be held from October 31 to November 9. The selection presented a rare opportunity to participate in the physical edition of a major international festival at a time when festivals were opting for the online or hybrid version.
It was late September and sound mixing and visual effects had yet to be completed. "Those were extraordinarily tough days," recalls the film's producer Archana Borhade. "We didn't have the kind of resources to hire a post-production supervisor. And we literally had 20 days to deliver the DCP (digital print) to the Tokyo festival," adds Borhade, who is also the film's cinematographer and co-writer.
By now restrictions have been eased, allowing film labs to work at 20 per cent of their capacities. Borhade, who lives in Mumbai, and her small team spent five straight days in their office to complete the VFX while Joshi rushed to join them in the city. It helped that Borhade was a software consultant with Wipro Technologies before following her dream in the world of cinema.
As Joshi and Borhade raced against time to meet the Tokyo deadline, the making of DCP hit a hurdle. "There were so many films supposed to be released on OTT platform because cinemas were closed," says Joshi. "Many big films were in post-production and it was very difficult to get our DCP made. The preference was for Hindi movies whose producers had more money to pay for the work," he adds.
The Mumbai lab delivered the DCP on October 20 and it was on its way to Tokyo only eleven days before the world premiere. "The Tokyo festival was very cooperative," says Joshi. "They said 'we understand the situation as India was suffering in a bigger way'."
Joshi's third feature film after the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC)-produced Bhojpuri language He (2011) about a runaway teeanger in the slums of Mumbai and the Marathi film Lathe Joshi (2016) about a factory worker pushed out of job by mechanisation, Karkhanisanchi Waari is a satirical commentary on the Indian joint family.
The film begins with the death of Purushottam, the patriarch of the Karkhanis family, portrayed as the 'last joint family' in Pune. His brothers Satish (Agashe), Pradeep (Pradeep Joshi) and Ajit (Ajit Abhyankar), sister Sadhana (Geetanjali Kulkarni) and son Om (Amey Wagh) begin a journey to immerse the ashes at three places -- ancestral home in Phaltan, the family farm and the Chandrabhaga river in Pandharpur -- to fulfil his last wish.
Purushottam Karkhanis also leaves an envelope to be opened after his ashes are immersed, leaving each family member eyeing a share of the family property on the edge. Shot in picturesque locations across Maharashtra, the film uses humour to look at an individual's place in a joint family in contemporary India.
"There is always a conflict of interest in joint families," explains the director, who turns conflicts into comical situations in the film. "I believe joint family was a practical choice at one point of time, but it is disappearing today. It is not a sad ending, it is only practical. The world is becoming smaller."
The film's ensemble cast led by the veteran Agashe, Court and Sir actor Kulkarni and Sacred Games star Wagh light up a cheery script co-written by Joshi and Borhade. "We bought two old Omni vans for the shoot. Amey (Wagh) was so scared driving the van," recalls Agashe.
The vast provincial landscape of Maharashtra complements the roller-coaster family drama of Karkhanisanchi Waari, part of the NFDC Film Bazaar Selects section in Goa last year."I know Pandharpur very well," says Agashe, whose German friend Gunther Sontheimer had made a movie (Vari - An Indian Pilgrimage) decades ago. "Millions of pilgrims walk to Pandharpur for the annual pilgrimage in June-July," he adds.The Marathi road movie has appealed to the Japanese audience who filled the Tokyo festival theatres where it had two screenings in the past week. The festival even issued complimentary tickets to some members of the Tokyo Marathi Mandal. "The Japanese audience loved the uncles and aunties in the movie," laughs Boharde. "Tickets for our film were sold out quickly. Everybody is now in a mood to see something lighthearted."