Berlin’s ‘Aatmapamphlet’ Details the Coming of Age of a Boy and India

“Autobio Pamphlet” (“Aatmapamphlet”), debuting in the Berlin Film Festival’s youth-focused Generation 14plus strand competition, takes on the twin tasks of telling the coming of age story of both its young protagonist and of India.

The Marathi-language film marks the directorial debut of Ashish Bende, who previously assisted on several films in India’s flourishing Marathi industry, including award-winning 1970s-set coming of age film “Shala” (2011).

The film depicts momentous occasions in the life of Ashish, a so-called “lower caste” boy from the Dalit community in 1980s and 1990s Maharashtra, who falls in love with his classmate from the so-called “upper caste” Brahmin community. The narrative is largely based on Bende’s childhood and teenage years. It follows Ashish and his friends – who are from a variety of castes and religions – as they realize the divisive nature of the caste system, and overcome the challenging socio-political changes around them through kinship and a celebration of differences. 

Indian National Film award-winning director Paresh Mokashi, whose 2010 film “Harishchandrachi Factory” was India’s entry to the Oscars, wrote the film, which stemmed from conversations spanning years between him and Bende.

“After I shared a 10-page story accounting multiple humorous and often pivotal moments in my life, and how the caste hierarchy affected me, Paresh took it and in a couple of months completed a draft of the film based on my story. Of course, he changed parts of it and ultimately gave an eccentric style to the final script and story as you see on screen,” Bende told Variety.

Mokashi added: “Over 20 years or so Ashish shared stories of multiple experiences he has had with me. From his love stories to his experiences of the caste hierarchy in our region Maharashtra. But it never occurred to me that it could be made into a film. It wasn’t something that had ripened at the time. But, my sensibility and sensitivity to his stories evolved as Ashish was also evolving as a filmmaker and an individual.”

However, Mokashi wanted to differentiate the film from the “overdone genre” of a coming of age love tale with a socio-political backdrop. So the writer decided to “give a different flavor by adding exaggerations and eccentricities to both the romantic and wider communal narrative. As a result, this film shows both the coming of age story of Ashish and the coming of age of India.”

The film employs melodrama and hyperbolic speech as a vehicle to propagate a wider message of what love can achieve in times of division and turmoil. Mokashi’s aim was to ensure that the story is not one “rooted in issues of social hierarchy, or any of the caste troubles or religious troubles that are in Indian society. Instead, the story goes beyond these issues by transcending reality, like in sequences emulating black and white soap operas, showing the possibility of intergalactic friendship, and of course, the comical objectivity of the narrator recounting his own life.”

Bende said: “This film tells a very universal story. The kind of discrimination it shows is present all around the world, just in different forms. So although this film is based in my hometown, it talks about a universal problem of some kind of division which can be solved through communal harmony.”

“There is an Indian saying which translates to mean ‘The entire world is one family, humans, the environment, animals, all of it,’ and that is the philosophy at the heart of this film,” Bende added.

“Aatmapamphlet” is jointly produced by Zee Studios, T-Series and acclaimed Indian filmmaker Anand L. Rai’s Colour Yellow Productions.

Rai told Variety, “I think the film will resonate with a youth audience anywhere in the world. In Berlin, in London, in India, because of its universality when it comes to how children perceive love, friendship and community despite politics and division.” 

Zee Studios chief business officer Shariq Patel added: “We are elated with the selection at Berlin and hope to make this the first stop in our festival journey. We want to expose the film to as many programmers and buyers as possible.” Discussions are on with leading European sales agents, Patel said.

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