By Neha Kirpal
The recently released autobiography of 82-year-old award-winning Hindi film director and screenwriter Sai Paranjpye, A Patchwork Quilt: A Collage of My Creative Life (HarperCollins India, ₹599), provides a charming glimpse into the Padma Bhushan awardee’s colourful and exciting life.
While Sai is best known for the Bollywood cult classic Chashme Buddoor (1981) besides landmark films such as Sparsh (1980), Katha (1983), Disha (1990), Papeeha (1993), and Saaz (1997), she seamlessly meandered through “the magical labyrinth of radio, television and film, like a carefree gypsy” in her multifarious journey.
During the heady days when theatre, television and films were at a nascent stage in India, all of these forays led her to create several works—books for youngsters, a children’s theatre movement, documentaries, telefilms, television serials and feature films.
Sai’s genius possibly also came from her genes. Her grandfather, Dr R P Paranjpye, was a famous mathematician. Her mother, Shakuntala, was a writer, social worker and theatre artist who graduated from Cambridge and completed a stint at the International Labour Organisation, Geneva.
Sai’s father was a Russian artist, but since the marriage didn’t last long, her mother returned to India when Sai was only six months old. From the very beginning, she stood out among her peers due to her hybrid Indo-Russian heritage. While growing up, books were a huge obsession in her household. Even as a child, she was a storyteller. At the age of eight, she published a book of her own fairytales.
Sai’s career began as a Marathi radio announcer and English news bulletin reader for AIR Poona. It was here that she began hosting a children’s show and created radio and other plays. Thereafter, she launched Children’s Theatre, Poona along with Arun Joglekar, whom she grew close to and married.
A month later, she joined the third batch of the National School of Drama’s two-year course. The production techniques of its then dashing director, Ebrahim Alkazi, had a great influence on her understanding of the medium. Thereafter, she began teaching at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, and many of her students became well-known actors later.
The eclectic atmosphere of the institute further inspired her to make several productions. Later, she worked as a producer at Doordarshan Delhi for eight years, at a time when television was just about entering India and its homes. Following this, she became a producer-in-charge at the Children’s Film Society India, Mumbai.
For her achievements, Sai was also awarded a French government scholarship to study theatre and television in France. During this time, she reunited with her father and paternal family after a gap of 26 years.
Sai’s enthusiasm for the medium is evident in her effervescent writing, which is almost infectious. Her life story is summed up in this quote of hers in the book: “Any creative person, especially a writer, can do justice to the subject at hand if he or she is able to inhabit the skin of another person. You cannot expect to undergo every salient experience yourself, but if you observe with your eyes (and mind) wide open, there is no dearth of fascinating material around.”
Vivid descriptions of Sai’s long list of precious works in the world of stage, television and screen are a sheer delight to relive. While relating each incident, Sai sprinkles several anecdotes—both professional and personal—which makes the book a very pleasurable read indeed.
Her cherished memories are replete with rich life experiences and encounters with people, all of which add up to make the versatile and multifaceted persona that she is. While reading, one is amazed at how she has captured all the tiny details through her articulate, visual prose.
The book occupies an important place in the annals of Indian cinematic and theatrical history, and is a treasure trove for all aficionados of the medium, lovers of the performing arts and anyone intrigued by its evolution.
The book also gives a glimpse into an older era when an innovative storyline was supreme to a film, and the process of filmmaking included meticulous and often cumbersome details that the digital generation today cannot even imagine.