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'In India, documentaries are like non-cricket sports'

entertainment Updated: Mar 12, 2012 18:34 IST
Suprateek Chatterjee
Suprateek Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
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In 2005, Pramod Purswane’s father was suffering from a serious heart ailment. Doctors at Mahim’s Hinduja Hospital asked him to take his father home because there was nothing more that they could do, in order to free up a bed for other prospective patients. “I was angry,” says Purswane. “I stood outside Siddhivinayak Temple sobbing profusely, not caring who saw me.”

A lifelong atheist, Purswane started bargaining with God to keep his father alive. He says, “I made a pact to remain a believer even if my father didn’t make it.” Luckily, his father pulled through and is still in excellent health for his age.

At around the same time, a converse incident was taking place in Varanasi. Gaurishankar Singh, a professor-cum-hockey coach, was helping his son Vivek with a four-year battle against cancer. This was the Vivek Singh who had played for the Indian hockey team between 1984 and 1990 as one of the country’s most celebrated centre-halfs, representing India in every major tournament, including the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But Gaurishankar advised Vivek, frustrated he couldn’t play, to give up his body if he didn’t wish to live like this any more. Two days later, Vivek died peacefully.

This incident appears in Purswane’s And We Play On, a 50-minute documentary on the life of Vivek Singh, his family and the posthumously established Vivek Singh Hockey Academy in Varanasi (see box Drawn into a real story). It was named the best non-feature film of 2011 at the 59th National Awards on Wednesday. For Purswane, now 40, this award has come after two decades of compromise and perseverance.

His early years were spent in Mahim, where his father was vice-principal of KJ Khilnani High School. In the late 1970s, his father left that post to become an exhibitor-distributor of Hindi films to the Middle East. “I grew up being able to choose one of three cars to take me to school and hobnobbing with Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan,” he says. But in the early 1980s, the home video boom hit his father’s business, leading to severe financial deterioration over the next decade. Meanwhile, by the end of 1993, Purswane had a post-graduate law degree from National College in Bandra, only to discover he wanted to be in films. “I was too immature to see my family’s problems, and they were too protective to expose me to them,” he recalls.

He spent the next eight years trying to become an actor while dabbling in advertising and legal drafting. In 2001, he joined television as a production assistant, a decision he says he was “uncomfortable with from day one”. “I was regularly accused of ‘being too obsessed with quality’,” he says. But at least he earned enough to fund his passion.

And We Play On is his first directorial effort (he also wrote and produced it). The award is an honour he did not expect to get, having submitted the film a day before the deadline. But the mainstream media has largely ignored the film. “Documentaries are treated the same way as sports other than cricket,” he says.