For a first film, 40-year-old director Suhail Tatari’s Summer 2007 — set to hit the screens next week — deals with a rather unglamorous subject, one that is at the heart of India’s agrarian crisis. It draws on the plight of debt-ridden farmers. Marathi actor Sachin Khedekar plays Mohammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Prize winner who revolutionised Bangladesh’s rural economy with his micro-credit system.
The film, which stars Kirron Kher's son Sikander and Gul Panag, is about five young doctors who are sent on a rural training camp. The rustic realities ideologically transform them. <b1>
“We are always talking about India being a superpower, and just 70 km away from any of us, the reality is something else, where 70 per cent of the people are unhappy,” Tatari says, explaining his choice of the subject.
Tatari seems to be next in the line of Bollywood’s thinking directors: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (Rang De Basanti) and Sudhir Mishra (Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi), etc. He religiously tunes into news bulletins, twice in the morning, first at 8 am on the All India Radio and then on television. “Dad brought us up this way, and news has became a part of my routine.”
Tatari’s father, AS Tatari, was with Doordarshan of the glorious 90s as its additional director-general, and a young Suhail would often accompany him to the studios. He came to Mumbai after his graduation in 1984, where an advertising course and a stint in an ad firm followed. Bored of “filming inanimate objects”, he moved on to television. His assignment with DD’s famous Surabhi series took him all over the country, followed by two daily soaps. He then made an award-winning documentary on breast cancer. Tatari eventually distanced himself from television and was “itching to make a film”. He then met producer Atul Pandey, who was toying with a story idea on college students. Tatari convinced him to make it more relevant and base it on the agrarian crisis. <b2>
Tatari, however, is not ready to ditch the masala that comes with a tinsel spectacle and Summer 2007 is essentially cast in the Bollywood mould. “We’ve taken the moneylenders angle. The government speaks about big relief packages but not about other equally serious problems. Village moneylenders have now become the new input dealers. So, the farmer is still in the clutches of the same man,” he says. The film explores micro and social credit as a possible solution to the problems of the farmers. “Our research shows the existence of micro-credit in Vidarbha, though confined to small groups.” The film is a reflection of the middle-class, he says. “We are mindlessly going to multiplexes, malls and wearing branded clothes. Our value system is changing.”
The director says he has tried to avoid being didactic by using the “youngsters’ lingo”, and while Summer 2007 may have shades of a Rang De Basanti and Yuva, he says it has “its own spine”. Among films and film-makers, Tatari admires Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday and Raju Hirani’s Lage Raho Munnabhai. “Great films with a social message.”
Tatari sees himself as a film-maker with a social conscience. “We are in an information age and perspective is important. One needs to engage more with what’s happening around us. As a film-maker, you are in the business of communication where you can influence minds and shape things to come…Am I sounding too idealistic?” he asks.