She’s fair, with a shock of white hair and a kindly expression on her face. She’s 88, but looks 20 years younger — her voice is strong, her laugh full-throated and her memory sharp. She’s Vijaya Mulay, director, producer, scriptwriter of Ek, Anek Aur Ekta, or Ek Chiriya, Anek Chiriya as it’s generally called, the short educational animation on national integration and the need for unity which aired on Doordarshan in the 70s and 80s and which continues to be a firm favourite even today. Just look up YouTube and you’ll find around 25 pages on it. There are several clips of the film (the oldest uploaded in November 2005 boasts an impressive 310,873 views); videos of children — Kukku, Rohan, Sana, Stuti, age between 3 months and a year — dancing or gurgling to it, and even one of a mime act by students of MDI, Gurgaon. Clearly, the film with its simple tale, simply told, struck a chord with lots of people.
Mulay says even she is sometimes struck by the film’s popularity. “I was in Lucknow recently as jury for the International Children’s Film Festival, and interacting with mediapersons…they had grown up on Ek chiriya, they said. And when I said something, one of them answered, samajh gaya didi, a dialogue from the film. She apparently knew all the dialogues,” Mulay laughs.
Ek Anek may be what Mulay is best known for, but there’s far more to her. Mulay is a pioneer of the film society movement in India and definitely, among the country’s first women documentary filmmakers. Mulay’s made her first documentary, The Tidal Bore, in 1967 on the phenomenon in the Hooghly river, with encouragement from Louis Malle (she got to know him well when he came to Kolkata) and Satyajit Ray (he did the voiceover for the film).
While films may be her passion, education is the field that Mulay has mostly worked with, through long stretches with the NCERT, UGC and Centre for Educational Technology. A masters in education from the University of Leeds — her husband pushed her to take the scholarship when she refused to leave her two young children behind — Mulay’s experience in films came in handy when she was hired by UNICEF in 1975 to make films for children under a newly launched programme to use satellite communications to connect with teachers and students in the rural outbacks. Thus came Ek Anek.
Ironically, NCERT, which produced the film, no longer has a copy of the print. “Bombay Labs, which had the print, informed NCERT around 10 years ago that they were closing down and that it should get it. NCERT did nothing,” Mulay is scathing. Thankfully, Films Division had a copy — that’s where the YouTube clip came from.
Mulay’s latest venture, a project close to her heart and one she has been working on for close to a decade now is a book with the long, self-explanatory title — From Rajas and Yogis to Gandhi and Beyond: India in International Cinema, where she talks of over 900 films made between 1901 and 2000 in countries all over the world — Germany, France, Japan, Russia, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Sweden and others — that refer to India in some way or the other. Quite a project to take up in her seventies, especially as she had no one to help her, and little resources to pay for her travel to the countries and archives where she could see the films. “Edith Kramer, director of the Pacific Film Archive at Berkeley, asked me how many people were working in my team,” Mulay writes in an article. “When I told her it was a one-woman team, she laughed, ‘Talk about fools rushing in.’ I promptly responded, ‘You’re so right, Dr Kramer. One such fool is in front of you.’”
The book is ready now, Mulay is expecting the proofs and hopefully it will be out this year. Its author can hardly wait.