Freedom: My Story

A graduate in Film Editing from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, in 1969, Arunaraje Patil first edited and directed films as one of the Aruna-Vikas team, the other being ex-husband and also an FTII alumnus, Vikas Desai. The two made films like Shaque (1976), Gehrayee (1980) and Sitam (1982) before they split up. From a secure career and a happy married life, Patil had to find herself, both professionally and personally, following the death of her young daughter to cancer and her subsequent divorce from Desai. Which she did. Patil’s autobiography, Freedom: My Story, being launched in Mumbai today, is the inspiring tale of a woman who never gave up, turned her situation around and has since lived her life on her own terms.

Following is an extract from the book looking at the Aruna-Vikas duo’s clash with the Censor Board when they were making Shaque.

The scenes in Shaque, whether in bed or in the sitting room, were intimate; it was like the husband and wife had been together and their bodies too were comfortable with each other and it was apparent whichever frame they were in.

In fact, early in the film, there is a scene in which Vinod and Shabana are in bed together, asleep. The alarm rings. Vinod shuts it off and wakes up Shabana in a cosy, intimate way. Just before the scene, Shabana turned to us and said, ‘I don’t know how married couples behave… show me what you want.’ So Vikas and I actually got on the bed and demonstrated what we had in mind for Vinod and her to do. They did the shot very well and we got feedback from many people saying that they loved the love scenes and at the end of the film, many couples said that they walked out holding hands.

But we had problems with the CBFC. The committee of the CBFC is made up of normal people but when they sit in a censor’s chair, something weird happens to them. It was so then, has continued to be that way even now and considering how things are, will continue to be the way it is in the future too.

We had a scene wherein Shabana walks into the sea, wishing to end her life as she cannot bear to be with her husband who she thinks is a murderer and yet cannot leave him as divorce is not an option for her. She loves him and, unable to deal with the situation that renders her helpless, she chooses to give up her life altogether. Just at that moment, Vinod finds what he has been searching for – the proof of his innocence – and as he comes to the beach looking for his wife, he realises she has walked into the sea. He jumps in, swims up to her and rescues her.

He carries her back to their beach house, puts her on a ‘divan’ and covers her with a quilt since she is shivering. He then lies down next to her and revives her. He caresses and kisses her forehead and ear and neck while a song is playing in the background. The whole song was done in four trolley shots, with the camera mounted on a trolley.

The CBFC asked us to cut large portions of the scene which, if cut, would cease to exist because we did nit have any spare shots and we could not keep cutting in and out. According to them, in their words, in the letter they wrote, ‘the couple is performing coitus’, and that needed to be cut. There was no way Vinod and Shabana could be deemed doing that, given their physical positions but the guys at the CBFC were adamant. Finally they chopped a bit of the entangled toes and the beginnings and ends of the shots.

Those days, and they had the gall to do it, they would run the film on the Steenbeck and tell you what to cut and where to resume from. They did not have a clue about movies or continuity but they had the power to bring even established film-makers to heel.

Printed with permission from Freedom: My Story, Arunaraje Patil, HarperCollins India. You can buy the book online here.

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