Sai Paranjpye: I have had my #MeToo moments too

By Khalid Mohamed

Sai Paranjpye, while discussing her autobiography, expresses solidarity with women outing sex predators.

She’s in the throes of translating her best-selling autobiography Say: Maza Kalapravas from Marathi to English even as she shuttles between her Juhu apartment and her ancestral home in Pune.

Pinning the feisty octogenarian down for a conversation on topics ranging from the book in works to the #MeToo movement takes some doing. But once she’s in the chatmode, Sai Paranjpye right off recalls that when she was a teenager, a ‘roadside Romeo’ who had flashed her while she was cycling down Pune street, was hauled by her straight to the police station.

Next morning, she was advised not to register a formal complaint. It wouldn’t be proper for a young woman to even mention the offender’s private parts. That didn’t deter her though. If the man had dared to do the unspeakable, surely, she didn’t have to mind her language.

On the #MeToo movement, Paranjpye says, “It’s terrific that many women are coming forward to expose the offenders. But it shouldn’t just become the trend of the season, the momentum has to be sustained. Suspects or whatever the correct legal term is, have been reined in. Women can’t be bulldozed any longer. It’s been asserted loud and clear, ‘You can’t get away with it’.”

Next, her pause speaks. Am I merely interested in extracting quotable quotes on the #MeToo topic? Am I using her book as a journalistic ruse? Fair enough. Hence, I return to the translation regimen, only to be answered with a knowing chuckle, “Alright, I’ll take your word for it. The book’s my labour of love right now and it’s taking me forever. I’m still living in the past century. Since I’m not computersavvy, I write on clean white paper with a black ink pen. That led to a crick in the neck, spondylitis. After intensive physio therapy, I’m back to the grind.”

By the year-end, she should be done with the English translation. “If you have a catchy title, let me know,” she laughs companionably. Right.

Over time, the Padma Bhushan awardee has excelled in a variety of mediums, be it cinema, theatre, radio, documentaries, story books, and television. “If I may say so, I’m a pioneer of television,” she points out. “Unbeknownst to many, I was sent from Delhi to produce the inaugural programme, featuring the shehnai wizard Bismillah Khan and other artistes, for Mumbai Doordarshan.”

The autobiography, as its Marathi title indicates, focuses on her creative journey. “It’s not about my love life,” she remarks, adding frankly, “But you could say I’ve been catty. I’ve pointed out nasty instances in my career. Like Basu Bhattacharya (producer of Sparsh) took me for a ride. I’ve been blunt about Gul Anand (producer of Chashme Buddoor) who made tons of money, wringing the film’s success to the last drop.”

Cover of Paranjpye’s book, Say: Maza Kalapravas

Cover of Paranjpye’s book, Say: Maza Kalapravas

Never the sort to mince words, Paranjpye continues, “And I haven’t shied away from the Javed Akhtar story. He was writing the lyrics of Saaz. A recording had been scheduled with Suresh Wadkar and Kavita Krishnamurthy, but he took off without so much as a by-your-leave to Khandala. Overnight, I had to write the lyrics of the song ‘Baadal Ghumad Bhad Aaye’. And what do you know? Javed Akhtar won the National Award for the Saaz lyrics and didn’t have the courtesy to say a simple thank you.”

Vis-à-vis Nana Patekar, the lead actor of her film Disha, the filmmaker comments, “I’ve given him a piece of my mind in the book and beautifully so. At the B.R. dubbing studio, he was throwing one of his tantrums. I told him to leave and never come back. A few minutes later, he opened the studio’s door theatrically and had the nerve to say, ‘You’re saved because you’re a woman. Or else you wouldn’t still be here.’ Next morning, he called sweetly to ask about the timing of the dubbing session. I was as sweet, and the work was completed.”

The multiple awardwinning director and writer states that she can be fiercely self-critical. After graduating from the National School of Drama, she had staged a Marathi adaptation of Hamlet which was “expressionistic and stylised but I missed out on the soul of Shakespeare’s masterwork. I was roasted by the critics deservedly. However, I was shocked by the response to my adaptation of Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers, about a 50yish man who resolves to have flings with women. The audience roared with laughter but after the show, several people whose opinion I counted on, said, ‘This was not expected of you Sai. How can you bring up the topic of adulterous affairs?’”

At this point, I ask whether she has ever been subjected to sexual harassment. “Plenty of times,” she responds firmly. “There was a time, when men from all sorts of circles would try to kiss me and that’s putting it politely. I’d tell them to back off. Then there was this instance when a minister in the central cabinet offered to drop me home in his chauffeur-driven car, after an evening party hosted by my friend Saryu Doshi. During the drive, he passed me a chit saying, ‘I’d like to spend the night with you.’ With a deadpan face, I declined. On reaching my place as I was getting out from the car, he asked me meekly, ‘May I have the chit back?’ So, I’ve had my #MeToo moments too. No point revealing the minister’s name now, he’s dead and gone.”

Paranjpye surmises whether it’s yesterday or today, when sexual predators see that a woman is alone — single, married, separated or unaccompanied — they jump to the conclusion that she’s “available and fair game…it’s high time that such male chauvinists were shamed.”

And the parting shot is, “I am supremely glad about the #MeToo movement. Here’s wishing more power to the elbow of my soul sisters.

Mumbai Mirror