If you belong to my generation or the prevous, there’s a good chance that you have seen and enjoyed the works of Sai Paranjpye but an equally good chance that you barely knew who she was. Since DoorDarshan was the only channel available those days, and Sai Paranjpye somehow had cracked how to deal with bureaucrats from both the films division departments as well as the Doordarshan, she did a lot of work with them which we got to see on television and boy was it good!.
Sai Paranjpye’s forte was comedy and it was not the loud Punjabi humour but more subtle, understated, and witty yet simple humour. Her body of work is a proud display of her grip on some fabulous wit and comedy.
One of the first films I had seen of hers, and possibly also her finest (according to me) was a film for children called “Jaadu ka Shankh” (the Magical Conch). This was a simple movie in black and white, but super engaging , fun and both children and families enjoyed watching this. I had seen it both in the theatre and several times on television. Not to be missed, it still is a fabulous watch. This short film showecased her talent for working with children.
Sai Paranjpye did a lot of movies – most of them low-profile, and seemed more arthousy but were commercial successes. One of the first and her biggest successes was “Chashm-e-buddoor” (the Evil Eye) which was a surprise sleeper hit, and has one of the funniest moments in film history. The others she directed weren’t as big hits. But among my favourites are Sparsh and Katha.
Sparsh was about blind children and one of the most sensitive portrayals of the need to treat them with dignity and offering them opportunities. Then Katha was a fabulous movie – and struck a chord, particularly if you are from Maharashtra and familiar with the Chawl system. The humour in this movie was more subtle. I didn’t get to see a lot of her other work, especially those in Theatre, books, documentary and in Marathi which'd be equally good as her well-known films
What was notable was how prolific she was and never tiring given the body of work, especially on television. As Doordarshan was moving from B&W transmission to colour, they had asked DD Mumbai to produce a short program on this, and this was done by Sai Paranjpye. This was about a 2 hour program hosted by Tinnu Anand and Anil Biswani and is a laugh riot, and nearly on par with the kind of zany ‘anything’s possible’ kind of humour you saw in “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron”. She then went on to direct quite a few successful TV serials.
Sai Paranjpye’s work had its limitations. She rarely almost never worked with mainstream actors – the closest being Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi and her regular, the late Farooque Shaikh. As a result most of her work was slotted into the serious/ arty films and not the commercial potboilers. The other limitation is that comedy doesn’t translate very well, and hence her audience would have to be limited mainly to India, as the humour wouldn’t be understood easily by the global audience. She also was relatively low-profile and not part of the mostly Punjabi fraternity in the Mumbai film world. Hence very few people remember or her work celebrated as much.
Despite this, Sai Paranjpye is one of India’s finest directors and her works bring a smile and relief several decades after her producing them first. Do look out and take time out for her works, it’s worth it.