Dharan Mandrayar's , "White Rainbow" or "Shwetambhar," in Hindi, promises to be a
graphic depiction of the plight of widows in Vrindavan. It has been sub-titled in English
for its international release. The maker talks to MALATHI RANGARAJAN.
DHARAN MANDRAYAR is a pleasure to talk to. As he enters he apologises profusely for the
delay in reaching his office. Amidst post-production work, tying up loose ends and completing the
formalities before he transports the reel to Cannes, Dharan sets aside a couple of hours for a chat, on the
project that is very close to his heart at the moment "White Rainbow," or "Shwetambhar," the Hindi
film that has Sonali Kulkarni as the protagonist and Dharan as its director. Dharan's wife Linda, (she
specializes in Public Relations and Advertising) and Hannah Kirby, (a tech-savvy, software person) are
"I hate to be late for a meeting ... but the Chennai traffic ... it's just maddening," he explains. Dharan lives
in Bonsall, California. You feel like telling him, "Relax ... it was not a problem." For the few minutes wait
had helped you catch glimpses of the historic pictures on the walls. Thespian Sivaji Ganesan with
Vyjayanthimala, with the great Hollywood stars of the time, with his wife Kamala and each seemed to
tell a story of its own. It was the Sivaji Films' office, near Lloyds Road, Chennai. In case you are
flummoxed, Dharan Mandrayar is actor Sivaji Ganesan's nephew. The veteran's brother V. C.
Shanmugham's son. And "White Rainbow" is being produced for a global audience, by Dharlin
Entertainment, in partnership with Sivaji Films and Prabhu Movies.
"White Rainbow" deals with a societal issue, an anathema still prevalent in India, particularly in
Vrindavan. It is much more than sadness that Dharan feels when he talks about the plight of the widows
of Vrindavan. And as he delves into the callousness of a society that metes out gross injustice to the
husbandless, his empathy is almost palpable. "Most of us who live in this country hardly know the extent
of the atrocities committed on the hapless widows of Vrindavan," he says.
For more on the subject that affected Dharan immeasurably and made him address it in a way he knows
best, for the toil the mission involved and the light at the end of the tunnel that he leads you to, read on ...
There's been a huge gap between Dharan's first film and the second
"I made "Ele, My Friend" in English in 1993. Set in the 1920s, it was a story of the friendship between a 10-year-old
boy and an elephant. The film bagged the Best Picture for Environment and Quality of Life Award in Bellizona,
Switzerland. Sivaji Ganesan's son, actor Prabhu, did a small role in it. Amjad Khan had a major part. In fact, it was
the Khan's last film. "Dushyanth too was in it as a small boy ... I gave the guy a start and he doesn't even respect me
for it," he quips as he looks at Sivaji's grandson sitting beside him, who's now a budding hero in Tamil cinema. "But
after that I have been doing a whole lot of things in the U.S. that have kept me busy ... music videos, computer
games for children and so on." Dharan did his Masters in Business Administration in the U.S., and teaches
Management in San Diego, California.
But teaching and film direction seem to be contrasting areas of operation
(Laughs) "Not so at all ... both include management, here it is people management ..."
How the story of "White Rainbow" came about
In one of my son's school lessons I came across the story of a 13-year-old widow in Vrindavan. I was shocked at the
plight of the young girl. Linda too felt so strongly about it that she egged me on to make a film on the subject. But
first I had to know the truth, so I travelled all the way to Vrindavan for a first hand account. Mohini Giri, of the
Guild of Service, helped me a lot in this endeavour. Her service is amazing ... She even runs a home for widows in
Vrindavan. That is why I decided to name my heroine Priya Giri." The research took him six months and the script
another four weeks. "We have experienced `script doctors' in the U. S. who work on your script and improve them.
Once that was over and the cast and crew were finalised we were ready for take-off. We had planned a 41-day
schedule but we managed to can the whole project in an incredible 25 days. I believe Providence helped us at every
stage ... "
Is Dharan religious?
"Mmmm ... I am more spiritual, you could say."
The story itself
"Vrindavan is often referred to as the City of Widows. The epithet may sound disconcerting, but the veracity cannot
be ignored. The widows in Vrindavan, young and old, are sexually exploited and physically abused in every way
possible. Shorn of the last vestige of dignity and ostracised as an "inauspicious" presence in the family, many of
them are brought to Vrindavan and abandoned. They are illiterate and have no trained skills to support themselves.
From morn till night they slog, sing bhajans for about eight hours a day (ashrams recruit widows for the job) and at
the end of it earn a measly Rs.2. Several pathetic tales of these women haunt you when you go around the city, out
of which I chose four. The stories are true, only that I've fictionalised them to suit the medium. Nowhere have I tried
to dramatise ... It's just plain truth."
"White Rainbow" is a story of four widows who come together at Vrindavan, to find a way out of their misery.
Initially they are part of the traumatised tribe, but they refuse to remain marginalised and cowed down by the
inhuman force around them. And leading this group comprising the elderly Roop, the young Mala, who has
been disfigured by her mother-in-law and even younger Deepti, who has been widowed at 15 and forced into
prostitution is Priya Giri. "She is destined to change their fate ... "
On why he chose Sonali Kulkarni to head the cast
"I felt Sonali had the right amount of dignity and demeanor to carry off such a role and she's from the Marathi
stage. I had not seen any of her commercial films when I signed her. She agreed to do the role even without reading
the script and later when I sent it to her, she called me back weeping. Such was the impact. In fact, the actors
breaking down during the shoot or after a scene was almost a norm during the making of `White Rainbow.' "
The other actors
The three girls, Amardheep Jha who plays Roop, Shameem Shaikh Mala in the film, and the teen-aged Deepti
Amruta Subhash are from the National School of Drama and their work was flawless. Gaurav Kapoor, and Amitabh
Srivastava also from NSD, who helped with the translation of my dialogue into Hindi, are also in it. Basically I
wanted actors who could deliver and they sure did ...
About the title
"It is oxymoronic ... " he smiles. "The film is about these women who have myriad colours in them like the rainbow,
so much to offer society ... yet they are made to go around in white. Both the versions, the one that has English
subtitles for the international audience and the Hindi release, were to be called "White Rainbow." But I was advised
that in remote Hindi-speaking belts, the English name would not be understood ... so there it will be called
"Shwetambhar" with the English name below, as a slug."
Technicians from here and abroad are in the crew ...
"Yes ... I am comfortable with Michael Mason, the composer who's come down all the way here to give the music.
It's a boon ... Michael's filmography includes "Bruce Almighty", "Spy Kids", "Spy Kids 2", "Princess Diaries" and
"The Scorpion King" and also major television productions, such as "The West Wing" and "Providence." Lenin had
stopped editing as he has turned to direction himself, but once he read the script, he readily agreed. And we had
Kannan to do the photography, Santhana Bharati as the first A.D. and Prabhakaran to do the sets each a giant in
his field ... "
The positive signal that the film sends out to the distraught and distressed ...
That definitely there's hope ... and there's help, if you seek it. That's what we're trying to say."
On that note you wrap up the conversation. His final query is when the interview is likely to appear in
print. In another fortnight, you tell him. "Good. I would have flown back home by then ... " he laughs
aloud. Dharan has a whacky sense of humour too.