Multiple National Award-winning filmmaker Sumitra Bhave passed away on Monday morning after a brief illness following a lung infection at Pune’s Sahyadri Hospital. She was 78.
Bhave leaves behind a legacy of films that she made with her long-time collaborator Sunil Sukthankar, ranging from Dahavi Fa, in which a young school teacher draws out the potential of students relegated to the backbenches and low grades, to Kaasav and Astu that focus on mental health.
Dr Mohan Agashe, who has worked with Bhave on films such as Kaasav and Astu, spoke about her contribution to cinema, “She was not a filmmaker or even a theatre practitioner to begin with. Sumitra Bhave was a graduate of Tata Institute of Social Science and was a social scientist and a researcher. She was working with Karve Institute, where she was teaching social work and sociology and doing a research project with Stree Vani on problems of women in urban slums in the 1980s. As she explored the adversities and survival of the women, she saw that the women did not know reading or writing but they all used to see films. She thought of making a film. Without knowing anything of filmmaking, she took a long leap that very few people would have dared to.”
That film was a short, titled Bai, which Bhave and Sukthankar took to slums for screening. Bai won the National Film Award for Best Non-Feature Film on Family Welfare. Her next, Paani, revolved around the struggles of women in drought-prone regions. It won the National Film Award for the Best Educational / Motivational / Instructional Film.
Bhave and Sukthankar made their first feature film, Doghi, in 1995, about a young woman whose life changes after the groom’s family meets a fatal accident before their wedding. The film won three National Awards, and led the way of several films with deep social concerns. In 2019, she made Dithee, which explores the subject of loss and grieving, and is yet to be released. “We were also planning a new film on senior citizens, so her passing has affected me a great deal,” says Dr Agashe.