By Aasawari Shenolikar :
“The manufacturing of an indigenous and affordable vaccine by India was a remarkable accomplishment, not only for the nation as a whole, but also for the scientists who made it possible. We accomplished something close to a miracle by manufacturing a vaccine on a large enough scale to serve India’s 1.3 billion people. When other countries were struggling to cope with the pandemic and had no or limited access to the vaccine that could stop the spread of the deadly virus, India supplied 30 million doses to other countries across the globe,” stated the very talented Pallavi Joshi while talking to The Hitavada. She feels proud that countries in Africa and elsewhere in the world that received the vaccine from India have publicly spoken about it and applauded our nation staying true to its policy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. She, along with her husband Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri were in the city to promote their upcoming film The Vaccine War that is already talk of the town for various reasons. Flushed with the success of winning the National Award twice, Pallavi has her fingers crossed that her latest film, The Vaccine War, in which she also plays a significant role, would also amaze audiences with its portrayal of the glorious work done by our scientists. The husband and wife team behind this film were inspired to make it because they wanted the public to see just how much of an effort had gone into developing an indigenous vaccination. “It’s an inspiring story of men and women, more so women, which we wanted to showcase to the world for their significant contribution to society,” Pallavi adds. However, there is a vocal minority who have referred to their works as “propaganda driven or agenda driven films” on various social media platforms.
Pallavi is unfazed by all this hostility, for she knows that after criticising The Kashmir Files and The Tashkent Files, these same critics will inevitably attack the next picture they show to the public. “If they don’t, all the poison they’ve spilled will be for naught. We have made films that are really patriotic, that honour India and its people, and that try to get the truth out to the common man. With The Vaccine War, we are honouring the scientists who developed effective solutions to the challenges posed by the pandemic. It’s obvious that anyone who attacks this is taking an anti-national stand. Even if there are detractors on social media, we know that for every one of them, there are thousands who believe in us and our mission.” How well the film has been received in the whole of USA is also a slap on the face of the detractors. “We took the film on a promotional tour in the United States to reach an audience that has a deep connection to India. They might live in a foreign land, but their hearts still root for their country. Some who left India decades ago have no idea of the country’s development. We are no longer a third-world nation in terms of infrastructure (i.e., buildings, communications networks, highways, and employment opportunities). Present-day India is an India that the rest of the world admires, taking note of its remarkable development across the board. India is shining, and the audience that witnessed the film was astounded at how the government, the armed forces, the scientists, and the frontline workers collaborated to defeat the most feared virus that had gripped the world. It’s a tribute to our scientists” She also pointed out the fact that where developed nations were struggling to keep afloat, normal life was a norm in our country. “We never faced scarcity of any kind during the lockdown, our supply chains did not break down. Minor things which could have become major irritants like the garbage not being collected never happened here.
All the departments worked like a well-oiled machinery, and this is the biggest triumph for our country.” In hindsight, when you ponder on what she has just said, you cannot but agree with her. In one scenario, Pallavi discusses the importance of empowering women. How does she define empowerment, liberty, and freedom of expression in a world where the term is used interchangeably to justify a wide range of women’s behaviours, both onscreen and off? “Empowerment is when you are free to make your own choices, you are not easily intimidated and can choose to do what you think is right. In my experience, Indian women have always been strong and independent. In our society, empowerment has nothing to do with financial stability; thus a highly qualified working woman who chooses to stay at home to care for her children is just as empowered as a housewife who does the same. Will any Indian parent wish for their children to be raised in a society devoid of ethics, morality, and values? The sacrifices made by a stay-at-home mother are unparalleled. Liberation, on the other hand, is freeing yourself from the shackles that bind you. Liberation could be as silly as jumping out of your room’s window and running off to watch a movie that you have been forbidden to do. As for freedom of expression, everyone - irrespective of caste, gender, colour, creed has the right to express themselves. Even a child has the right.” She points out that The Vaccine War portrays the outstanding role played by women scientists in the creation of the vaccine. “75% of the workforce in the lab were women, like you and me, who’d toil in the lab, looking down microscopes and fiddling in the petri dishes and go home to tend to their families. These are empowered women.”
On a lighter note, she talks about the equation between firebrand Nana Patekar who portrays the role of Dr Balram Bhargava, Director General of ICMR, who played a pivotal role in the development of the vaccine and her husband Vivek Agnihotri who wields the baton for The Vaccine War. “I was extremely nervous waiting for the sparks to fly. But everything went off smoothly mainly because Nana surrendered himself in totality to Vivek’s vision. Nana had categorically apprised Vivek that speaking in English would be a challenge. So he had asked Vivek to help him face this difficulty and also that sometimes he tends to go overboard. While Vivek took care of all this, Nana added so many nuances to his character that he has elevated the film a notch with his superb portrayal.” Laughingly she says, they’ve agreed to do another film together, “and that is when I am sure the sparks will fly.” But as of now, the team is extremely happy with the work that they will screen for the world to see on September 28 when The Vaccine War releases officially in theatres. While we do know that just like their other films, this will be a critically applauded film and will win our hearts, Pallavi, with her down-to earth demeanour and her very positive attitude has already carved a permanent place in our hearts.