In the memory of millions who grew up watching Doordarshan in the 1970s and ’80s, the playfully instructive song, ek chidiya anek chidiya, is a fond signpost. Vijaya Mulay, who directed Ek Anek Aur Ekta, the animation short featuring that enduring track, passed away at her south Delhi residence on Sunday evening. She was 98.
Mulay’s seven-minute film, aimed at children, messaged the importance of unity in diversity and celebrated its powers and pleasures. The film’s popular number, composed by the renowned Vasant Desai, became a staple at school functions. Produced by animation pioneer Bhim Sain — who later directed iconic features such as Gharaonda and Dooriyan — Ek Anek aur Ekta received the national award for best promotional film in the non-commercial category in 1974. It has over 1.7 million views on YouTube.
A film historian of merit, Mulay was also given the national award for best writing on cinema for her work, From Rajahs and Yogis to Gandhi and Beyond: Images of India in International Films of the Twentieth Century.
A multi-tasker, Mulay was engaged in creating a wide network of film societies, invaluable for the spread of meaningful cinema in the country. “She was the founder of Patna Film Society and a pillar of Delhi Film Society. She later became president of the Federation of Film Societies of India (FFSI) after Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen. She was an educationist by profession and close friends with former PM Indira Gandhi and Marie Seton, the British film scholar. She mentored a generation of filmmakers and film-writers in India,” wrote VK Cherian, author of India’s Film Society Movement: The Journey and its Impact, in a post on Facebook.
Mulay’s debut documentary, The Tidal Bore, was about a giant swell of water moving up the river Hooghly. The making of the documentary wasn’t easy. Ray provided the film’s commentary. Her daughter, actress Suhasini Mulay recalled that she brimmed with vitality till the end. On August 15 last year her mother took out the national flag that she had unfurled with her husband in 1947, preserved for all this time. It was a rich life, fully realised.
Mumbai-born Mulay established the Delhi Film Society in the ’50s with merely 22 members. She presided over the Central Board of Film Certification from 1962 to 1967 and also served as joint secretary of the Federation of Film Societies in the ’60s. She was the driving force behind an array of educational films produced for the Center for Educational Technology (CET) from the ’70s onwards, that were broadcast in over 2,400 villages in four languages.
Known to be straightforward, the film historian, writer and researcher was bestowed several prestigious awards, including the V Shantaram Award for Lifetime Achievement for documentaries at the Mumbai International Film Festival in 2002, and Vikram Sarabhai Life Time Achievement Award for educational communication in 1999. Among the over 35 films that she helped bring out, her dearest project was reportedly the four-minute feature Na, aimed at children aged between six to nine, to help them recognise the letter ‘Na’. Her celebrated works also include Gangubai Hangal, a biographical film on Gangubai Hangal (renowned exponent of Hindustani classical music hailing from the Kirana gharana) and the documentary The Tidal Bore, where she recalled how she witnessed tidal bore during her walks alongside Hooghly River, where 15-feet high tides would erupt from the Bay of Bengal.
Mourning Mulay’s loss on social media, National Award-winning film critic Meenakshi Shedde stated, “Akka enjoyed close friendships with Satyajit Ray, French filmmaker Louis Malle and others; they helped her make her documentary The Tidal Bore.”
Delhi-based award-winning filmmaker and film critic Utpal Borpujari fondly recalls how he would often meet Mulay at various film screenings in the Capital. “Although there was a huge age gap, her infectious energy drew everyone towards her, especially when she spoke of her association with filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen. We used to listen to her like kids listening to stories from their grandmother,” said Borpujari.
Mother of actor Suhasini Mulay, Vijaya also won the National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema in 2011 for her book From Rajahs and Yogis to Gandhi and Beyond: Images of India in International Films of the 20th Century (Seagull Books). Her endeavour to promote primary education through films was evident with her participation in government initiatives such as Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) and CET.
A month after receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the seventh CMS Vatavaran Film Festival in Delhi in 2014, in an interview to The Indian Express, Vijaya said, “When you do something and it comes out right, it feels nice when people enjoy it.”