Sairat director Nagraj Manjule’s ex-wife Sunita says she was never a part of the filmmaker’s grand dream (Photo: Yogen Shah (L); Akash Supare (R))
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Exclusive: ‘Sairat’ Director’s Ex-Wife Tells Her Story of Abuse

Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat not only gifted its director glowing reviews, but also crowned him as the maker of Marathi cinema’s most successful film. It’s no mean feat, and Manjule is busy pocketing plaudits from every corner.

The lead cast of Sairat in a scene from the film
The lead cast of Sairat in a scene from the film

Call it the irony of fate or the loneliness of a long distance runner, there is someone from his past who is feeling completely left out in this heavy shower of success. Sunita Manjule, Nagraj Manjule’s ex-wife, has emerged out of the shadows to cry foul and points fingers at the director’s tall claims on his stand on women’s place in society. Citing financial, emotional and physical abuse, Sunita alleges that the director’s words are all show, and it is she who is going to tell the real tale.

Here on, Sunita Manjule describes her marital woes in her own words.

I got married to Nagraj Manjule in 1997, when I was barely 18-19 years old. It was an arranged marriage, for our families decided our union. He was studying in his XII th standard when we became one. I hail from Chinchwad, Pune, and post marriage, I went on to live with his family in Jeur, Solapur.

His family was rather large with his parents, and his brothers. Since Nagraj was the eldest, I became the eldest daughter-in-law and I had to take care of the entire family.

Nagraj Manjule and his wife Sunita on their wedding day in 1997 (Photo courtesy: Akash Supare)
Nagraj Manjule and his wife Sunita on their wedding day in 1997 (Photo courtesy: Akash Supare)
Cleaning, cooking, and being the ideal bahu, I was playing the role of looking after everyone’s well being. The family was big, and I used to be busy in household work throughout the day. Since his mother would be down with fever most of the time, the onus of being the woman of the house was always on me.

On the other hand, Nagraj was busy in his studies. While I was with taking care of his parents in his village, he lived in the city. After finishing his studies in Pune, he wanted to pursue filmmaking. He used to tell me always that he wants to become a big filmmaker, and he must pursue this course. He enrolled himself in an institute in Ahmednagar.

He was so engrossed in his studies and dreams that he hardly had time for me. It was me who was toiling 24 X 7 for 365 days so that his family can be fed and taken care of. Whenever he used to come home, he would assure me that when he becomes a big filmmaker he would take me out of the village, and we would make a nest in a big city like Mumbai. It all felt so beautiful, and a dream we both could inhabit.

There were problems in our marriage but I overlooked them because I was devoted to my husband, and because of that, to his family. That’s all every Indian woman does, right?

The dreams he showed me came crashing as soon as his filmmaking career started to bloom. His short film, Pistulya, was highly praised by everyone, but our joy knew no bounds when it was chosen for the National Awards. He was about to receive an award from the President of India! I was over the moon.

But I was in for a rude shock when I realised that I was not a part of my husband’s plans. Not only that, his entire family went to Delhi. Not only did they go without me, they also locked me inside the house while they were leaving. I didn’t know what to do. I was at a loss for words.
Nagraj Manjule’s wife Sunita reveals her side of the story (Photo courtesy: Akash Supare)
Nagraj Manjule’s wife Sunita reveals her side of the story (Photo courtesy: Akash Supare)

The husband I knew slowly vanished into the filmmaker. Slowly, his visits dwindled and whenever he would come, he would get his friends, sometimes male sometimes female, along. I would cook, serve and be the best host possible. But he would never even acknowledge my presence in front of his friends. So much so that he would leave without even telling me. And I would come to know about his departure from other family members.

After that National Award incident, our marriage fell apart. I sensed that he might be seeing someone else, or he is not happy with me.

Then came a point when I begged him to let me stay in his family, he could do whatever he wanted, I just wanted to retain his surname. Tell me, after marriage, which woman would find it comfortable going back to her parents’ house?

As fate would have it, it all came to a sad end. My parents came to take me back to their house. Which parent can tolerate such misery for their children? I was taken to their family as the daughter-in-law, but in practice, I was their housemaid.

There were efforts by others so that we could get back, but my husband refused to co-operate. Then a divorce case was filed in 2012, and the case went on for long. Finally, our lawyer spoke to their lawyer, and fixed up a deal in 2014.

I was made to sign papers which I could barely understand, and a demand draft of Rs 7 lakhs was given as the settlement sum, out of which our lawyer, above his payments, took away Rs 1 lakh. Later, I came to know that I would have no right on his property, alimony or his life. I was told this was all I could get.

What I regret the most is not having any child of my own, despite being married for 15 long years. Looking at other married women, I always longed to taste motherhood, have a child of my own, but it wasn’t possible in our marriage. Because every time I would ask him about having a child, he would scold me that it wouldn’t be possible because he can’t afford to get bogged down by familial ties, when he has filmy dreams to chase.

Nagraj Manjule’s ex-wife Sunita (Photo: Akash Supare)
Nagraj Manjule’s ex-wife Sunita (Photo: Akash Supare)
This is why he made me go for 2-3 abortions, and whenever I raised my voice for keeping the child, he thrashed me, with his bare hands, leather belt and sometimes, a log of wood.

After Fandry, Sairat has really been loved by everyone, and this makes me very proud that my husband is such a creative man. But I think he is embarrassed of me. He moves in the artistic circles, the who’s who of Maharashtra speak to him with high regard, and here I am, someone who has studied only till VIII th standard. I think that’s the reason he deemed me fit only to take care of his family and to do household work, but not be the wife that he could acknowledge in front of everyone. Now he has become successful, and I, being the not-so-literate makes him ashamed, which is why he got rid of me.

I have given 15 years of my life, my blood and sweat to nurture his family when he was busy struggling to study and make a career. And now, I have been reduced to a nobody, a stranger.

Now, I live with my parents and my siblings. I work as a maid in different houses to make my livelihood. I am sheltered as long as my parents are alive. My brothers are married and have their own families. I don’t know what future really has in store for me. My parents are old, and I don’t know what will I do after their death. I am scared, but I don’t know whether people would understand my state of being.

Does This Make Sairat a Blatant Case of Double Standards?

Known for his stand on caste oppression as a burning reality in his films, Nagraj Manjule has stated in many interviews that women are the dalits of the dalits. A stand that is clear in Sairat, which favours Archie’s journey more than Parshya’s. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction. Nagraj’s ex-wife clearly alleges that there is much hypocrisy between what is preached and what is practiced.

Akash Supare, a social worked based in Pune, was approached to act as a mediator when Nagraj and Sunita’s marriage crumbled. He shed further light on the matter.

I really tried to get the two parties together and end their discord. If two people can end their marital dispute before going to the court, it’s always better. But despite my incessant calls, Nagraj Manjule refused to co-operate and meet. Slowly, my attention got divided since there was no response from Nagraj’s side, and it was going nowhere. Later, I came to know that they went to the court, and got a divorce done.
Akash Supare, Social Worker

The outcome of the settlement, Rs 7 lakhs with no right to property, left Supare completely shocked.

When I saw their papers, I was completely shocked. This is a clear case of financial exploitation. What is Rs 7 lakhs in todays world of inflation? Not only that, Sunita has also told me how Nagraj made her go though abortions for he wanted to chase his dreams. He got his way out, but in the bargain, his wife, Sunita got a very raw deal. If a filmmaker has delivered the most successful film in Marathi film history, how come his wife is washing utensils? Does that happen anywhere else in India? Does any hit Bollywood director’s ex-wife work as a maid? It’s the story of every Indian woman who gives her life taking care of the husband’s family, but her contribution hardly gets acknowledged. When Sunita told me her ordeal, I realized in a few meetings that Nagraj’s family has made a fool out of her because she is not an educated woman. Imagine, despite such unkind treatment from her husband, all she wanted was to retain her husband’s name and stay in his house. This is abuse of the worst kind. I really respect Nagraj Manjule as a filmmaker, but this side of him simply reflects a terrible truth which is so unlike what he portrays in his films.
Akash Supare, Social Worker

We tried to get in touch with Nagraj Manjule for his version of the story, but he was unavailable to comment.

(The writer is a journalist who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. Follow him on Twitter: @RanjibMazumder)