Feedback – Alan Franey (VIFF)

Today started with a most heartwarming message from Alan Franey – Director of International Programming VIFF. Thank you Alan for this deep appreciation of our story. You add strength to our voice!

Here’s the message:

Come to think of it, it may be interesting for you if I shared our unpublished programming notes. Feel free to use any of this.

Cheers, Alan  

VIFF

Chattisgarh provides the back-drop to a number of contemporary films (2017’s Newton, this year’s well-meaning but inept Dhoosarit (The Grey)), and one sees why: since the 1990s, enormous mineral deposits have been discovered in this Indian state, leading to the forcible eviction and displacement of millions of villagers, who farmed those lands for millennia.  Mining corporations with government backing pay villagers a pittance for their lands, while standing to make billions from the exploitation of coal and other minerals.  The Indian army is deployed to drive out the rightful occupants of the land to make room for bandit corporations.  National progress is inexorable, no matter the moral price.  The righteous indignation of this film’s director Siddharth Tripathy is channelled into this tonally coherent, efficiently and drolly recounted tale of the lone holdout in one such village.  Shoukie lacks the vocabulary to voice his convictions, but his connection to his land and his loyal dog are unshakeable.  He stubbornly refuses to leave even though the demolition of his village is imminent.  He has the battered dignity of the eccentric who tilts at windmills in the face of conventional wisdom and pragmatism.  I was entranced by the rhythms of a time and place that have all but vanished, and I salute the Shoukies of the world.

The best thing about this might be its very strong immersive flavours. It really makes you feel in India, more than most other Indian films do. Anil mentions ‘tone’, which certainly is part of it. It’s also pace, camera placement, this specific location, an attentive way with the quotidian details of humble, sometimes cranky village life, and that sound design. In a darkened theatre the very dimly illuminated interior scenes will  have been interesting power, especially with the unusual sound design (the buzzing of a single mosquito is a returning motif).

The other strong takeaway is its focussed, intimate, almost private empathy with the dispossessed. Yes, it’s a study of a man who is ‘left behind’, who is not interested in selling or losing his home, who is willing to stay even though it becomes a long nights journey into oblivion, but it also stands for so many people in so many parts of the world, rural villagers, first nations, the elderly. It’s a universal theme.

People’s land – land’s people

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They are some thirty families in this hamlet. Almost all homes open into the serpentine alley which on one side connects them to the larger hamlet of the village and on the other…

I take a pause here and remember our conversation. Gurubari’s home was right on the end of the alley on the far side, much separated from the main village.

‘Can we see your house?’ I ask. She shies away from my gaze, a gesture I take as welcome. We follow her in through the door crossing a room into a courtyard. Another lady joins her from one of the two inside rooms. Both halve their shyness by company.

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‘Ka naapat ha?'(What are you measuring?) She asks watching me look through my 5D. I click pictures as Debu talks to them. We have a tacit understanding of each other’s moods.

I miss the conversation Debu engages in, where he explains to the two ladies that we are here to shoot a film and the instrument we are carrying is a camera to record video and not something to measure lands.

The ladies get easy. They point towards the end of the alley and tell that the forest started right there. Debu looks at the now absent forest and notices a black hill standing before him like pain. Its coal dump, the ladies explain. The conversation continues.

In my misfortune of aspiring for camera bodies like alexa with master primes, I hear Debu ask them. ‘So before coal mining started, these were your lands?’

Gurubari’s answer still echoes as I write now –

‘People’s land? Silly! its land’s people’

The Beginning

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Recce ON – we are close to lands those happen in a story. A story of a man and a dog, a dog and a man, a man-dog, a dog-man, a manly-dog, a dogly-man all in a pit of cinema.

It all started with a conversation over phone.

Debu and Surya (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-baoPWe9Egg) convinced me to think of this story as a film. Maybe in July 2017. The trigger was consequential, in a sense that I quit my corporate job and started re-reading ‘A dog dies’.

By Dec 2017, here we are, smelling locations and eating faces. The belief of working with non-actors confronted some doubts. But the thought of framing a face which did not organically belong to this place appeared improper.

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For almost a month now, it has been a bumpy ride to somnolent villages in the periphery of these open cast coal mines. While the story has rooted itself in these lands, the faces to tell it are still eluding.

Before the beginning

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In her nascence, she hung like an adolescent sky full of dreams. And then she constipated, appeared sad, colorless and wearied. My desire to make a film got aborted so often for infinite reasons. Yet interestingly she conceived again, reborn every time with a fresh fizz, which no longer remained adolescent, still, a dream indeed if I say so.

I say so because I don’t quite remember when and how the idea of making a film entered my head. I leaf through my diaries and assert that by the end of Std. 10 th, I did manage to write a script, a boyish thriller, inspired by voracious readings of mystery books. Far from those days of innocent aspirations, after three years at a film school, here she stands now, at my doorstep, my desire to make a film, more intimate and eloquent than ever, in divine digits of a dream.

1st blog contentA dream because initially it did sound game, and an absurd one later, the mathematics of expressing numbers in ‘zero’ and ‘one’. The binary digits as our teacher explained, veiled all their divinity when I first met them. They didn’t provide even the slightest hint of the indelible imprint they were to make in the later stages of my life. And as the academic sessions ended, they sublimed to exist as an oblivious chapter in my maths book.

A chapter, I touch now, as I write, before starting my first feature film and dreaming to wrap it up on a white fabric before people.