It was when his extended family started talking about the renovation of their ancestral village home that Achal Mishra decided it was time to make a film on it, before it transformed into a different entity altogether. Mishra’s debut film in Maithili, Gamak Ghar (Gaon Ka Ghar or The Village Home), which premieres at the India Gold section at the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI), is a delicate tripartite reverie on the house at three different points in time — 1998, 2010 and 2019.
Situated in Madhopur near Darbhanga, we see the structure come alive first when the family gathers to celebrate the birth of a child. Nothing much happens. Little moments, interactions and conversations are strung together. The sights and sounds are captured — the handpump, the laughter of kids, men busy with their game of cards, children playing hide-and-seek and picking mangoes from the grove, women helping each other tie saris, watching films on a rented VCR. It’s like being made privy to a family’s personal photo album. Mishra says he didn’t formally script it: “I wrote from memory, sat down to recollect what a day looked like back then, and then kept improvising on the shoot.”
It’s 2010 when the tide turns, when adults don’t find time to visit their home, and when kids prefer Maggi over fritters and thekua. And 2019 is when we see the lonely home collapsing under neglect, with just an indifferent caretaker giving it company.
Another film about the abandonment of homes (featured in MAMI’s India Story section) is Siddharth Tripathy’s fablesque Chhattisgarhi film A Dog and His Man. Set in the context of the discovery of coal in Raigarh in the 1990s, it shows the coming of the mining companies, the ever-growing expanse of giant coal pits, the systemic environmental degradation, and the villagers being displaced to alternative “quarters” as the blasting carries on ceaselessly.
Tripathy takes us back in time to show the teeming village of yore in stark contrast to today’s wretched landscape. As villages upon villages disappear, only one old man, Shoukie, stays on in a deserted hamlet with his dog Kheru for company. “You don’t call quarters home,” he says, when a watchman tells him about the accommodation with bijli-paani offered by the company. “There is a difference between a house and a home. It’s not just about a physical structure,” says Tripathy. He quotes Pablo Neruda’s ‘A Dog Has Died’ in the film. “My dog has died / I buried him in the garden / next to a rusted old machine. / Some day I’ll join him right there…”
Home is also where Archana Phadke’s heart is. In her personal documentary, About Love, playing in MAMI’s India Gold section, she trains the camera with a rare candidness on her 117-year-old home, the five-storey Phadke Mansion in Mumbai’s Girgaon, and through it tells the story of its inhabitants. The home here is a silent witness to varied relationship dynamics, as people co-exist and clash with each other.
It is about the 68-year-old marriage of her grandparents and the 32-year-old one of her parents; their little skirmishes and ugly battles, arguments and profanities, ego hassles and tantrums. It’s about the sense of belonging the family retainer has, who has been with the family for almost half the age of the house itself. With its sense of humour, the film is also a reiteration of the fact that the seemingly dysfunctional, crazy families are perhaps more the norm than the anomaly. Proof that love and warmth lurk in such strange, cluttered domestic spaces.
Phadke shot her family with a handycam over two-and-a-half years and culled the film from over 400 hours of footage. The family were the first viewers of the film and didn’t ask for a single cut. “It was important for me to ask since I was exposing their world,” she says.
For Darbhanga boy Mishra, Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien and Japanese auteurs Yasujiro Ozu and Hirokazu Kore-eda are inspiration. Is that where his interest in the family stems from? “Before starting the shoot, I made the cast and crew watch Still Walking,” he says. Kore-eda’s 2008 classic is the portrait of a family gathered to commemorate the death of the eldest son. Gamak Ghar aspires to a similar gravitas, centredness and composure. The characters are fictionalised versions of his own family. The cast is mostly drawn from non-actors, with a few theatre actors from Delhi, while the matriarch is played by a Maithili film actor.
Similarly, A Dog and His Man too picked its cast from people who had not been in front of or even seen the camera before. Most of them are former residents of Nagramuda, 60 km from Raigarh, where the film was shot. The movie was made with community participation, says Tripathy, with Shaukie played by his uncle, a retired literature lecturer.
Over the years, this cinematography graduate from SRFTI, Kolkata, has moved away from cinema to engage in research and documentation and social development issues. A Dog and His Man marks a full circle back to filmmaking. In fact, he wrote the story in 2009-10 when he was involved in preparing a resettlement plan for the village.
The camera made Phadke see things in a different light. “There are things that struck me when I was filming that I otherwise didn’t care to observe [about the family]. I learnt a lot of things that I was clueless about,” she says. And most of all it was about bonding with her mother and discovering her fondness for writing.
“I used to be the outsider, the doctor’s son who was always away,” says Mishra. The family photographs and his playwright-actor grandfather’s diary that he discovered while making the film helped him drop anchor finally. “I was more and more drawn to the house. I was an outsider no more,” he says.