“Mani Kaul could only see the opening sequence of the film which I edited with my editor at his house. He was waiting for me to come and show him the full edit, but time had other plans.”
[G]urvinder Singh’s debut feature Anhey Ghorhey Da Daan (Alms of the Blind Horse) will premiere in “Orizzonti” at the 68th Venice International Film Festival in September. The film has been produced by National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and had late filmmaker Mani Kaul as the Creative Producer.
As Deepti DCunha, Indian Consultant for Venice International Film Festival puts it, “Gurvinder Singh has a very strong debut feature. What struck me first is his careful use of sound and silence which creates a strong and haunting atmosphere in his film. Gurvinder’s rigour and uncompromising attitude towards his craft makes him a filmmaker to be taken seriously. His film continues the legacy of his mentor Mani Kaul. ”
Gurvinder Singh tells us more about his film Anhey Ghore Da Daan:
What is Anhey Ghorhey Da Daan about?
It is difficult to say what the film is about as it can mean different things to different people, which it should. At the surface, Anhey Ghorhey Da Daan speaks about the margins where the socially repressed and exploited have been conveniently cast away. It’s about a day in the lives of a family who are witnesses to the play of power equation unfolding around them. It’s about silent witnesses devoid of power to change or influence the course of destiny. It’s about invisible violence and desires, simmering discontent and angst that is reflected on people’s faces.
What was the idea behind making your debut feature in Punjabi?
Growing up in a Sikh family in Delhi, I was always confused about my mother tongue. Punjab was like a distant land whose tales of the undivided times I would hear from my grandparents. I had to explore it and that I did after graduating from FTII under two grants from the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) to document the folk ballads of Punjab. Between 2002 and 2005, I travelled extensively through East Punjab, understanding its cultural and social dimensions. I lived with folk singers, mostly the so called low caste, traveling with them to fairs and religious places that opened up new ideas of syncretism for me, and listening to folk ballads like Sassi Punnu, Mirza Sahiban and Puran Bhagat narrated all through the night. Suddenly a whole new world had opened up. From a sense of curiosity to bewilderment to a complete sense of ease, I fully related to the emotional resonance of these performers’ lives and the social milieu within which they operated.
The way I responded to the language and its expressions, I was convinced that if at all I had to make a feature film it had to be in Punjabi. I had earlier written a script in Hindi but lost interest in it. I had read Gurdial Singh’s novel (on which the film is based) when I was a student at FTII about ten years back. Even though I knew nothing about Punjab at that time, I felt a strong desire to make a film on it. And I never thought I would actually end up making it! Even today I
remain more like an engaged outsider to Punjab. But as of now I can’t imagine making a film in another language. Currently I am developing two more scripts in Punjabi, one of which is set in the troubled times of militancy in Punjab in the 1980s.
How did having Mani Kaul as the creative producer impact the film?
My association with Mani goes back to much before the film. Ever since he moved back to India from Holland in 2006, I was closely associated with him. I left Delhi for Bombay to be near him. Earlier I had been his teaching assistant for a workshop he conducted at FTII.
What a time we had in Bombay, cooking for and with each other! We both shared a passion for it in equal measure. And everything revolved around it: all the discussions about arts, philosophy and life. Mani never made you feel that you knew anything less than him. He would engage with you as an equal. He made me realise my ‘swabhaav’ or disposition. He could do that with his students, that is if they were receptive to realize it. One day I reached his house and saw a huge canvas sprawled on the floor, with wet paint on it. I could see his energy in the bold movements he had made with his hands. The next day I went and bought paints and canvas and started painting! I got so involved in it. Such an impact he had on you.
Unfortunately, his illness coincided with the making of my film. He had read the script and was excited and agreed to be the Creative Producer, as NFDC was looking for a mentor for its debut filmmakers. He was confined to his bed and would keep calling me to discuss how I was going about planning the shoot. And on location, all that he had spoken about for the last few years started falling into place. All the ideas about time and space, image and sound, attention and duration, the objective and the subjective, the sacred and profane, the dream world and the real world. And everything from the position of my ‘swabhaav’ and not as some sort of imitation. How to engage with the visible and invisible world and represent it, that’s what he helped me understand.
He could only see the opening sequence of the film which I edited with my editor at his house. He was waiting for me to come and show him the full edit, but time had other plans. His last email to me read: “In the realm of employing time as a cinematographic tool, the space must freely become what it will. Time is not enslaved by spatial conventions of creating physical significances. Space is devoted to cause-and-effect paradigm, time is free of it because it is carried by no (cause-and-effect) agency. One reason why we continue to hopelessly imagine that cause-and-effect will save us.The truth is that quite unexpectedly time takes or does not take its toll. It saves when things point to an end, it destroys when things appear imperishable. MK”
NFDC approved the script in October last year. The film is set in winters in Punjab. I rushed into planning the film as I did not want to miss the coming winters, otherwise I would have to wait for one whole year for the next winters. NFDC understood this need and fully cooperated. I moved to Punjab with my assistants and started working immediately. I had already zeroed in on the location of Bathinda and a neighboring village, having done a recce while writing the script. We went from city to city casting for the film but finally chose most of the cast from the village we shot the film in, besides a few theatre actors. The film was shot over 40 days in January and February this year. But as I said, the story was at the back of my mind for ten years.
How would you sum up the experience of making your debut feature film?
It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, also because I had complete freedom to make the film the way I wanted to. Intuition plays a very big part in creating anything, be it a film or a painting. It being my first film, I was trying to keep a balance between the pre-planned and the intuitive, even though intuition works in planning also, like casting, etc. At times I felt limited by the need of the rest of the crew to plan the shots. Of course theirs was a reasonable concern, otherwise the shoot can go haywire. After all we had a limited budget and had to finish it in the given number of days. At times I would come on the location and completely do away with the planned shots and do something random, at times not even knowing how it will fit into the edit. Mani’s parting words before I left for the shoot were: ‘Go beyond what you know!” I would start feeling dissatisfied if things were going too much according to the plan. I kept struggling with Mani’s thought. Having finished the film, now I know what he meant! With my next film I would like to stretch myself more into the unknown.