Mohan Kumar on ‘Panchabhuta’ competing at Berlinale Shorts 2012

By Nandita Dutta • Published on January 31, 2012

[M]ohan Kumar’s documentary Panchabhuta has made it to Berlinale Shorts 2012. It will compete with shorts from 21 other countries at the prestigious 62nd Berlin International Film Festival. Mohan tells us more about his film:

What is Panchabhuta about?

The location of the documentary is the Dhapa dumping ground near science city in Kolkata. It is a solid waste management system for the entire city. The disposal site has served the City of Kolkata as an uncontrolled dumping ground since 1981. The site currently accepts waste from both KMC’s public waste haulers and private haulers resulting into a man-made mountain. Both animals which feed on the waste, and rag pickers who collect different materials to sell them for recycling, co-exist in the dump yard apart from the lorry drivers and helpers who dump waste throughout the day.

The focus of this documentary is on the existence of the elements and life in this space. The space has an orientation towards being surrealistic in the sense that an average human life is not in coherence with it. It to me forms a graveyard of derelict objects, unidentified animal and human dead bodies. The space is uninhabitable because of the filthiness, the unbearable stench and the clouds of smoke and dust, and therefore forms a semblance to the murky side of the urban existence. For the everyday inhabitants, this seemingly apocalyptic space becomes a part of their accustomed daily life in contrast with the average human ‘gaze’. So I am concentrating on the mundane-ness of their lives as they live it. The balance between my perception of the surroundings of the space and their habitual existence forms the crux of the documentary.

The documentary portrays only visuals and sounds to evoke. It does not have voice over, story, plot, characters, dialogues and interviews. It is structured in sync with the different times of the day from morning, afternoon, evening, night and back to the morning in the end. The further structuring is divided into capturing the moments of the elements (Fire, water, air, ether, and soil), vehicles, animals and the people.

Who produced this film? Is it your diploma film?

Mohan Kumar

Panchabhuta is produced by Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (S.R.F.T.I), Kolkata. This is my second year documentary project.

Throw some light on the process of making this documentary. 

As per the Institute’s second year documentary project guidelines, we were allowed to shoot for four days only. I along with Venkat S. Amudhan and Nabanil Sanyal observed the dumping ground for about 15 days before the shoot which really helped us narrow down to what we wanted to capture.

What is your background in filmmaking?  

I started making films only after I came to the Institute. I am from a village called Kalloor in Andhra Pradesh. I joined the Post- Graduation Diploma (Direction and Screenplay Writing) course at Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata after I graduated from Osmania University, Hyderabad in Computer Applications.

Any challenges you faced while shooting Panchabhuta?

We had to shoot what we exactly wanted within the given four days of shooting schedule. The attempt was not to present a lot of information on the dumping ground but to capture the essence of the space. It was very easy to get lost as the location offered so much. And it took a while for the crew to adapt to the dumping ground conditions when the summer was at its peak (Mid May).

Which camera did you shoot it on? Which sound device did you use?

The Camera we used was Panasonic HVX 202 with a P2 recording medium, for the sound we used a hard disk recorder 722T.

What do you have to say to short filmmakers?

Find out what kind of a person you are really, from within. Because that is what is going to be reflected in your films.

Who are the filmmakers you look up to?

Ritwik Ghatak, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Sergei Loznitsa and many others.

Anything else you would like to share with us about the film?

Panchabhuta is going to have its world premiere at Berlin. It will have four screenings in total at the festival. I along with the associate director Venkat Amudhan will attend the festival which is going to be a great learning curve for us.

Title– Panchabhuta

English Title– The Five Elements

Year of production– 2011

Produced by– Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute

Format– HD

Duration– 16 Minutes

Language– No Dialogues


Director:   Mohan Kumar Valasala

Director of Photography:   Sunny Lahiri

Editing:   Charitra Gupt Raj

Sound Designer, Mix & Sound Recordist:  Iman Chakraborthy

Associate Director:  Venkat S. Amudhan

Research:  Venkat S. Amudhan, Nabanil Sanyal, Mohan Kumar.


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One Response to “Mohan Kumar on ‘Panchabhuta’ competing at Berlinale Shorts 2012”

  1. priya says:

    can anyone imagine a day when tabloids write about filmmakers/films like these?
    got a chance to read dear cinema after a long time, enjoyed reading this interview.

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