In search of the real Punjab
What led you to choose Gurdial Singh’s eponymous novel as your first feature?
I had read it many years ago as a student at Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). I didn’t know much about Punjab back then, but I found the novel challenging my own and popular notions about the region and its people -- that there was more to it than robust music and prosperous fields. There was a huge underprivileged class that lived in a kind of time warp. The story unfolded in a single day, from dawn to midnight. The movement of time, light, characters, events and spaces in the novel made it a seductive choice for adaptation.
Tell us about your background and if the film helped in understanding the dynamics of the plot of the novel.
I grew up in Delhi and after graduating from FTII, spent many years documenting folklore and oral ballads in Punjab. That opened up the cultural practices and social hierarchy, as also the linguistic nuances. Having interacted with people, especially those from the subaltern classes, helped in understanding the characters and situations from the novel. I found real-life equivalents of those among people and spaces. For example, Mal Singh, who plays the role of father in the film, is himself a farm labourer who has worked earlier for many years at the thermal power plant in Bhatinda, which you’ll see recurring as a motif in the film.
Most of the Punjabi films being made today are crude comedies or about the dominant land-owning class, the Jatts. Most producers and directors come from the same caste. I don’t understand this obsession. What about the other castes -- the Khatris, the Ramgharias, and the so-called lower castes who are mostly artisans or labourers, or what about the Hindus of Punjab, or the few Muslims who stayed back after Partition? The entire discourse, both political and cultural, now revolves around the Jatts.
Tell us about your next project that is slated to go on floors, this January?
The next film is set in the mid-80s in Punjab, during the peak of militancy. It is based on my friend, the Punjabi writer Waryam Singh Sandhu’s short stories. It’s about common people caught in this conflict, between the militant insurgents and an insensitive armed force. It’s about the things that you took for granted in a libertarian world, which become issues of life and death in a macabre world of diktats and jingoistic political aspirations.
Silence and space are becoming obvious choices for Indie filmmakers. Do you feel this is inspired by world cinema?
We have become used to an Indian notion of popular culture where there is no space for silence and where everything is loud. Silence has to be rooted in our lives and spaces and in artistic traditions for it to be truthful. The paintings of Amrita Sher-Gil are full of that quality, as are the frescoes of Ajanta or the sculptures of Khajuraho or Mahabalipuram, as are the miniature paintings especially from the hills, as are our musical forms like Dhrupad.
On: Today, 6.30 pm
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