Spaces in the heart
The screenplay, describing the impact of a marital separation from Dighu's viewpoint, is excellent and textured
Akshay Indikar's Sthalpuran (Chronicle of Space, Marathi) won much acclaim at its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February. This keenly-felt film heralds a distinctive voice in Indian cinema. It was one of the four Indian films selected at the festival, along with Pushpendra Singh's Laila aur Satt Geet, Prateek Vats' Eeb Allay Ooo! and Ekta Mittal's Gumnaam Din. Sthalpuran, which played in the Generation section for children, is an illustrious successor to Umesh Kulkarni's Vihir and Avinash Arun's Killa, both Marathi films shown in that section.
Indikar's previous features include Udaharnartha Nemade (For example, Nemade) on the writer-poet Bhalchandra Nemade, and Trijya (Radius), that was at the Shanghai and Tallinn Black Nights Film Festivals, with Sthalpuran in Berlin. This is an astonishing feat for Indikar, descendant of the nomadic Gondhali tribe, that practised Gondhal folk music. Growing up in Solapur, he later dropped out of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. For Sthalpuran, he is director, editor and sound designer, while Tejashri Kamble is chief associate director, co-writer and production designer.
The film is produced by Sanjay Shetye.
Sthalpuran opens with little Dighu, just eight, moving from Pune city, with his mother and older sister Durga, to his grandparents' village in the Konkan. He grapples with the drastic shift, that nobody explains. So, he keeps a diary, eg June 7: Mother hasn't told us if we'll ever return to Pune. He struggles to understand his parents' separation, and wonders if he will ever see his father again. The dialogues are minimal.
Killa had also explored a single mother and her son moving to rural Konkan, and the absence of the father.
Sthalpuran's direction is absolutely assured. The cast, mostly non-actors, especially Neel Deshmukh as Dighu, Anushree Wani as Durga, and Rekha Thakur as the mother, hold the film aloft. Dighu has a heart-breaking innocence, as he copes with grief and loss; and he doesn't like his mother talking to that factory man for longer than she should. Dighu's mother's parents accept her and her children with a refreshing matter-of-factness that is rare in Indian life and cinema. Jagadeesh Ravi's understated cinematography is the most distinctive feature of the film. Mostly, he uses static, long shots that allow us to feel like a family member. There are some remarkable pans, as the mother goes about her daily chores, framing multiple layers of action. There is an off-centre frame, as children line up for fake smiles for school photographs. At Durga's coming-of-age ceremony, she, along with others, is of focus, as if transitioning to another world. Only the trip to a Goa carnival is shot hand-held, with psychedelic colours and sounds.
The screenplay, describing the impact of a marital separation from Dighu's viewpoint, is excellent and textured. There's a heart-warming scene where Durga takes up Dighu's lesson on Akbar-Birbal. The sound design is evocative, and includes Hindustani classical and folk music, both fast vanishing from Indian cinema. The editing has the film unfold at a gentle pace, yet keeps us engrossed.
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at email@example.com
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