I always believed I knew my mother in and out.
I know what she loves and hates, which aspects of life agitate or calm her, where her thoughts are, whom she looks up to and disregards, and how she reacts to the tiniest of the aspects. Spend 23 years with a person and one can foretell every minuscule move of theirs. I know my mother, I assumed. My belief was only partially right. Little did I know ‘why’ certain things angered her, or ‘why’ she prefers certain things over others. The most important facet of all – the why – is something I never pondered on, and that differentiates everything. There are 23 years of her life, which I was not a part of, and those years have answers to the why-s. This conversation is an attempt to discern my mother, not as how I know her, but as who she is.
Amma is a fun person – or at least tries to be. She is as lucid as a glass. Not a person to conceal her feelings, one can intelligibly notice when she is fumed. The aspect of her personality that I find the most fascinating is how extreme her kindness and anger are. When she is happy, she is the loveliest human to ever exist. When angered, it’s the end of Wakanda. I call her an extremist to nudge this very facet. So I begin the dialogue by asking has she always been this extreme. “Not exactly,” she said, sitting beside me, looking at the TV but not watching it, as I scrolled through an endless Netflix’s library, “I think the anger springs from the end of tolerance level after a point,” and she curtly changes the conversation to “why don’t you mute and scroll, the sound is annoying,” I acknowledge and switch off the TV. “See, now I’ll like to talk. How can one talk with the TV playing in the background?” she questions. Fair enough. I go back to the question and she resumes, “No. I was not as angry, or even expressive, for that matter back in the college days.”
Picking from there, I ask her which has been the best time of her life. I knew the answer would be “College days,” she replied without taking a second. “’88 to ’95,” she goes on and I imagine memories must be hovering in her mind as she transmutes them into words, “During graduation and post-graduation, I was independent. Can’t say the same now,” she stops, as her voice gives a sense of gloom that is likely to ensue. I ask her why she doesn’t feel so, knowing that I’m complicit of her dependent-state. “Down the line, priorities changed. Journalism and social work, fields in which I aspired to pursue a career in, remains only partially fulfilled. Family became my priority, and it’s great. Not that it’s bad, but I would be lying if I say the disappointment doesn’t exist”. I countered her answer, asking whether she was compelled to deprioritize her aspirations or did she choose the life she settled for.
She took two seconds to answer, the longest gap to any question.
“It was a gradual transformation. A certain kind of conditioning by circumstances around me. I did my PG after marriage because your father has been supportive. I even worked until you were 13. You remember, right? Then, there was a point when I realized I was sailing on two boats and I had to resort to the family boat. Was I given a choice? No. There was no choice. Would I have done anything differently if given a choice? I don’t think so. The time was such.”
I’m quite familiar with this boat analogy. She always asked me to center my efforts on only one thing to warrant the most conducive results. I now understand where that emanates from.
Realizing the conversation was getting somber question by question. I decided to lighten up her mood, converging back to her college days.
“‘88 to ‘95, from Intermediate to Post Graduation, are what I’d call golden days.”
It’s to be noted that she got married in ‘94.
“A senior of mine while studying at Osmania University College for Women went on to pursue journalism in Sri Padmavati Mahila Visvavidyalayam located in Tirupathi and this urged me to get in as well. Plus, I was always interested in jobs that would make a difference in the real world, unlike a conventional desk job. Not that the others don’t make a difference, but in journalism, the impact is visible. And yes. I did crack the entrance exam and I topped merit lists of all the five programs they offered. Still one of the bigger achievements of my life.”
Here comes the setback.
“But I wasn’t allowed by your grandmother to go for journalism because an old fag (read: musali vedhava), a family friend of ours sowed the idea in her mind that journalism is not the ideal profession for women, as it involves a lot of ground reporting and travel. Funny how months of study to crack the entrance exam went down the gutter because of one man’s words,”
Again, I counter her asking why she didn’t take a stand, especially considering how big of an impact this decision is going to have on her life.
“I was weak and young. There was no way I could fight my mother. I was privileged enough to pursue PG at a time when many of my friends from UG were confined to homes in the pretext of marriage. And PG in Master of Social Work is equally significant. I could still make real-world consequences,”
I’m glad to know she wasn’t heartbroken.
“We saved several homeless children and disabled, from bus-stands, railway stations, and temples. We sent them to homes, where they are taken care of, provided education, and are even adopted by foreigners.”
I’m floored by listening to this at a time when compassion – as small a gesture as offering water or fruit – is being capitalized by individuals desperately seeking fame in the form of pictures and other mediums to boast. I ask her how she felt doing all the good deeds, making a difference.
“To be honest, it didn’t feel like we were making much of a difference. There was so much more to be done, and all of this was only a part of it. For us, at 22, bunking college to watch films was more exciting and felt like a bigger deal than saving children’s lives!,”
It’s surprising how easygoing she is with the notion of saving a life, not knowing how big of a deal it is. She goes on with the little delights,
“Watching an FDFS in Tirupathi was unlike anything else. They’d play songs twice, you know?”
“And the lights around the screen would go zig-zag. It was a mayhem in the theatre! My best friend, Radhi, would carry those pink slips in her purse and hurl them around! We watched a countless number of films together as a group – Criminal, Bobbili Simham, Yama Leela, Baazigar Gandeevam, Hello Brother, Govinda Govinda, Bangaru Bollodu, Gaayam, and many more. I vividly remember bunking a field visit to a leprosy home to watch Yama Leela and were caught by the HoD, who threatened to cut internal marks,”
I realize cutting internal marks has been the HoD cliche for 3 decades. You need to up your game, HoDs.
“Yes. The best times comprised watching films, walking up to Tirumala every weekend, and hostel,”
Did it all end after marriage?
Hard-hitting. I ask whether my father is a patriarch?
“That’s a big word. He’s the man of the house, that says something, right? But he has been supportive through my education and career post-marriage. But there were elders at home to take care of, your father’s job didn’t allow us to stay in one place, and they all held my career back. I saw no point in stretching beyond a point. I wish I was strong enough to pull it together. I should have argued with my mother and gone for journalism. But hey, this is the strength that I gained in the last 23 years. It didn’t exist 23 years ago! I have everything now. Compared to all the joys in life, the regrets pale in comparison.”
My mother should be very proud. She saved many homeless children from the grim world. She worked for 11 years counseling women saved from trafficking, helping children with special abilities, patients with severe diseases instilling hope in them, and even as a teacher. Moreover, she worked as a family counselor for a year, which my father and I tease her job description as something similar to what’s done in the cringy, over-the-top family panchayat TV shows.
Best and worst part: She never considered any of those as achievements. This, in turn, made her feel incomplete.
“Oh boy! I forgot I did these many things. I did more than what I was thinking, to be frank. Really, I kind of held myself in low regard all these years. I could have done a lot more, but I still did a lot. I’m proud of my short-spanned career!”
She laughs for the first time during the 20-minute conversation. The delivery man from Swiggy calls, asking me to collect the choco lava cake. It was a sweet conversation, a bit dark, but sweet, just like my mother’s favorite choco lava cake, which marks the end of the conversation on record.
It’s funny how a simple conversation that I began to discover my mother, in turn, helped her find herself.
My beautiful, strong mother, Sridevi.
Achal Mishra’s Gamak Ghar premiered at 21st Mumbai International Film Festival and won the Manish Acharya Award for New Voices in Indian Cinema. The Maithili film, is a deeply personal work that tells the story of a family and the changing times through the ancestral home’s perspective. Originating from Achal’s own experiences, it is a very mature and artistic film. And Achal is only 23! So, to understand more about his craft, I connected with him and he was gracious enough to give this interview.
Was the use of different aspect ratios predefined during the scripting process, or is it something that developed over the making? And what exactly was your idea behind it?
Yes, it was already decided before we started shooting. Firstly, we wanted the three parts to feel very different from each other. The whole film is set in just one house, so apart from change in seasons and colours, we thought it’d be interesting to try different aspect ratios. As the shooting progressed, we realised it just fit perfectly. We wanted the first part to feel like a memory — like old photographs, and shooting in 4:3 helped us achieve that. The frames are almost always filled to the edge with people, and it reflects the lively state of the house. As we change to 16:9, there’s more negative space, and finally in the last part, with 2.39:1, you see the full breadth of the house, and the emptiness becomes more evident.
What triggered you to tell the story from the home’s perspective? I’m aware it came from personal experiences, but why not from the people’s perspective?
I think it was very instinctive. It happened before I had started writing the script, when my co-writer Anubhav and I were bouncing off ideas. We were talking about different perspectives we could go with — a child’s, or multiple narratives, or maybe the house? And I think we stuck with the house, because I knew I wanted to make a film about a space across different points in time, and going with the house’s perspective felt both interesting and challenging. I remember the first thing I wrote in my diary that day: “House is the protagonist.” But then again, I think as a filmmaker, my perspective is definitely part of it too. It’s very subjective. Say my cousin were making the same film, with the same idea of telling it from the home’s perspective, his film would still be different from mine, because our memories and association with the house are different.
How did the process of making this film changed you, as a person and as a filmmaker? In short, what were your learnings?
As a person, I think the process has brought me closer to my culture, to which I always felt like an outsider. Through the process of researching, writing and then shooting, I got to learn a lot many things. Even my Maithili improved, I’d say. As a filmmaker, Gamak Ghar was my film school. I was working with a proper crew (however small it was) and proper equipments for lighting and sound for the first time. Most of the crew were from film schools, so I tried to be as organised as they were. Other than that, I think I realised how one shouldn’t always commit to the screenplay strictly, but use it as a foundation to build on during the shooting.
Any film or filmmaker whose work tremendously influenced you to make ‘Gamak Ghar’? The shot of a train from the maize fields as the 2010 segment begins, looked like a tribute to Satyajit Ray’s work.
For Gamak Ghar in particular, and in general too, I’ve been hugely influenced by the films of Yasujiro Ozu, Hirokazu Kore-eda, and Hou Hsiao-hsien. Satyajit Ray has been an influence from very early on, his films turned me towards a different kind of cinema. In a way, what De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves did for Ray, Pather Panchali did for me. So it was only apt that I give him a tribute.
As a filmmaker, you succeeded in making an extremely personal film and great piece of art. But don’t you have the urge for your film to be seen on the big screen by as many people as possible? And when you make a film in Maithili, to keep it close to life and authentic, aren’t you moving away from that?
That’s definitely a challenge. And mostly because the prevalent system is such. Maithili is an almost obscure language to so many people, even in India, but I wanted to stay true to the film I was making, and I couldn’t have done it any other way. And who doesn’t want to see their films play on the big screen? But at the same time, I also feel that a film’s reach shouldn’t be judged by it’s theatrical release. It is like books, you don’t expect everyone to read a book in the same week it is launched. Maybe someone who isn’t even born today, might watch Gamak Ghar twenty-thirty years later. Films, like books, don’t have an expiry date.
With this, we come to the end of the interview. Click to listen to my thoughts on this beautiful film.
Achal, all the best for the film and all your future endeavours. Looking forward for many stories from you.
Gamak Ghar is going to be screened on 27th of November in Mumbai as a part of MAMI year round program. Watch the trailer of the film here:
Arghadeep Barua made a terrific acting debut with the unforgettable Assamese film, Aamis. In Aamis, he plays Sumon, a young research student studying meat eating habits in the North-Eastern region of India, who gets into a perplexing relationship with a married doctor. It’s an unusual love story unlike anything we’ve seen in Indian cinema. The texture and liveliness he gave to Sumon, is something that will haunt you long after finishing watching the film, such is the performance. As the film releases on November 22nd, I pinged him on Instagram if he would be open to an short Email interview for my little blog. Being the humble person he is, he agreed and here we have the interview!
When did you start taking acting seriously? Is it something you always wanted to pursue?
I am primarily a musician, we have a band named Bottle Rockets India. So, to be honest, I never ever thought of becoming an actor. Have always wanted to be a storyteller but didn’t realize that acting can also be a medium through which we can tell stories.
Well, I got fascinated about acting only after Aamis. Living a character is really intriguing. To be someone else for a while, forgetting who you are is a really interesting form of art.
What was your state of mind during the process of shooting? I mean were there any instances when you felt the character was taking a toll on you personally?
It’s a beautiful question, a question that at times I ask myself too… so prior to the workshop, I was really not aware of the switch on and switch off effect… so during the last day of our workshop, I got too much into the character… and since I am not a method actor or a trained actor, I was trying make my own ways to get into the character. And at one point it was getting really difficult for me to get out of the character.
Which was the hardest scene for you to perform in Aamis and why?
Aah… two scenes primarily… and eventually those are the two scenes I gave the maximum number of takes..
First, the driving scene… as I am very bad driver… so I really had a hard time negotiating a speed breaker, and that really pissed off Bhaskar da(Bhaskar Hazarika, the director of Aamis).
Second would be the laugh out loud scene.
How did Aamis change you, as an actor and as a person?
It made me an actor.
As a person, aaah, it made explore and confront certain emotions that in my normal day to day life, I have not experienced earlier. Prior to the shooting, we were given a workshop by Seema Biswas mam and Daulat Vaid sir, in that we were made to do various exercises which pushed us to the extreme, where we break all our prejudices, and we formed a new self of our own. We were taught about the naava raasa.
Finally, how did it feel when you saw yourself on the big screen?
It’s a very surreal experience…I was shy when I saw myself for the first time…
With this, we come to the end of the interview and wish Arghadeep all the best for the film’s release
Aamis is releasing on November 22nd. You can book for screenings here – https://www.moviesaints.com/movie/aamis
Click here for my review. I gurantee you haven’t seen anything like it. Watch the trailer: