Interview: Achal Mishra, Filmmaker – Gamak Ghar

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. 

The house

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:

OSCARS 2020: Empathizing with ‘I Lost My Body’

There are films which entertain for the while being. And there are the other kinds of films which adhere in your mind long after you’ve finished watching them, maybe forever. I lost my body belongs to the latter type.

It is the one that affected me the most, among the films I saw at MAMI.

This ain’t a review — just a post where I confess my love for this film which is beyond beautiful. You can call it a love letter.

There were multiple instances I tried to control tears just so I could avoid the embarrassment of crying in a full auditorium. Am I exaggerating? Well, I haven’t started to talk about the film yet.

Before I tell you why I cherished this exquisite piece of art, let me tell you what it is about. On the paper, it’s about a severed hand that comes to life and takes off on a journey to find it’s owner, whose arm is the hand’s home. In the process, we get to know the owner, Naoufel, a young man living a tasteless life working as a Pizza delivery boy in Paris. One rainy night, after a delivery goes wrong, it turns out to be the best thing that could have happened to him. And it gives a breath of fresh air in his mundane life. Leaving it right there. 

Watching I lost my body gave me experience similar to a hand piercing through my chest only to hold my beating heart in its grip before plucking it out in a choke. Now, does it sound overblown? Maybe, but that is how I felt while watching it, leave the physical pain aside; it’s a reality check for me. Of how beautiful little things can be, in life. When I saw the young Naoufel trying to hold the sand in a beach, or when he encloses the sun in his vision through his hand, it gave me a jolt because I have a hand and I’m even clueless of its existence(I’m looking at my hands as I type this line). After a point when we know, Noufel has lost people dear to him, and now he has to face the world all by himself, just the thought of Noufel being happy with his dear ones made me more than sad.

It feels like my hands are going to question me, “Will you ever acknowledge our existence?” 

Sadly, I wouldn’t have. Had I not seen this film.

I have never seen a film told from the perspective of a hand. Did you?

Naoufel, again.

Deriving a word from the title, the film is about loss, and how we as humans deal with it. Grieving comes along, but do we accept it? Do we remain the same person after losing something? The world says, “life is all about moving on”, but will the world ruminate the same when it loses something? The answers are unclear. And I don’t even mind searching for them.

Naoufel has been consistently losing something through out his life, this alone broker my heart, 20 minutes into the film. And right when he seems to have found something he has been searching for his life, and life, being a bitch shows its back. Now, this smashed my plucked heart on to the ground and crushed it. Because, I’ve seen Naoufel going through a lot, all this poor guy wanted was a happy life. I was afraid he’ll never get it. But, does happiness come from substance? Can a person be happy, even when the world is against him or her? Does the famous proverb, ‘Happiness comes from within’, stand firm today?

The answers or interpretations to these questions emanate from your own life experiences and perspicacity. I discern that films are an art form, the most enticing of all, and art is subjective. But is it, though? This very aspect, made I Lost My Body diverge and stand apart from everything else I’ve ever seen.

Art portends something and each one’s interpretation of it differs. So, what did I interpret from the film? The film is a portrait of life. Life is arduous and is glutted with hurdles. But it is also about those little joys which show up betwixt marathons of sorrow and sadness.

As the hand skirmishes to find its way back to its owner, a whole life passes by in front of our eyes. Coming out of a refrigerator, experiencing the first sunset, escaping being run over by a train, fighting with rats, the struggle, and whatnot. It’s almost like every struggle or even lesser than what Naoufel faced all alone in the world. Because, its a part of him all alone in the world by itself, just like him.

What haunts me about the film is its music by Dan Levy. I’m confounded to chose a word which fittingly construes my feelings for the music. In short, I don’t know the words to describe what I feel when I hear the soundtrack. It’s not a piece of happy music. It is neither melodramatic nor sad. It reverbs hope and light. But also apprises the darkness. It is deep. But it makes me float on the ocean of thoughts. It is heartbreaking. But it also warms the same heart. It is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. 

Listen to a piece from soundtrack.

10 minutes into the film, all I wanted to see was the hand. Both severed and attached. It was a painting coming to life on a giant screen and taking me on a ride of a lifetime for 81 minutes, and all I had to do was just sit there without blinking. Now that is the magic of a well-made movie. Thank you, Jérémy Clapin and Guillaume Laurant, for bringing this epic onto the big screen, which I was privileged to watch on.

I Lost My Body(J’ai perdu mon corps) releases on Netflix on November 6th. Do yourself a favour and kindly watch it. You have never seen anything like this, ever.

Watch the trailer of the film:

To build your curiosity, watch a highly intriguing clip from the film: