“At least I have HER story”
I thought to myself as I begin to type these words. I haven’t seen the movie she made. It’s been close to three weeks since I took her interview, maybe more. I was the fourth person she was giving an interview to that day. The conversation must have been painful to begin with.
It was all over the news. Bhavna Parmar’s movie had been selected for the Festival De Cannes 2016, or as we know it, The Cannes International Film Festival. It was a big deal and it was only natural that all of the city’s media would be after her to push out a story you could hog on the next morning with a cup of tea and some unhealthy farsan.
Bhavana wrote about her ordeal with the movie soon after her presentation ended and about the appreciations that she got from her faculties and I was pretty sure I wanted to watch her movie and talk to her as well. (Side note: the movie was her final year project at NID Ahmedabad)
I haven’t seen the movie as I write my brief understanding of her story. This might not be how I thought I would want to cover such a personality, but at least, I have something no one else does. At least I have HER story. So let’s use that, let’s talk, not about the movie that made it to cannes or how it was made but the person who made it. Let’s try exploring the intellectual capital that went into creating this masterpiece (so they say and I will agree for I am no expert on movies)
Bhavna is a no-bullshit, straightforward, unapologetic, know-it-all for someone meeting her for the first time. She has an opinion, a very strong one for that. But it isn’t caustic. In the course of a conversation you’ll very well realise that she has very strong ideologies. Born in Ahmedabad and brought up on a healthy diet of Ambedkars and Gandhis and Kafkas and Guhas, Bhavna’s perspective is more like a magnifying glass.
She had always been a star kid in school, always the ace. A family full of doctors and politicians and civil servants makes her that way I suppose. Of course you could give more credit to the books she read, for I strongly believe in the ability of literature cure the mind into a thing of absolute beauty but either ways, we had a polished brain, a fair aptitude and a meticulous approach in an Indian education system. This only meant one thing she HAD to confer to the standards of a society we have so willingly put in place.
The rebel in her giggled as the world around her saw its own version of what she could be. That was the moment of truth when our protagonist stood in front of her parents and said, “11th-12th mein science nai karna” (I don’t want to take up science in my 11th and 12th)
Now I know that at this point, bombs exploding, cars crashing, anarchy and people crying havoc on the streets would be a great image to have but to my personal relief, her parents agreed. Parents in India often find it difficult to give in to radical ideas but this couple right here was pretty sober in this case. Maybe because commerce for her was radical, but commerce in general was okay. Maybe I will never know the real reason, but for now, this should do.
“I never knew what I wanted to do, but I very clearly knew what I didn’t want”
She never said she wanted to take up commerce, she did it simply because that was the only thing left after she eliminated all the other possibilities. At least she had her choice. If not in the form of something she loved the most, then in the form of something she hated the least. At least there was this.
“The chain of events then took me to HL College of Commerce. I was mocked by a faculty on my first day at the college saying, ‘pata nai kahaan kahaan se aa jate hai.’ (I really don’t know where such kids come from)”
Bhavna, across her three years at the college, was awarded the prize for best student.
The end of commerce college again left her clueless.
“That is when I got to know about the Center for Development Communication (CDC). They ran a professional course on development studies.”
Having worked with NGOs since a really young age, Bhavna found it a very natural choice and took it up right away. The end of CDC saw her again stand at a crossroads in life. The conflict had re-emerged, being in NGOs had given her an ideological issue. Things aren’t as pretty on the inside as they seem to be from the outside and this realisation coupled with the fact that to bring any real change in society she would have to change the policies at large, Bhavna left the development field and moved on to take up a job at ISRO soon after completing her masters at CDC.
At least the pain of conflict was less. ISRO might not have been the best place for someone with artistic talents but at least it kept her moving in life, away from temples of hypocrisy. At least there was some peace.
Ideologies have always been a bone to pick when it came to her. Bhavna could stand her ethics being compromised even if it were for a larger cause to begin with. From my perspective it might, in some cases, be a selfish approach to morals in general but when you put yourself in her feet it does make sense, to stand for all or for nothing. It was always a man’s world for her, always the hard way to glory, and the only way to protect her integrity was to stand by it, every second along the way.
Jump cut to some time later when she again told her parents, “ISRO mein job nai karni” (I don’t want to work with ISRO anymore) and this time the explosion was real. Brilliant students leaving a government job was too much noise for an Indian family to handle.
“Not that they were against me doing what I wanted but they were too worried about her never being able to decide what she wanted to do and missing out on her prime.”
But the heart takes what it must in whatever form it seeks. Film making at NID was also a choice taken after eliminating everything she did not want to take. As I continue to speak with her, I am constantly reminded of the quote,
“If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”
This quote stands quite out of context and yet deeply relatable to her scenario.
This was followed by an interview at NID with a panel of savage faculties grilling her on how she was overqualified for the course and there was no point of her wasting time over learning something she already knew a lot about (because of the job at ISRO that involved filming the launch of satellites). She was upfront here again with her usual candid self going,
“I need some time to explore myself, and I believe studying films at NID gives me that opportunity to explore myself. It’s not a matter of what I already know but a matter of how far can I really go”
At least there was freedom. At least she had some time to herself. NID was never a goal she had. Films were never a career choice when her life picked up. But at least this meant she could explore. At least there was no more judgement, not the kind we detest. At least there were possibilities.
The two years at NID later, we were sitting under a tree with a beautiful landscape before us. It was 7 in the evening. Huge flocks of hundreds of birds would float overhead in magnificent patterns that would make us voluntarily stop conversations midway to adore how wonderful those coordinated movements were. They would give you a hypnotic and surrealistic feeling of being on ground at one moment and being underwater the next, as if you were looking at a group of fishes floating about. The effortless movements of such a huge number of bird was difficult to comprehend unless there was a central brain controlling them all.
She would occasionally start telling me about the movie, and then suddenly stop and reiterate on how I would have to watch it to understand it. We would frequently shuttle between narratives of her life, her opinions on things and the movie. It was getting confusing. The story of the movie, the story of her life and the environment around us had slowly started to blend into each other, boundaries were fading. For the first time in an interview, I lost track of how long it had been since I was talking to the person across me.
Today, Bhavna has come a long way from what she was 10 years ago, the confused commerce pass out. Her life certainly has more conviction, , direction, however, I feel is a not a parameter we should consider. NID is known to have the toughest jury in all of India when it comes to judging films and here is what they had to say, the following has been extracted from a status she posted on Facebook shortly after, back in November:
Everything that could have gone wrong with me has gone wrong in the past 6-7 months. There were millions of times when I felt like giving up on this film. But I somehow managed to complete it and then the dreaded jury day came!
I think I have never felt so nervous in my entire life. So nervous that I wasn’t even able to speak properly! I was waiting for the jury members thinking about all the worst case scenarios in my mind and also cursing myself for wearing a sari in which I was feeling extremely uncomfortable.
Finally, all the panelists came and took their seats.
Panelist 1: I don’t want to see your film. Your document is so perfect that I don’t even feel like seeing your film now. I read it twice. But I couldn’t find a single mistake.
After watching the film…
Panelist 1: Your film has the capacity to singlehandedly start a new wave cinema movement. You know how we see Kafka’s work in literature?! Your film will be seen in the same way in cinema history after 10 years. Let this film be out. Your style of filmmaking will be followed and copied by people.
Panelist 2: Even if I watch this film a billion times, I know I’ll discover something new every time I watch it and every time I’ll find it more beautiful than before.
Panelist 3: I don’t even know what to say. It’s beautiful. I am glad that I am on this panel. Do you mind giving me a copy of this film? I want to keep it in my library so that I can watch it whenever I want to…
Panelist 4: I am not sure what you want to do with your life. But apne liye nahi par cinema ke hit ke liye aisi films banana bandh mat karna. I think people will have to question their own talent first when they sit on the jury panel to judge this film.
They asked me go out for 5 minutes and when they called me back. They said, “Congratulations, Young Designer! We are glad that we were on this film’s panel.” I was trying hard to hold back my tears. Shilpama’am could sense what I was going through at that point. Everyone left but she stayed back in that room. I just hugged her and cried like a small kid.
To all those people associated with this film,
Take a bow, guys!! This is for YOU!! THANK YOU!!!!!!
I was nowhere close to a discussion of what I originally called the interview for. We did not even bother about Cannes anymore. It wasn’t possible to talk about the movie because they were re-editing it a little. And on the other hand, the making of the maker of the movie was far too interesting a story to hear.
I still haven’t seen the movie. I only have a slight idea of what it’s all about. It’s called “Rang to Che Ne” which is the Gujarati for, “at least there is colour”. When I ask her about the name, she says,
“Love comes in shades. Loving someone might not always mean loving them in a single physico-emotional manner that people try telling us. There could be a million different ways in which you could love a million different people.”
I look forward to watching the movie nevertheless.
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