15 November 2009

Rabbit In Wonderland: Paresh Kamdar's Khargosh

Paresh Kamdar’s stunningly evocative film Khargosh (2008) is set in what seems like the perfect small town, all quiet sloping streets, serene riverside idylls and fields of golden wheat. As if in a painting, the bleached whites and dull browns of a dusty north Indian summer are set off by accents of red: crimson flags flutter atop a crumbling stone temple, a rusty lamp juts out from a wall, a scarlet dupatta floats down into a whitewashed school building. But Kamdar is quick to dispel any illusions one might have about accessing some picture-perfect slice of Indian reality. “The school and the ghat are in Maheshwar, on the Narmada; the house is in Vidisha, 45 km from Bhopal; the forest is Borivili National Park – and the dark staircase? That’s a set!” he says gleefully.

The 52-year-old Kamdar has always enjoyed subverting expectations. As the eldest child of a Gujarati family that had lived in Kolkata for five generations, it was assumed he would do a B.Com and join the khandani business. Instead, the teenaged Kamdar accompanied his Bengali landlord, a cameraman, to the sets of Uttam Kumar films. Starting out by holding the star’s cigarettes while he shot his scenes, he grew increasingly fascinated with the world of cinema. “The elevated status of art in Kolkata, especially for a Gujju with none of this in his background, gave it an aspirational quality,” says Kamdar. Bored with college and out to irritate his father, he joined a German class. He was soon part of a young arty circle, doing plays and dreaming of cinema. It was in the Max Mueller Bhavan canteen that he heard of the Film and Television Institute (FTII), and joined to study editing in 1983. “Kitabein toh padh hi rakhi thi, about editing being about sculpting time and all that,” grins Kamdar. “Plus I thought haath ka kaam hai, at least I won’t go hungry.”

After FTII, Kamdar worked as an editor with filmmakers like Nandan Kudhyadi and Kumar Shahani (he won the 1994 National Award for editing Kudhyadi’s Rasayatra, about vocalist Mallikarjun Mansur). He made “unexciting” documentaries for three years, so as to travel in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. His first film, Tunnu ki Tina (1996), a black comedy about a lower middle class Mumbai family “trapped between entrenched orthodoxies and new consumerist fantasies”, was funded by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC). “But NFDC wouldn’t screen it, so I made a VHS copy and started showing it to critics,” says Kamdar. A screening at Delhi’s India International Centre led Cinemaya editor Aruna Vasudev to push for a premiere at the Berlin Film Festival.

Tunnu’s black humour was continued in Sirf Tumhari (1998), a short about the fantastic secret escapades of a middle class housewife. A long funding crunch, interspersed with teaching, ended with Johnny Johnny Yes Papa (2008), a neorealist film about an unworldly father and a worldly son. But it is with Khargosh that Kamdar has finally been able to make the film he wanted to make, where the narrative – a 10-year-old boy becoming a go-between for two lovers – is secondary. “I wanted to achieve a certain rhythm, a certain sound, an imagery that would create a particular cinematic experience,” says Kamdar. “It’s not realist. It’s subjectively unreal. But I was sure it had an audience.”

Of the three awards Kamdar walked away with at Osian’s Cinefan, it’s the Audience Award he treasures most. This is just a start.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 45 Dated November 14, 2009

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