THE AUTO MOTIVE: Light-hearted wisdom in the new indie film Daayen Ya Baayen
A LITTLE BOY, his mother, his grandmother and a young aunt are waiting quietly at a bus stop. The old woman silently opens a box and starts to sneak something into her mouth. Suddenly the angelic-looking boy jumps up and starts swatting at her arm, shouting, “Laddoo mat kha, neeche rakh, Papa ke liye hai!” Before we can dwell on the unusual irreverence of it all, or anything heavier, the bus arrives.
The moment is funny and real and a bit sad — and passes almost immediately. Bela Negi’s Daayen Ya Baayen (DYB), which releases 29 October, is chock-a-block with such moments. The bittersweet tale of a disillusioned writer who returns to his village from Mumbai (to his wife’s disbelief and his neighbours’ sneers and jeers), DYB is that rare thing in Indian cinema: a film that aspires to wisdom rather than wisecracks, yet refuses to take itself too seriously. “I have a problem with sentimentality,” laughs Negi, 39, a 1997 FTII graduate who’s written, directed and edited the film. “So whenever something sad happens, I juxtapose it with something outrageous.”
Drawing on Negi’s Nainital childhood and her mother’s village reminiscences, DYB perfectly evokes not just the light and space, but also the slower pace and gentle humour of an Uttarakhand village. The plot grew out of Negi reading about a poor man winning a lottery in Assam and imagining the “happy and not-so-happy repercussions”. “We’ve all felt sometimes that if I can get this one thing, everything will be fine,” says Negi. “But like they say: beware of your wishes, they might come true.” DYB’s protagonist, the somewhat haplessly comic Ramesh Majhila (played by Deepak Dobriyal: Uttarakhandi, long-time theatre actor, now known for Omkara and Gulaal), suddenly finds himself the owner of a big red car, setting in motion an unexpected train of events.
The red car is both visual and symbolic leitmotif: a dreamlike object from the faraway world of luxury advertising that appears, as if magically, in this poor, roadless mountainscape. It could have been heavy-handed. But DYB neither buys the consumerist fantasy, nor dwells ponderously on the irony of it all. You’re likely to think about it, but only about as much as you smile at a school assembly dissolving into giggles at Majhila’s puffed-up poetic speechifying. The lightness of touch is something Negi consciously aspires to. She mentions Bunuel and Naipaul as influences, and when she speaks admiringly of A House for Mr Biswas as being able to see the ridiculousness of characters while also empathising with them, one sees exactly what she means.
She remembers a blind roommate who’d dress up each evening and ask if she was looking nice. “I don’t mean to run down her ambition, her desire,” says the gentle Negi, who helps run her husband’s corporate film production company and has spent the past few years raising her kids. “But the blindness became a metaphor for me, of how we limit ourselves to what we see in others’ eyes.” It doesn’t look like Bela Negi does.