An elderly household help Monica, played by Maulina Midde from West Bengal who is a domestic help in real life as well, is seen having a casual conversation with her employer Neelima, a former journalist, on the big screen. On being asked where she worked previously, Monica points out that it was at a toy factory, to which Neelima excitedly replies, “How cute”. After a relatively long pause, Monica, wearing a grim expression, adds, “We had to work for 12 hours standing straight every day”. This scene in the hour-long film Turup (Checkmate), presents the irony where the back story of a toy — considered an object of adoration — might be grim and painful.
Screened before a packed audience at Gulmohar Hall in India Habitat Centre in Delhi last week, the film produced by Ektara Collective, uses the popular pastime of playing chess in Bhopal’s Chakki Chouraha neighbourhood as its binding thread. The narrative unveils the sociopolitical realities of our society. The conversations surrounding the chess board touch upon topics ranging from religion and caste to class and gender.
“Community chess games, where people from a neighbourhood gather and play chess, has been a long tradition here for over 45 years. It prevails through every season. They light up a bonfire during winters and in the rainy season, umbrellas are brought and opened to play a match. There is a lot of passion for the game,” says cinematographer Maheen Mirza, who has co-written the script and screenplay for the film and is part of Ektara Collective. The Bhopal-based collective works with numerous communities and produces films that depict their everyday realities.
With a crowdfunded budget of Rs 2 lakh, the film has no director and local residents from different working class communities in the basti doubled up as crew members and actors, to help make it a “collective and shared direction”. “In this day and age, most things work in a hierarchical order but the film gave a platform that allowed for several people to contribute, through discussions, individual experiences and their visions,” says Mirza.