Written by Seona James
A production by the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune has won the Special Mention of the Ecumenical Online Jury in the First International Online Competition at Oberhausen and the Grand Online Prize of the City of Oberhausen, Germany. The awards were received for ‘Kalsubai’, a student documentary.
The 20-minute documentary is directed by Yudhajit Basu, a student of film direction of the 2017 batch. The documentary is described as ‘an ethnographic diary film which explores the legend of a Mahadeo Koli Goddess’.
Kalsubai is worshipped in many parts of Maharashtra and the Konkan region. The highest mountain peak in the state, too, has been named after the local deity. Basu found inspiration for the story as he was travelling with his mentor to research a film. “I was talking to the local people and trying to understand the culture because I come from a very different cultural background — I’m based in Calcutta. It was quite a new space for me, both in terms of the language and the culture…I remember as I was sitting at a tea stall one afternoon with my other batchmates, there was a person who told me the story of a local tribal deity who had walked all alone through jungles and started living on a mountain all by herself,” says Basu.
According to the Director’s Note, the documentary “tries to explore the legend of Kalsubai by juxtaposing both primordial and contemporary images and creating a visual dialogue between the past and the present”. It adds that “Kalsubai tries to bring out the essence of the story of Kalsubai in its purest form and reflect on the strategic eradication of the oral traditions of our country”.
The Oberhausen citation for the documentary says, “For creating a dialogue between past and present through its lyrical ethnography, and for exploring with a gentle distance a remarkable mythology empowering non-traditional ways for women to live.”
Another statement from the jury reads, “Kalsubai explores the history of Goddess Kalsu and her meaning for the women of Bari. The film relies on strong visual and acoustic images that neither explain nor falsify. The almost photographic compositions and their expressive simplicity make the film accessible to everyone and invite you to reflect on your own cultural influences and to question them.”
Talking about the difficulties and restrictions he faced, Basu says, “Our institute had to be shut down due to Covid. As final year students, we have our final projects and exercises left, which we can’t really do online. So, it has been a very difficult time.”
He adds that he was unable to attend the festival where the documentary won the awards due to the pandemic and everything was done virtually. “At the same time, I must say that the news of the award is a relief, more than anything else, because it really is a ray of hope for me,” he says.