National Award winner Gurvinder Singh is set to take his sophomore project ‘Chauthi Koot’ to Cannes.
What are your expectations from your Cannes outing under the Un Certain Regards section?
The good thing about Cannes is that the whole world converges there and even if the film is not in competition, it finds good distributors. We will go to the Toronto International Film Festival after this as there is a sizable Punjabi population in Canada. We are looking for a September release in India.
What was the inspiration behind Chauthi Koot?
I grew up in the ’80s amid the turbulence of Operation Blue Star. We were living in a mixed neighbourhood in Delhi and I remember how we were huddled into our school buses and sent back home after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. I overheard a teacher say that the Sikhs should be taught a lesson. We were confined to our homes for days while mobs armed with stones were on the streets. I saw the neighbourhood Gurudwara being burnt down.
I always wanted to make a movie set in that period. When I came across two short stories by Punjabi writer Waryam Singh Sandhu — Chauthi Koot and Hunn Main Theek Haan — just after I’d made Anhe Ghorey Da Daan (2012), my first feature film, I knew I had found the right material.
How did you combine these stories to make the movie?
I found that the stories complement each other. One is set in a farmhouse in Punjab during the times when militants would patrol the streets at night. A diktat was issued that all lights must be switched off and dogs must not bark. The story is about a family’s dog and how one night it becomes the target of militants. It is bizarre and used symbolically.The other story is about two friends who have to reach Amritsar. During the Emergency there was no public transport after dusk. They board an almost empty train to reach Amritsar. One of the characters on this train journey recounts the other story.
You follow an unconventional method of filmmaking.
I like films with a strong individuality. Chauthi Koot is built on the foundations of Anhe Ghorey Da Daan for which I had rejected the idea of working with professional actors. In this one, I rejected even the idea of characterisation, conducting rehearsals or auditions. Your actor cannot be exactly like a character you’ve written. He can be similar. And Anhe… gave me the confidence that I can extract performances from anybody — people with or without acting experience.
How do you choose your actors then?
What catches my attention first is the physicality, body language and most importantly the human face. One can make a scene believable by the setting, lighting, camera and composition. It automatically creates a mood and one should let the actor become a part of that setting.For example, for the role of a passenger in Chauthi Koot, I cast a security guy I met at a shopping mall in Amritsar. I explained to him that he had to say some lines and just sit quietly. He was excited at first but became nervous on the sets. He started forgetting his lines. I told
him to say one line, recall what the next one is, and then say it. It didn’t have the fluidity of cinema but was closer
Both your films are adapted from literary works. What is your script writing process like?
For me the story is the take-off point. It is fascinating to find cinematic parallels while reading a story. Also, the voice of the actor is very important for me. While writing the script, I think of the sound before the visuals. A train moving at a speed of 20 kmph makes a different kind of impression than one travelling at 60 kmph. Sound, by its very nature, is more associative than images.
How did you become a filmmaker?
I was interested in photography. While studying direction in Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, I remember spending more time in the dark room and taking photographs than writing scripts. My love for literature gave me the narrative input. That and my interest in photography converged into cinema.
Why do you prefer Pune over Mumbai?
Mumbai is too noisy for me. Pune is relatively peaceful but I’m moving to Beed, Himachal Pradesh after returning from Cannes. I’ve got a house on the edge of a forest near a beautiful tea valley. It will also be conducive for my other passion, painting. In fact, I am in talks about showing my work at galleries in Mumbai or Delhi next year.
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