Brahmanand S Siingh, who shot into prominence with RD Burman documentary Pancham Unmixed: Mujhe Chalte Jaana Hai, doesn’t mince words. He says parallel cinema was supposed to run ‘parallel’ to the mainstream popular cinema. “I am here to tell stories that are simple, profound yet extraordinary. It is always a huge plus when there is a certain authenticity that you are building upon. I like to deal with such stories and characters that are real and powerful, enriching the audience.”
Brahmanand believes in his vision and voice. “I wouldn’t make something for the masses, but I have my own calling. If my story happens to find the audience, it finds an audience. Everyone’s path is different. That’s the thing about being a filmmaker. It is your journey and it is going to be unique,” he says.
The Mumbai-based award-winning director is excited about his next, Jhalki, featuring Boman Irani, Sanjay Suri, Divya Dutta and others in important roles. Recently, the trailer was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Jhalki, scheduled to release next month, has also travelled to the prestigious New York Film Festival, besides many.
“Jhalki is a beautiful and heartwarming story set against the backdrop of bonded child labour, trafficking and lost childhood. While developing the story, we sensed a global appeal and started sending the film to festivals. It is a journey of life and hope. A nine-year-old girl is in search of her seven-year-old brother, who gets caught in child labour,” says Brahmanand, who had written the story along with Prakash Jha many years ago. “Eventually, we bounced the script with Kailash Satyarthi, who had supported the film idea right from the beginning,” he smiles.
Brahmanand observes there is a mushrooming of festivals within India and abroad that showcase the warmth of human stories. “Jhalki is rooted in real life and has a strong visual appeal. It works locally as well as universally. A good film has to create multiple meanings. This will be a film that you don’t step out of the theater and forget,” he assures.
Why bonded labour, in particular? “There is nothing unfortunate than a lost childhood. We see a lot of children being pushed into this. The more stories we tell about them, the less marginalised they will be. It is not about normalising something, but recognising their pain, their struggles,” Brahmanand elaborates.
Speaking about the challenges of getting the lead child actors on board, Brahmanand says, they shortlisted over 50, narrowed down to 15 and finally zeroed in on four through a two-week workshop. “Jhalki’s character is a firebrand. So, we had to find someone, who would shoulder the entire film. We were looking for artistes across Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Both Aarti and Goraksh are terrific and understood what was needed of them. It was great to see them internalise, perform and improvise. They endured summer, braving heat and dust,” he adds.
Brahmanand shares the story happens in the 90s and the makers had to source film posters of that period to bring in more authenticity to the milieu. “Also, designing costumes took us more time. Otherwise, the characters speak Bihari Hindi and we extensively shot in Mirzapur because the place had maximum carpet factories. It suited the premise of Jhalki well.”
Brahmanand points out how independent cinema is open to experimenting more with sync sound. “Despite the technological challenges, the 60s and 70s produced some of the best quality soundtracks as most of the makers kept sound close to real life as possible and not cinematic. From the time of Lagaan, Bollywood started warming up to the trend. Personally, I believe sound is a character in a film and that should be as much about the sound as it about the visuals,” he adds.
How did Brahmanand rope in Bollywood actor Boman Irani? “Ideally, we would have wanted Kailash Satyarathi himself, but when we approached Irani, he was extremely forthcoming. He doesn’t accept films easily but genuinely felt he should be a part of Jhalki. It is a pleasure to have excellent actors who own their characters. Irani is one such method actor.”
What’s next? Brahmanand isn’t anxious about when his next film will be made. “I have had my perceptions changed by films and I hope the same to happen for mine. The idea is to view this experience as a journey. I travel a lot. I like meeting people and interacting with the audience. I have seen a lot of filmmakers desperately trying to make films. I am not like that. Stories don’t think of what is outside the frame. It is about thinking differently, breaking stereotypes, finding alternative ways of making your films and experimenting,” he signs off.