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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

March of Memories

Rukshana Tabassum’s National Award-winning film explores the peculiarities of human memory

Written by Alaka Sahani |
Updated: May 1, 2018 12:00:06 am
Rukshana Tabassum’s National Award-winning film Writer-director Rukshana Tabassum

DURING the last few years of her life, writer-director Rukshana Tabassum’s grandmother was losing her memory rapidly. As she could not remember most of the names, she would describe people or places through various vivid personal memories associated with them. One day, when Tabassum and her mother had stepped out of home, a visitor left a box of sweets with her grandmother. When asked who was the visitor, her grandmother said it was her friend’s son who lived near a lamp post next to a pond where she went fishing as a young girl. Though they eventually figured out who had brought the sweets, such episodes became a part of their household. “The adults didn’t pay much heed to her anymore because it was time consuming to solve the riddles. But us, the younger lot, had ample time to listen, believe and be a part of the world she was creating through her memories,” recounts Tabassum.

Years later, this childhood experience became an inspiration for The Cake Story, a short film written and directed by Tabassum. This year, the film bagged the National Award (Special Mention) in the Non Feature-Fiction Category. The film captures the search of six-year-old Monu and his father for a bakery, which has the former’s smiley birthday cake. As a series of unfortunate events ensues, Monu’s father forgets the bakery’s receipt at home. Just when he thinks a dial service information centre could help, his phone battery dies. They try to follow Monu’s “obscure” lead that the cake shop is near “Rocket Nana’s house” where the footpath has holes.

Tabassum was born in Assam’s Nagaon and both her parents were teachers. Although her maternal uncle Tasadduq Yusuf was a well-known actor in Assamese cinema, a career in films was never encouraged at home. While interning at a Delhi-based ad agency, she decided to apply to Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, and later joined the direction course. After graduating from FTII in 2008, she worked for a film production company before turning a freelance writer-director. “My friend Paramita Ghosh, who is the executive producer of this film, and I wanted to give this film our best. A whole bunch of our friends extended their support to make this a reality,” says Tabassum, adding that although she didn’t consciously decide to make a children’s film, most of her stories featured them. The kind of funding they received from the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI), which produced the film, was not enough for the production they had in mind. To use the funds judiciously, Tabassum and Ghosh decided to do the line production under the company Synecdoche Films, which they have co-founded. More than 60 per cent of the film was shot outdoors and on the streets of Mumbai.

“A major portion of our funds was used up in this. We had to deal with location managers, BMC officials, cops, goons and whole lot of middlemen to get permissions. While making this film, my team and I learnt everything about making a film that we didn’t learn in film school,” says Tabassum. The movie features Ballu Panchal as Monu and Vinay Pathak as his father while Sagar Desai has composed music for it.

Tabassum is also a Bharatanatyam dancer and painter. However, she says she doesn’t consider dance, art and filmmaking to be very different from each other. “For me, everything is about telling stories. I do my dance practice almost everyday except on the days I have hectic shoots. I dream of making films on the art and music of India. Currently, I’m trying to understand the best ways to capture classical dances in terms of camera movement, lensing and others. Indian classical dances are complex and involves a lot of geometry. So, it’s really tough to crack this one,” says the 33-year-old.

She is currently writing the second draft of her next, a feature film, based in her hometown. The film is multilingual (Marwari, Hindi, Assamese and Bengali) and will explore the story of a Marwari boy based in Assam. “The film is an attempt to recreate certain memories from childhood and explore certain spaces in my hometown which have a very special place in my life,” she says.

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