CLOSE to Karma Takapa’s village Borong in South Sikkim is a small town called Rabong that remains covered in fog throughout the year. “In Rabong, you experience a lot of duality. When the sun is out, it is beautiful, and when it isn’t, which is most times of the year, it is very cold, foggy and eerie. This contrast has somehow shaped my film Ralang Road. It also helped that the people there are inherently warm, and that Rabong is home to some interesting characters,” says the 31-year-old filmmaker. The film, after its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival earlier this year, is being screened at the Mumbai Film Festival and will travel to the Dharamshala International Film Festival in November.
The story of a series of unfortunate incidents on a regular day, this Nepalese-language movie is based on the images that Takapa has formed over a period of time, thanks to his association with south Sikkim and its people. “When I wrote the script, I had an idea about the characters and locations I wanted to base Ralang Road in. We spent a month in casting and scheduling. That, at times, was tricky since barring two actors, the rest of the cast are locals who had never acted before. They had jobs and limited time for the shoot. Despite this, the film was shot in a month in Borong and Rabong,” says Takapa, who graduated in film direction from FTII-Pune in 2014.
Scripted by him, Ralang Road is a tale of two teenage boys and their teacher in the midst of a mysterious robbery set in the small Himalayan town. The film is produced by HumanTrail Pictures, a collective consisting of some FTII alumni. To play one of the protagonists, Takapa roped in Shubham, his senior from FTII, while the other lead actor Sonam Wangyal went beyond his brief to ensure, throughout the duration of the shoot, that things were on track. The crew was a small but a close-knit group of FTII alumni.
“My producer Heer Ganjwala and I have worked together throughout FTII and share an understanding. Anadi Athaley, who is the editor and the executive producer of the film, initially didn’t understand Nepalese. He made it a point to translate and work around that in the edit. While translating, a lot of the narrative got contextualised into what it is now,” says Takapa. Christopher Burchell, also from FTII, worked on the background score.
Takapa joined FTII on a whim. On the first day of class, when they were shown a film that was followed by a discussion, the writer-director knew he was at the right place. The biggest advantage, he says, was the discussions on cinema that he had with his batchmates and seniors. “These discussions allowed me to understand what we were watching, which were at some level alien to me, and be inspired by the possibility of learning with every film I watch or make,” he recalls.
After completing their diplomas at FTII, the idea of a collective came up and led to the formation of HumanTrail Pictures in 2015. “The company seeks to make films that reflect the rich socio-cultural diversity of the country, and is dedicated to producing a diverse range of quality films,” says Ganjwala. However, their non-traditional approach to filmmaking wasn’t a very conscious decision. They were discussing the possibilities of making a collaborative film around the idea of a writer’s block that they all had experienced. “In the span of a year — after some struggle, some windfall and a lot of support from our families and seniors from FTII — Mor Mann Ke Bharam was made,” says Ganjwala. Interestingly, for this film, Ganjwala and Takapa shared the direction credit with another FTII alumnus, Abhishek Varma.
Mor Mann Ke Bharam won the Special Jury Prize at the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, 2015, and became a part of the Film Bazaar Recommends section, curated by Deepti DCunha. Over the last two years, they have kept going back to DCunha for tips regarding pitching a film and how the festival circuit works. “Currently, Humantrail has three wonderful films in development. Hopefully soon, we will have more details to share regarding the upcoming films,” says Takapa, who has made two short features, Ordinary Times (Thutse Kyuma, 2013) and No Where Here (Yahin Kahin Nahin, 2014).