I have always had a relationship with Old Delhi – Anamika Haksar
India is the largest producer of cinema. Our theatre tradition is also one of the oldest. Off late many a theatre practitioners have chosen to walk the celluloid path. Anamika Haksar is one of those. The first thing that catches your attention about her debut film is its quirky title, Ghode ko jalebi khilane le ja riya hoon. Currently the film is in post production and Haksar has raised a crowdfunding campaign on Wishberry for its completion. We spoke with the eminent theatre personality about her foray into cinema, the film’s making and its way forward.
What made you decide to make a film around Old Delhi? Please talk about the inspiration and the nomenclature.
I have always had a relationship with Old Delhi. My family are Kashmiri migrants who settled in parts of city. We have also done theatre performances in that part of the city. I have also done several healing camps there, which happen to be my second hobby after theatre. I have had the opportunity to observe people from the migrant community and people who live in the nostalgia of Old Delhi. I always found it absolutely fascinating to observe the lifestyle and living conditions of people living there today.
In the past I had also done a lot of street theatre in that area. It was mostly in areas where there were unorganized sectors of people. So, I got a chance to observe how they lived. This whole amalgamation of Old Delhi, in which there are composition presses, hand presses and tire tube work, has always fascinated me. The old, the new, the traditional and the contemporary. All this put together seemed very interesting. I liked the fact that people have still retained humour and tolerance in face of a rather hard day that they spend labouring. Collectively, all these factors led to me going there and working. I wanted to know in real terms about what these people think and the emotions they go through, when they go to bed at night. Which is why we took 5-6 years recording people who would be happy to talk about their lives.
As far as the title of the film goes, it is an old story told by an aunt. She used to learn music in Old Delhi. One day a taangawaala (Horse Cart puller) was going and she asked him, “Abbe kahan ja raha hai?” (Where are you headed?). To which he replied, “Ghode ko jalebi khilaane le ja riya hoon” (Going to get jalebi for my horse). His horse wasn’t well and he was going to get jalebi for it. So there was a bit of humour in it. And I thought of it as an interesting title, something that I’ve saved all these years for my film.
As the film is based in Old Delhi, what research did you undertake for it? How did you plan and execute production design, sound, costumes and camera to capture the era?
We have all theatre people working on this film. The people researching for me are Lokesh Jain along with Chhavi Jain and Shankar Sahi. Lokesh stays in Old Delhi. So, these people who have lived there helped me. I also hail from Delhi but at the moment I am based out of Mumbai. So going daily and questioning people and forming a relationship had to be done by a person who is really from that area. I prepared the questions and set up everything. For the location, we would gently go there everyday and start setting up a relationship. Local people trusted my team and discussed very intricate dreams and fears.
As far as the technical team is concerned, they came in much later. Because we have roamed around the streets for so many years, so we know the in and out of it. Of course, we also did extra work. We walked more. I have a handicap in my left knee. Even then we used to go into all the lanes because we wanted to do authentic work. Our prime concern all throughout has been the detail and authenticity. We have shot most of the film as exterior sequences. Just the dream sequences have been shot in the studio.
Tanushree Das is the gaffer. She is an editing pass out from FTII and does documentary films. She has devised a very interesting method for lighting. She uses torches and LED lights, which were simple and portable. We also used cinema lights but these portable light sets that we used gave us better mobility. Therefore we could go into pocket areas, which are difficult to light up normally. Saumyanand Sahi is the DOP. This is his third feature film and he says that this is his toughest project so far. The space is congested, people easily get angry and violence is vent. There were suspicions doing rounds whether we are shooting for the government or is it anti-government. So on and so forth. But the thing that worked in our favour was that we were locals so people came to support us.
Talk about your casting process and working with the actors. Was there a workshop for speech and body language?
I had already written a fictional structure. There were characters like a loader, a pickpocket and a halwai (Sweet shop owner), for which I have cast trained actors. I’ve cast actors from all over the country. But the rest of the cast, barring the written parts, are people from the streets. Lokesh Jain had been working in Jama Masjid and he knew about an organization called ‘Jamghat’ that works with street children. Then there are people like Indra Prakash Singh who works with homeless people and Subodh Lal ji who heads the Union of laborers in Khari Baoli who supported us. People from the local Delhi theatre also helped us. Through contacts we would meet random people, many of whom were illiterate and give them lines to speak.
We had magicians and madaaris (Jugglers and street performers) who are now branded as beggars and ostracized. We would call them to our hotel and train them there. Sometimes we took people without training. The comfortable ones came to the hotel for text and speech workshops. But the ones who were not comfortable were given lines directly and briefed about the situation. Since the situation was close to their lives they would readily accept it and were enthusiastic about it. For example there is a dialogue by a homeless person describing police brutality. While performing, these people start adding dialogues from their own life experiences.
In a couple of films, Piyush Mishra has sung songs that he composed during his theatre days. In your film Raghuveer Yadav is seen singing a song from his musical play ‘Laila-Majnu’. Are there more such references of theatre in your film?
Being a theatre person, we cannot shy away from it. And why should we run from it in the first place. Film has taken a lot from folk theatre, traditional theatre and tamasha. We should also understand, with great humility, that we are not film people. So that interaction of mediums is bound to happen. Be it in the performance style or the way we look at a particular subject. But what we have tried in this film is to also retain a cinematic quality in our work. We have tried to go close to the characters (Their gestures and faces) which isn’t possible in theatre.
A great teacher Babaji (B.V.Karant) taught us about folk traditions. And Raghuveer (Yadav) ji singing a song came from there. One fine evening, after our theatre rehearsal, we were sitting and having tea. Suddenly a rickshaw puller came and he was singing a song. It was brilliant singing. I asked him about the background and got to know that he was from the Kabir Gaan tradition of singing. While he was young, he had also done shows. But when the company dissolved he had to quit singing and is now pulling a rickshaw. Many of the people around us are folk artists. And we wanted to use and explore that aspect.
There is a use of instruments like cattle drum and brass band. Please talk about the music of the film and the motivation behind using these instruments.
All the old cities are core cities of music. Be it Lucknow, Delhi, Agra, Benaras or even Bhindi Bazaar in Mumbai. The instruments that have been used are those which are normally used for celebration. Taasha is an old instrument that is used in marriages and other functions. Brass band is one of the most common instruments that you’ll find in every city. It is part of tradition. So we wanted to use it for sure. We have worked with Vikram Sharma, who is a rough musician and plays with industrial sounds. He mixes them really well. We are planning to use those sounds as well. So the modern instruments will also be used for some of the sequences.
You have trained in and practised theatre for years. The sensibilities of cinema and theatre are quite different. Talk about this shift of mediums. What are the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
I trained in a small academy called Digital Academy in Mumbai. I have my family so I did not have the convenience to go for a three-year course in FTII. This academy that I did a short-term course from, had a lot of FTII alumnus working as faculty. It was an eight month course. I was very clear that I cannot be arrogant about the fact that I have trained in theatre. The mediums are entirely different. I also do not claim that an eight month course has made me a film director. It is just that I wanted to say something and I thought that film would be the best medium of expression for this project.
In theatre we take a lot of time in improvising and working on characters and here the demand of the medium is to do the same thing in 2-3 days. I was fortunate to have a helpful team who helped with continuity and angles. Mise-en-scene, composition, colour, rhythm and actors are all my tools. I know them! Lens, camera, lighting (Film) are what I learnt at the short-term course. Many a theatre directors have changed mediums but they go back to theatre. I am a theatre person and will remain one.
Why did you choose crowdfunding? Did you try approaching producers or production houses first? Please talk about current scenario of crowdfunding in the country and its future.
Production houses are all commercial. I did not expect much from them. Yes, I did go to Mahindra and Jindal and Rathi steel. But they all said no. I got very tired. I am 57 and begging door to door for money becomes very distasteful for me. I never ask money for my theatrical productions also. I do a certain kind of theatre where I am not dependent on Coca Cola or Pepsi. I have taken a loan and that’s how I am functioning. But there are people, who have come purely out of love, and contributed. We have money for the fillm’s editing, but no money for the VFX and sound. That’s where we approached Wishberry.
I cannot talk much about crowdsourcing as it is my first time. All I can say is that people have been very kind. 95 percent of the people who have contributed are my acquaintances. They have done it out of love. So far, very few strangers have given money. We are falling very short of our target. I do not have links with industrialists and business people and don’t know how to reach them.
But what I am trying to say to them (industrialists) is that 20- 30 lakhs will not make a difference to you. It is just the price of one of your cars. So, rather than going the same old path of backing a big filmmaker, why don’t you try backing new filmmakers as well? If the film does well, people would appreciate your efforts of backing it.
[You can help the filmmaker fund the making of ‘Ghode ko jalebi khilane le ja riya hoon’ by contributing to their crowdfunding campaign here.]