” It was like a mystery, a spiritual quest, knowing that there is something beyond the mist” | Ridham Janve
Debutant Director Ridham Janve has created a film based on true stories and myths flowing in the mountains among the Gaddi tribe – ‘The Gold Laden Sheep and The Sacred Mountain’. There are multiple theories regarding their arrival in the areas of Northern India, often relying on oral history and myths.
Set among the pastoral Gaddi community in Himachal Pradesh the film explores the adventures of elderly shepherd Arjun (played by Bhedpal Arjun Pant) who sets out to find a pilot who crashed near the mountain. The film has been made under trying circumstances with non-professionals and a small crew.
Why and how did you pick the subject of ‘The Gold-Laden Sheep and The Sacred Mountain’?
Since my first visit to the Dhauladhar mountains, I knew I wanted to film something there. I was fascinated by those primordial landscapes, those proportions, the sense of timing there, the mountain culture, the people, their belief system. The stories I had heard during my travels there had intrigued me. It was like a mystery, a spiritual quest, knowing that there is something beyond the mists. The story of The Gold- Laden Sheep and The Sacred Mountain comes from some true stories and some myths around and about those mountains.
You did not cast trained actors in the film. Why?
There was no need and no space for trained actors in the film. It would been forced to bring actors from the outside world to this very peculiar setting where the film is set. The film is in the Gaddi dialect spoken only by the Gaddi community, so casting locals seemed the most normal thing to do.
Was it challenging to work with first-time actors?
Non-professional actors have their own pros and cons. One can’t expect them to learn lines and dialogues like professional actors but can expect some magic which only non-actors can bring. The challenge is – how to make use of their special abilities to your advantage and not get stuck with things they might not be good at. One has to derive a film language that will accommodate the non-actors with their own skill-sets. An easier way to do it is to find people who are close to the characters in the film in their own real lives, rather than imposing external ideas and forcing them to act like the characters you might have imagined at first.
Tell us about the challenges you had to face in your film making process.
We shot the film between 3,500 and 5,000 meters altitude. The nearest village from where we were shooting, and where we had to set up a camp for the crew was about two days of trek away. Everything we needed had to be brought on our backs, or on the porters’ back. So we had to be as precise as possible while planning the production. There were many constraints inherent with the production. The weather was highly unpredictable and the terrain was tough. Every day we would have to walk for a few hours to shoot one scene or two. Since the nearest electricity source was two days away, we were totally dependent on solar power. There would be days when the sun just won’t come out. There would be days when it would rain continuously, not letting us out of tents, forget shooting. Well, there were many challenges of many kinds but it was all a great adventure. The situations would keep testing our patience and our commitment and we would keep on trying.
Why the specific focus on the Gaddi community?
The origin of this film lies in the belief system of the Gaddi community and mine and Akshay’s experiences with them, the impressions we carefully collected during our stays with them, our random strolls in the forests, and treks on the mountain. Gaddis has a very deep relation with the mountain. Their unique culture has a mountain as a very important part of it. They literally live off it. But it was never an imposed focus on the Gaddi community. If the story was set in another mountain or a forest in a completely different part of the country, it would have been in the language of that place, with that community. But of course, it would have been a completely different film then.
What made you choose the authentic Pahari language and dialect, instead of Hindi, which is usually easier for the larger audiences to comprehend? Do you think it’s a good time to make regional language films with subtitles for the world? But at the same time do you think it may affect theatrical releases in India?
Shooting the film in the original language retains the authenticity of the story and keeps the essential spirit alive. While Hindi remains the language with the widest acceptance in the country, there exist many stories even in the smallest parts and regions which need to be told in order to create a more comprehensive narrative of our country. It’s exciting to see so many films coming from different parts of the country, in different languages with unheard, unseen narratives. I feel in the future we will get to see more and more films from these unconventional places, which can, of course, be watched and understood with subtitles. The mainstream audiences are also slowly opening up to these varieties of narratives from unfamiliar languages and cultures, which is a good sign for Indian cinema. On the other hand, the theatrical release still remains a commercially driven act and it’s still difficult to bring these
films out on the big screens. But with so many critically acclaimed regional films in the past years which also got appreciated by the urban audiences, I’m hopeful for a better acceptance for such films in the coming years.
How would you want the film to be perceived by the audiences? What sort of a response do you really anticipate from them?
I have no control over how the film will be perceived by the audiences. Also, our film is designed in a way that each person would take something unique for themselves from the film. It’s like manifestation on their own thoughts. It’s like each person who travels to the mountains has a unique experience. They all return with something which was meant only for them. So far, we have had great responses at the film festivals we have shown the film at and I hope the film continues to garner a larger
Give us an insight into your journey as a filmmaker, post your graduation from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad.
After NID, I didn’t want to hurry and take up a job as a designer or to move to Bombay and start working in films. I took a couple of years off for myself, in which I traveled extensively and wrote many short stories, and developed some ideas for films. Occasionally I made some video works which paid my bills. After I made a short film, Kanche aur Postcard which was selected in the prestigious Indian Panorama at IFFI, a producer offered me to develop two feature film scripts. So in the next two years I developed these scripts, which were both commercial projects, one was a road movie with an unconventional love affair and another one was a crime thriller. But unfortunately the producer had his interest shifted from films to other businesses and both the films got shelved. And as I had already taken money for development I held no rights on those scripts to approach other producers. In these years I also worked on some documentaries which kept on giving me opportunities to explore new cultures, new stories from different parts of the country.
Are you currently working on an upcoming project? Can you tell us something about what we can expect from you next?
I have a few feature film scripts which I have been developing in the past years. They are all of the different genres and are set in completely different places. The only common thing in them I feel is that they are fresh and have never been explored before. I am looking for producers to fund these films. Let’s see which one gets picked up first.
Watch the trailer of the film here –