Quietly, a slum lives in the hills

By Sukant Deepak

New Delhi, Nov 16 (IANS): He recalls reaching home (Shimla) after winning the top prize at IDSFFK 2016 in Kerala for his short film 'Papa' and feeling extremely unsatisfied. "I had played it very safe," he smiles.

That was the moment when he decided to go all out and tell a story that was bigger and bolder. "And I started writing 'Amar Colony'. The idea was to expand on my short film," filmmaker Siddharth Chauhan tells IANS.

His debut feature will have its world premiere at the ongoing 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia (First Features - In Competition) and India premiere at the International Film Festival of Kerala next month. It was the first project from a local filmmaker of Himachal Pradesh to make it to NFDC Film Bazaar's Co-Production Market.

Set in Shimla, the movie has multiple tales -- a crippled widow who wants respect for her pigeon; a lonely pregnant woman who finds her solace in a tomato; and a devotee of Lord Hanuman who battles paranoia with a mace. Their lives come together at Amar Colony, a chawl in Shimla.

Chauhan wrote the first draft in seven days in 2016 and made a few revisions over the next few years - visiting the script after intervals until 2018 when it was selected to be a part of NFDC's Co-Production Market. The project created quite some buzz there and reinforced his belief in it.

Stressing that it is important that stories from small towns are 'revealed', the filmmaker firmly believes that each person has a perspective, a gaze that is as unique as their nature, personality, and expression.

"Moreover people like me - who are born and brought up in small towns do not think in the same way as those in major cities. Shimla, my hometown is very unique as it is both cosmopolitan and very conservative. I think it has succeeded in influencing me in certain ways which I may not be able to pinpoint but I am certainly aware of. Stories from small towns have in them a unique character," says Chauhan, who was at the recently concluded Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) held in a physical avatar after two years.

Talk to the young filmmaker about the interesting and impactful way silence helps the narrative in the movie, and he says that for him films mirror life and life is silent. "It never talks to me. I only see human beings talking to me and at times I wonder why? Are we incapable of communicating without words or just lazy? I see life communicating silently, and subtly. Since 'Amar Colony' was about life, Amar meaning eternal/immortal, I wanted to give it a life-like quality. I also feel it has a lot to do with my personality. Films are personal expressions and I do not talk much."

Chauhan says that 'Iceberg Stories' magnetise him. "They are very simple on the surface but quite complex and profound. They make you think, imagine and wonder at the various possibilities. They are powerful and unforgettable. If you crash into them, you will certainly not remain unharmed."

He feels that despite the hype, things have really not changed much for independent filmmakers in the country.

"I see more and more people summoning up the courage to juggle with this medium and also publicize their work. As a result, there are more number of films which are made, seen or known to the public but I doubt if anything has really opened up for independent filmmakers in India," adds the filmmaker was drawn to this medium after he saw a scene from 'Black' being shot in Shimla.

Chauhan, who never went to a film school as he was never interested in 'formal education', says, "My academic journey has been quite disappointing, so there was no way I could allow the accident to repeat with the love of my life - films. I preferred to teach myself, learn by doing and by watching movies."

The filmmaker, who was developing two scripts simultaneously caused him to burn, so he plans to take a break till this year-end. "I want to resume work on my next film from January 2023. It is a murder mystery set in a Himachali village," he concludes.



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