'Out Of Thin Air' documents the nascent Ladakhi film industry, where taxi drivers double as actors, finds VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED

The documentary film “Out of Thin Air” is about the fledgling Ladakhi film industry. It is a film of touching beauty because the medium of documentary film indulges the innocent world of a nascent movie industry driven entirely by passion.

When one watches the documentary, the empathy of the filmic medium for its subject is hard to miss. The scrutiny of the landscape and its people in the harsh attractiveness of Ladakh is seeped in a visual language of immense feeling and a childish curiosity. The stars of the film are monks, taxi drivers, housewives and even a plainclothes police woman, all based in Ladakh and all of whom double up as the varied people who make up the Ladakhi film industry.

Samreen Farooqui, one of the two young co-directors of the film was present at the screening and said, “The characters you see in the film are the backbone of the film industry in Ladakh and around these people there are loads of other people.” Farooqui made this film along with her classmate from the Jamia Milia Islamia's A.J.K. Mass Communication Research Centre (MCRC), Shabani Hassanwalia. The duo spent more than a year shooting for the film and the result is a 50-minute journey soaking in the fervour of a tiny group of people who have pioneered a film movement in this remote part of the country.

The Ladakhi films are also, in a way, an effort by the locals to revive their own culture for even though the themes of many of the films seem inspired by a kitschy Bollywood, the ethos is all Ladakhi. While earlier, the only sound that one heard in Ladakh was that of Hindi and English songs, there is a whole new culture of Ladakhi sounds now.

The film may be short, but it works perfectly as it probes the lives of a core group of people who have been associated with Ladakhi films. “Out of Thin Air” has a lightness to it, which does not mean that it takes its issue lightly, but the manner in which the filmmakers have portrayed the charm of Ladakh's people and shown its rugged and serene beauty, will leave the viewer with a heady and fun feeling. The background score of the film is lilting and adds to its attractiveness.

A monk scriptwriter

Half the charm of the film lies in its setting and the freshness of its characters and the other half lies in the theme of the film, which, as Farooqui said, was to show a Ladakh that went beyond its depictions in post cards. One of the most endearing characters is a young and friendly Buddhist monk called Norbu, who is also a scriptwriter and a writer of love songs. Another character Zulfikar Ali is a taxi driver and says that people in Ladakh know him as ‘Zulzul', a villain of Ladakhi films.

Farooqui and Hassanwalia are both based in Delhi and their collaboration extends back to their days in MCRC a few years ago when they made a film called “Nischachar” which means “those who walk at night” that looked at people who stay up at night in Delhi out of choice. Both the filmmakers seem to have a taste to seek out the interesting and their next film will look at another such theme — that of dying folk music across India. The two directors have set up a production house called ‘Hit and Run Films' to make the films that they want, and both of them admire Amar Kanwar, the well-known documentary filmmaker with his intense emphasis on aesthetics. On the role of documentary filmmaking, Farooqui said: “Documentary filmmakers have to take a stand on issues through their films but our mediation in this film has been very subtle as we are still developing a visual language of our own”.

The making of “Out of Thin Air” was supported by the India Foundation for Arts, which screened the film in the city.

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