Filmed over 10 years, ‘A Picture of You’ helps film maker Ajay Noronha discover himself
Flames begin to lick at the edges of a photograph. The solitary portrait conveys a sense of finality, seeming to represent the last fragment of a memory. In the firelight, it gains the faintest semblance of life before shrivelling from the heat. Sober, half shadowed statues solemnly look on.
With this grim image, Ajay Noronha begins his cinematic enquiry, piecing through the fragments that he remembers of his father, who passed away when Ajay was six. 'A Picture of You' examines recollections, impressions and family relations that remain after all these years, in a journey to discover a parent who previously existed as nothing more than a tenuous memory.
Along with the initial photograph, the film proceeds to burn away your own sense of familiarity, and the sequence of questioning searches and striking visuals leave you reeling; questing for familiar ground. It’s only then, after the uncertainty has sunk in, that discovery gradually comes about.
“I started filming as something to do for myself,” says Noronha, and indeed, bit by bit we learn about his father -- how he looked, where he worked, what he thought. “But when I realised it is not about the search for my father, but a search for myself, that's when I started to open it out.”
He continues, “It’s one of those basic human questions -- Who am I? Where am I from? Then it becomes about more than just identity, but about everything that shapes and forms into you.”
Filmed over 10 years, the documentary takes you through the family's residences in three cities, and leaves you well acquainted with the Noronha clan, whose members, for the most part, handle being under the lens with indifference. “My family is so used to me filming them; I've always been the chronicler of the family with camera in my hand,” Ajay explains.
For someone otherwise known for his role with television shows such as Kaun Banega Crorepati and Koffee with Karan, Noronha's foray out of the mainstream might be called unusual. Voice laced with irony, he explains, “The shows that I work on are so-called reality shows, and then now I'm doing these documentaries, which actually depict reality.”
‘A Picture of You’ is the first film Noronha has made since his debut, ‘Bhaile’, a look at the tourism-based sex industry in India released in 2001. This time around, the camera-fever seems to have caught on much more strongly, and another film is already in on the line.
Ajay admits, “this film is also about me moving from a being a cinematographer to a director.”
And you can see why. It’s almost surprising how a documentary, apparently focused on such a personal topic, prompts us to look into our own identity. “My hope,” Ajay affirms, “is that someone will be able to join me on my journey and get into a journey of their own; maybe begin to confront their own questions as well.”