Ritu Sarin and Tenzin Sonam, who live in Dharamshala, choose to tell Tibetan stories because films on the region tend to be made by people from the outside
Filmmaker Ritu Sarin says she and her husbandTenzin Sonam take at least two years to make a film because engagement with their subject is a vital part of their creative process.
And so it was only natural that they were curious about Hari, a taxi driver in Dharamshala who was going to marry a girl whom he had seen only once and that too with her face covered. The film, When Hari Got Married, is all set for a theatrical release today in the city in PVR Cinemas.
“We have known Hari since he was 16; we knew his family. The marriage was fixed about two years prior to the filming. He used to talk about it a lot and as time passed, he got her mobile number and they started talking. We decided just a month before the wedding that we should start filming,” says Ritu. “We have been making films for a long time and we felt he made for a good character. We are interested in how India is changing thanks to the mobile phone.”
Many of their films, including The Reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche, The Shadow Circus: The CIA in Tibet, Dreaming Lhasa and The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle For Freedom have a close connection with Tibet and Tibetan issues; the couple resides in Dharamshala with their children.
“My partner Tenzin and I have been working together for 25 years. When we first started making films, there were no Tibetan filmmakers and films on Tibet were made by people from outside. That’s why we decided to tell Tibetan stories. We are very engaged with the Tibet.”
Before moving to Dharamshala, the couple spent some years in London, where they were programme directors at the Meridian Trust, a Buddhist and Tibet-related film archive and production company. It was during this period that they filmed the Dalai Lama on some of his early foreign trips.
“We followed him on several trips including the one where he won the Nobel Peace Prize. It was an incredible experience because we were in close proximity to somebody who was very highly regarded and so charismatic. We met so many interesting people, we were at the senate in Russia when the Russian republic was beginning to fall apart,” recalls Ritu.
“Those were the first travels of the Dalai Lama; he wasn’t as famous as he is now. His fan following became larger only post his Nobel Prize. His world is interesting because of the way he engages with people, and how people engage with him. It makes for a meaningful interaction. It’s interesting to see how people are overwhelmed by his presence.”
And what has remained with them after all their travels and engagement with the human mind and the human condition? “Normally we see people going through change. They are either at a historic moment whether it’s their marriage or a pilgrimage or they are involved with historic events. I guess we realise in that moment that everything is so fragile. It’s so momentary and what you are capturing at this moment is going to pass. I think it makes you every aware of the moment.”
Both Ritu and her husband consider themselves Buddhists. “We’re not particularly religious. But I think it does imbue our life and how we lead it. Filmmaking is our life. It’s out passion and our work. There is no separation in our case between our personal life and filmmaking life.”
That’s also why they started the Dharamshala International Film Festival as a first step to promote cultural activity in Dharamshala. The festival had it first edition last year and is all set for it second edition this year.
“Last year we also conducted an artist’s residency in collaboration with Khoj. The idea is to expose local people to good films and good art and hopefully bring that into their lives so there can be some transformation.”