Now that her film Kaphal has won the National Award for Best Children’s Film, what’s next for filmmaker Batul Mukhtiar? Harshikaa Udasi finds out

“My first inspiration for Kaphal was a friend’s child,” says Mumbai-based filmmaker Batul Mukhtiar. “The child’s father works in another city and visits occasionally. Once, when the father would not allow him to see a particular movie, the child asked his mother when the father would go back!”

Kaphal – Wild Berries has won the National Award for Best Children’s Film, and Batul is a relaxed person today. Working on a script with cinematographer husband Vivek Shah, she says she would like to shoot soon but that the award has not really translated into any pressure to perform. Kaphal won the Golden Elephant for Best Director at the 18th International Children’s Film Festival India and the Swarna Kamal for Best Children’s Film at the 61st National Film Awards India.

On the contrary, she says that the award “feels like a validation of the long struggle to tell the stories I want to tell. And a validation of the extremely difficult shoot that Kaphal was, and all the hard work that every single person in the cast and crew put into the film, for very little money.”

The film tells the story of two boys whose father returns home after living in the city for five years. The boys suddenly have to handle a father — contend with no gifts but abide by all his rules. They hatch a plan to send him back to the city, but who said plans go according to plan?

“The difficulties of a long-distance relationship are compounded in extreme situations like a Garhwal village, which are not easily accessible by phone, where life is hard anyway, and where the absence of livelihoods leaves people with no choice but to leave home,” says Batul.

Why did she pick such a region-specific name for her film? “A lot of people don’t know what kaphal means. So before they see the film, they are curious. But after they see the film, they understand,” she says. Asked how conducive the environment was while filming, Batul says, “I have known some people from the village in which we shot for over 25 years. Also, we made an effort to employ as many villagers as we could during production. So we received a lot of co-operation and support while shooting. Without this, it would have been impossible to work there, given the difficulties of terrain, weather and lack of infrastructure.”

Also, since the children starring in the film are all from the region, the villagers are proud of the acclaim the film and the children have received. In fact, the decision to cast local children in leading roles has created just the right impact. “The location plays a very important role. The terrain is very difficult, and I wanted the children to run all over the hills, like I had seen local children do. I could not risk asking city children to do this.”

Talking about the Children’s Film Society of India, she says, “I think the CFSI is an organisation that we should all be proud of, one of the rare government institutes in the world that makes films for children.” CFSI has the budget to make three to four films a year, and has over 250 films in its archives. Unfortunately, it does not have the infrastructure to market these films. These films are viewed only during festivals, special screenings or on DVD. Says Batul: “It is still very difficult to market children’s films in India, because exhibitors and distributors have a preconceived notion of what children will like. But if you visit the International Children’s Film Festival of India, you’ld see thousands of children with no prior exposure to world cinema enjoying all kinds of films, even those with subtitles. It’s a pity that our children do not get the opportunity to see local content more easily.”