Filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam tell us about their soon-to-be-released documentary “When Hari Got Married”

If you have had a wedding in your family, it almost certainly lies recorded in an album or a film. In cities and villages across the country, weddings sustain a cottage industry of small time photographers and videographers, who faithfully record the proceedings, and provide material for future nostalgia.

They were there for Hari’s wedding too, along with documentary filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam. And Hari was more than happy to have two sets of filmmakers around. “We are going to have two films made, one which we are paying for and one for free,” he had told Ritu in jest.

Ritu and Tenzing have made When Hari Got Married, a wedding film with an uncharacteristic depth and humour, which releases on August 30 in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore. Set in Dharamsala, Hari is the gregarious, unselfconscious hero of the documentary. As a taxi driver who can speak a bit of English, he is preferred by the tourists and monks who throng the hill station that is home to The Dalai Lama.

In between ferrying his passengers, he invites them to his wedding. It had been fixed two years ago, and apart from a brief sighting then, he hasn’t ever seen his bride-to-be Suman. About six months prior to the wedding, he gets hold of her phone number and they start talking, and fall in love.

“Thematically we are very interested in the meeting place of tradition and modernity. It’s been an exploration in many of our films and this film told us that through the use of mobile phone they were able to transcend the normal arranged marriage system and get to know each other, even kind of fall in love a little bit. We found that a very interesting story,” says Ritu.

The marriage, in which cellphone courtship and possession rituals exist side-by-side, is set against the backdrop of a village on the cusp of change. “Our view is that development or progress is inevitable…We shouldn’t be romantic about preserving traditions that keep people in the past. But what’s fascinating is how this is negotiated in different cultures and societies. In our own area in Dharamsala, since we first moved there when there was no cable TV, now every village house has a cable TV. It’s incredible. Is that good or bad, I can’t say. We are more interested in the process than making judgments,” adds Tenzing.

The filmmakers live very close to Hari’s village. Although they had known about his marriage for quite some time, they didn’t think of making the film until quite close to the day of the wedding. The telephone conversations proved the trigger, and they started by filming them and some of the build-up to the marriage.

Having known the family for over a decade, Ritu and Tenzing were able to access them intimately. The filmmakers are almost a part of the wedding. “Because we know them all well and they were happy for us to make the film, we never had a sense that they didn’t want us. In fact, there was a scene with the bride when she is crying, and we weren’t going to film that moment, but they said ‘come come come you must film this’...Tenzing and I are not people who thrust our cameras at people. We decided not to have a crew, and Tenzing was filming because having someone from outside may have affected the relationship we had with them.”

Shot over roughly a year, the film took another eight months to edit. “We followed a simple style in making the film, it’s a straightforward narrative, but to piece that together from all the material was complicated. We wanted to keep that simplicity,” Ritu says. “It was a lot of trial and error. During the wedding, we covered all the different rituals. In the end, we couldn’t use all of them,” Tenzing adds.

With this film, Ritu and Tenzing have departed from their usual concerns. Starting with The Reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche (1991), which follows a monk on his search for the reincarnation of his recently deceased master, almost all their films have had Tibetan subjects. Prior to When Hari Got Married, they made The Sun Behind The Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle For Freedom (2009) which followed the events of 2008 when a massive uprising against Chinese rule spread across Tibet. “It was a very intense film for us, and at the end of it we needed to step back,” recalls Tenzing, a Tibetan born and brought up in exile in India.

After Dreaming Lhasa, a 2005 feature film, this is their second film to secure release in India. “Now for the first time there is a real possibility of indie cinema being released. A few other documentaries have tried it and we are trying to experiment with this model and seeing if it works,” they say.