Praveen Morchhale’s indie film Barefoot To Goa works at different levels to effectively bring out the emptiness of our lives

A wrinkled old grandmother, who cannot speak, writes letters every month to her son in the city and parcels laddoos and toys to her grandchildren. There’s never a reply because the daughter-in-law never passes them on, and the laddoos go straight into the bin. The grandchildren can’t even find a photograph of grandma at home.

That, says director of Barefoot To Goa, Praveen Morchhale, is the story of everybody’s loneliness today. “We’ve lost relationships. There is no connect between people. Everybody is a victim of their situation and no one can be blamed,” offers Praveen. “I want my film to raise questions. I decided from the beginning, that my film was not going to be an answer for anything. I didn’t want to be verbose, or judgemental. Silence is a character in my film.” The film traces the journey of two grandchildren who run away to bring their sick grandmother from her Goa home.

The film, which was screened to an overwhelming and warm response at the Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFES), had premièred earlier this year at the Mumbai Film Festival in the competition section. “I kept the grandmother’s character mute because most old people have so much to share and no one to listen to them…I wanted to symbolise that,” said Praveen talking on the sidelines of BIFFES, a day after his film screened.

Barefoot… may seem a bit ambitious as it tackles the urban-rural divide, the constrained lives children lead in a city, the neglect of old people, the lack of trust in a city, the faith in goodness of human kind, the fragile relationships across generations… It works beautifully as a road film with a heart, coursing over vibrant rural landscapes. “I visited the main location four times in a year to figure out in which season the shots would look like I wanted them to. We had a small budget; I couldn’t take a chance.” Cinematographer John Brekmas Kerketta infuses the frames with a warm reassuring glow.

It works as a children’s film. But Praveen points out: “The children are protagonists but the message is for adults”. In fact some children’s’ film festivals refused it, saying it’s a film targeted at adults. This is Praveen’s debut feature film though he says he’s been active in theatre in Indore and Gujarat for over 10 years. His first short film Jhum Jham Jhum won best short film at the Indo American Film Festival in Atlanta. “Lots of youngsters make films by the time they are 20 and 22. I had decided I won’t make one till I’m over 40. I first wanted to travel, see the world,” says Praveen, who’s a graduate of the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA). He came across a whole lot of neglected elders on his travels that gave birth to the idea of his film. “You know, people bring their ageing parents to the Kumbh Mela to abandon them…” But Praveen also believes in the essential goodness of human beings. So his characters retain their sweet innocence on their journey, always helped by willing good-hearted Samaritans.

Good Samaritans helped Praveen in the making of his film too. “The beautiful house in Goa, in which grandma stays, was sponsored by the owner. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to afford it. Someone gave us a car, someone else offered us food on the way…” he smiles. Barefoot To Goa was made on a budget of Rs. 50 lakh, and co-produced by Praveen with his friend Satyajeet Chourasia. The film was made travelling 3,000 kilometres over 15 days to can the outdoor shots. And a total 21 days of shoot with sync sound, and the film was all ready to hit the road. Over 500 girls were auditioned to find one of the protagonists of the film; for the boy’s role, he settled on his son, as exam time was closing in and no one else was willing, he says. Music is by Rohit Sharma (who composed for Ship of Theseus) and Hungarian musician Jack Francis whom Praveen sought on the Internet.

Like with all small-budget indie movies, release and distribution is a game of numbers and what distributors think the film might make. So this film may not see its release till June/July 2014, till it gains momentum at film festivals, says Praveen. “I’m planning to tie up with schools to have screening in various cities for children. I hope that works …” he smiles hopefully and shrugs.

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