How the Hungarian film ‘Lend Me Your Eyes, Baltazar’ was shot in Tamil Nadu

Vera Kovacs, Dora Elek (Director) and Anna Keresztes   | Photo Credit: S_R_Raghunathan

Five years ago, the members of Hungary-based Baltazar — a professional theatre group, which works with actors who have Down syndrome — participated in a television entertainment show. The first prize offered? The TV station’s big (and admittedly generic) promise was: ‘We will grant you your wish.’

Team Baltazar won. And they all had one wish: ‘To travel to India.’ The channel was at first reluctant, considering the large costs involved. But they managed to work it out, and Baltazar’s team of 20, travelled to Tamil Nadu for the first time in 2015.

This wish to travel to India was primarily mooted by the founder and film director, Dora Elek, who had already been to the country twice. “I wanted to share my experiences with them,” she says, in a chat with MetroPlus during a recent promotional visit to Chennai, where she screened the film, “And at the last minute, I decided that this trip should be documented on film as well.”

That decision has today resulted in Lend Me Your Eyes, Baltazars, the first Hungarian film shot entirely in the state. With this film, Dora attempts to introduce the spiritual depth of Tamil Nadu to the Hungarian public through the eyes of the intellectually-limited artistes.

“This state (Tamil Nadu) has vibration,” she says, “I mean, spiritually. Religion doesn’t matter for me here. What matters is the vibration you get inside a holy place.” She says she has experienced this before, and she felt it again when she brought her team to Tamil Nadu.

Lend Me Your Eyes, Baltazars records the group’s journey to popular temples, including the Vaitheeswaran Temple, where they are introduced to the world of naadi astrology.

What’s at play?
  • Baltazar Theatre, founded by Dora Elek in 1998 in Hungary, is unique because all its actors are mentally disabled (Down syndrome). The theatre offers employment to its actors, who are mostly the sole bread-winners of their families.
  • The film that affected Dora the most was French movie Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), directed by Robert Bresson. It revolved around a donkey named ‘Balthazaar’ - and that character attracted Dora so much that she would later name her theatre company after it.
  • Her Lend Me Your Eyes, Baltazars, the first Hungarian film to be shot entirely in Tamil Nadu, has done its rounds in international film festivals, and won her the best director’s prize in documentary film category in last year’s Jaipur International Film Festival.
  • Her latest documentary revolves around the German-speaking people in Hungary and the issues they face.

Actors Vera Kovacs and Anna Keresztes, are back in Chennai for a promotional tour along with the director. Though it is only their second time in the city, the two – dressed in colourful salwar kameezes – seem very much at home. “It has been that way since the time they stepped out of the airport,” says Dora. “They were totally comfortable. The car we drove in was playing Tamil songs, and both of them started crying. It was like they already knew this place.”

Clear communication

Vera and Anna are major actors in Baltazar Theatre, which was founded by Dora in 1998. The seed of the idea for the theatre group was formed when Dora participated in a theatre festival, during which she saw actors with Down syndrome. “They were brilliant, but later that day, when I met them on the lift, they did not know which button to push. They were completely lost in everyday life, but on stage, they were so marvellous,” she recalls.

That was when she decided that she should work closer with such artistes. “The parents of such children usually think that they have to be taken care of the entire life,” she says. But once Dora introduced them to the world of acting, things quickly changed. The discovery surprised not only the public of Hungary, but also the parents.

Dora’s recent three-day trip to India was to show audiences her film — Bollywood actor Karishma Kapoor was among those who supported it. It was also screened for children of a special school (“everyone was emotional watching it”).

Such reactions bring Dora joy. “Art is about emotion, and these actors emote from the heart. They don’t lie. They can’t fake things. And they are very skilled. What they think and feel is what they show to audiences.”

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 2:15:04 AM |

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