The opening film of the ongoing 7th Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) in McLeod Ganj is Ukranian filmmaker Daria Gai’s Hindi-Marathi film Namdev Bhau. It revolves around a 65-year-old chauffeur who travels from Mumbai to Ladakh in search of inner peace and quietude. Namdev Bhau , Gai’s second feature film after the much-acclaimed Teen Aur Aadha , relies mostly on breathtaking imagery and powerful soundscapes to tell a unique story about the human need for self-introspection, far away from the drudgery and cacophony of the everyday life. Casting a non-actor Namdev Gurav in the title role, Daria says, she had known Namdev, a driver in real life as well, for some time and always found his personality interesting. “With strangers he takes time to open up but with people he knows well he is quite outspoken. But basically he is a kind person.” So when this idea came to her she thought of him and was able to convince him after making some efforts. “Only much later did he actually start taking me seriously,” she grins.
Namdev Bhau revolves around a man who is deeply disturbed by what he sees around him. How did you conceptualise the idea?
I guess all the ideas in a certain way come from a place of discomfort when you are either frustrated or angry or disturbed by someone or something. So, in this case, I was really disturbed by Mumbai, by the sounds and the noises that made it impossible for me to listen to even my own thoughts. Every second someone is honking or shouting or someone is practising for the next celebration. Also, at the time, I was working on another script and during its research, I came across some disturbing reports of honour killing in India as well as killing of over 2000 women on suspicions of witchcraft. All this shook me deeply and it’s during this internal struggle that the idea of Namdev Bhau came to me.
What kind of efforts went in creating the film’s stunning look?
I think the main research was done by my cinematographer Aditya Varma who according to me is a visual genius. The unique manner in which he sees the world, I haven’t ever met anyone like that. He can pick up a simple stone and can make it look cinematically alluring. While shooting the film, the idea was to show a very different side of Ladakh that no one has ever seen. At first, we wanted to shoot in Spiti Valley but the budgetary constraints didn’t allow us with that luxury and so when we had to shift to Ladakh, I was really disappointed as so many films have already been shot there. So the challenge was to compose frames in a manner that haven’t been done before, to show the place with a completely different perspective that is emotionally striking.
How important is aural detailing for a film to create an impressive experience for a viewer?
I like to see myself as a filmmaker who is sound-oriented and so for me usually the aural detail is more important than the visual detail. Even when I am writing the script, I like to describe the sounds in detail because I feel that sounds sometimes can give much more than dialogues. That’s why I tend to have a lot of quarrels with my sound designers, but unless I am satisfied with the sound I don’t stop working. For me, it is not about mixing 4-5 sounds in a clichéd manner. If there is a need to combine 50 sounds for a particular scene, then that’s what should be done.
How important are subtitles especially for a multilingual film like Namdev Bhau ?
Subtitling a film is very important. So, I am personally sitting on each and every word, even punctuation means so much, whether it is an exclamation mark or comma or full stop because ultimately it is about conveying the right emotions to the audiences who don’t understand the language. For Namdev Bhau , we even took Uma da Cunha’s assistance because she has a lot of experience with subtitles.
Tell us about your transition from a theatre actor in Ukraine to a filmmaker working in India?
Back in Ukraine, I did a lot of things right from acting in theatre plays to directing them. I also organised theatre festivals and art exhibitions. While I was about to complete my degree in philosophy, I got overcome by a feeling to explore the East. So I started sending my CV to China, Japan, India, and Korea. I started getting different invitations starting from galleries to corporations to schools. One of the schools was Scindia School, Gwalior. So they invited me to teach German language and theatre. They also invited me to direct their founder’s day play. I had initially come for six months but they extended it to a year during which I did more plays. Then I was invited to Whistling Woods where I taught creative writing and film appreciation for about three-and-a-half years. Subsequently, I took a break to focus on filmmaking.
What are your thoughts on DIFF? How did you feel when you learned that Namdev Bhau has been chosen as the opening film?
I think DIFF is an incredible platform for filmmakers. I have been hearing about it for the last 3-4 years. Now my films have travelled to BFI, Busan, MAMI but my filmmaker friends would always tease me if you haven’t been to Dharamshala, then you don’t know what a film festival is really all about. So it was a great honour to learn that my film Namdev Bhau has been selected as an opening film for this year’s DIFF. It has been a wonderful experience for me to come here.