Filmmaker Yashaswini Raghunandan talks about her critically acclaimed film ‘That Cloud Never Left’

The film, which premiered in 2019 at the prestigious International Film Festival Rotterdam, won the Best Experimental Film award at Sharjah Film Program

Published - July 11, 2023 12:46 pm IST

A still from the film

A still from the film | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It is tough to box Yashaswini Raghunandan’s That Cloud Never Left, produced by P Sainath’s Peoples Archive of Rural India,into a fictional or documentary feature film. On the one hand, the film is so devoid of drama it feels like we are witnessing village life languidly unfold with all its mundaneness first hand. On the other hand, there is a subtle poetry that runs through the film, beginning from its title. So, it is definitely not an attempt to document reality. 

Yashaswini, thankfully, inserts this intertitle at the beginning to clarify:-

This is a work of fiction. Only people, places, and the work are real. For the rest, any resemblance to anything that might have actually happened or dreamt of is purely coincidental.

The film’s inception itself was purely coincidental. Seven years ago, Yashaswini, when she visited her mother at a hospital, she saw and heard kyatketi, a handcrafted toy that rattles when rotated. Soon, she started finding it in other places, including her childhood. The rattling noise made it readily noticeable and Yashaswini was fascinated by it.

“There are multiple ways of looking at it. It’s not just about the sound; the red glaze paper adds to its appeal. When you look through it, everything appears red. It evokes a particular sensation,” she says, “Upon closer inspection, you realise the paper is actually a piece from a 35-millimetre film reel. So, if you purchase a bunch of the toys, you can get the entire film cut into pieces.”

The fascination for kyatketi took her to its birthplace: the village of Daspara in Murshidabad, West Bengal. She spent two years (2016 to 2018) interacting with the villagers. That Cloud Never Left is the result of that interaction. 

That Cloud Never Left (excerpt) from Yashaswini on Vimeo.

The poetic title refers to a lunar eclipse, when the moon turns red — arguably the only dramatic moment in the otherwise deliberately unobtrusive film. The cosmic event seems to break the monotony of the lives of the characters, who are the actual villagers of Daspara. 

The film, which premiered in 2019 at the prestigious International Film Festival Rotterdam, was also showcased at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, Hamburg Film Festival, and Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, among others. It also won the Best Experimental Film award at Sharjah Film Program 2019. Vikalp Bengaluru, a community of documentary enthusiasts, in collaboration with Bangalore International Centre (BIC), screened the film last week at BIC. 

Four years after the film’s premiere, Yashaswini feels she could have made it better. “I think I should have followed the strife of the villagers’ lives more. Right now, it is more folktale-ish, which is also enjoyable. And, I am glad the way it is. If I get another go at it, I would follow the nature of their lives a bit more,” she says.

Though the film received appreciation in the festival circuit, Yashaswini feels she and her team were perhaps a bit overindulgent with the film’s form. At the BIC screening, an audience member asked her, “Did you worry about the film being obscure?”

It is perhaps a question that most arthouse filmmakers mull over. “The truth is, when you are making the film, you’re immersed in its world. You want to try out a lot of things. You want to have a great time doing it. So, you don’t worry too much whether it can connect with the audience. Four years after making it, I think a lot more about it.”

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