Marathi filmmaker Akshay Indikar’s ‘Sthalpuran’ has been picked up for the Berlinale

Indikar’s first film, ‘Trijya’, went to Shanghai and Tallinn

February 07, 2020 04:54 pm | Updated 04:54 pm IST

A still from Akshay Indikar’s ‘Sthalpuran — Chronicle of Space’.

A still from Akshay Indikar’s ‘Sthalpuran — Chronicle of Space’.

A road runs through both of Akshay Indikar’s Marathi feature films. In his debut feature Trijya and his second film Sthalpuran — Chronicle of Space , the road is a dominant image, always stretching ahead of the itinerant protagonists.

Travel reflects in 28-year-old Indikar’s own roots too. He belongs to the Gondhali nomadic tribe in Karnataka. “My ancestors used to travel on horses, pitch tents where work took them. They are supposed to be worshippers of the mother goddess Tulja Bhavani; they would narrate folk tales mixed with mythology,” he says. Indikar laughs sardonically at the fact that his ‘homeless’, ‘migratory’ grandfather would not have been able to provide any documentation for Indian citizenship today.

Trijya premiered in Shanghai and went to the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival; Sthalpuran has been picked up to compete in the forthcoming Berlinale in the Generation KPlus section, devoted to films about children and young people. Like some of the best in recent Marathi cinema — Vihir, Shala, KillaSthalpuran also looks into the child’s mind but does so with a philosophical and metaphysical voice.

Full circle

A still from Akshay Indikar’s ‘Sthalpuran — Chronicle of Space’.

A still from Akshay Indikar’s ‘Sthalpuran — Chronicle of Space’.

“The road to school is more beautiful than the school,” says the simple diary entry of the bespectacled eight-year-old geeky boy who is the focus of Sthalpuran . His life is in an upheaval without him being able to articulate the turmoil. “Don’t know where father has gone, even sister doesn’t know,” he writes. We don’t get to know for sure either. Is he dead? Has he abandoned the family? Is he just an illusion?

It all starts with a train journey. The first ominous note in the diary says that the mother is not willing to say if they will ever return to Pune. The film ends with another diary entry about the sister attaining puberty: “Everyone is saying Minu has come of age”. The little boy wonders what the phrase means, little realising how much an absent father has made him grow up. Things have a way of coming full circle.

Indikar’s meditative frames underline the sense of calm with which the stoic family seems to take things in its stride. His filmmaking is also minimalistic. Against the family’s silence, there is the rain and thunder, the roaring sea and the deluge of water. They fill the frames of Trijya as well. Water, he thinks, is an element that unites.

Nature becomes a kind of refuge in Indikar’s cinema. It may help build the film’s mood, but more than that, it lays bare its metaphysical core. “We are one with nature as well, the water within our bodies and outside. I like how the duality gets resolved in the Advait philosophy,” he says.

A still from Akshay Indikar’s ‘Sthalpuran — Chronicle of Space’.

A still from Akshay Indikar’s ‘Sthalpuran — Chronicle of Space’.

He likes the sound, texture and sensuality of water. Water is also something that signified a sense of craving in childhood. “Solapur is barren dry region. Water was supplied once in 15 days and we would be up at 2 a.m. filling it up. Rain is also a dream.”

In Sthalpuran , Indikar’s camera views things from a distance. He doesn’t plant the viewer in the child’s world but seems to give us binoculars to get close to him and his family — while we remain aware of ourselves as outsiders. Old film songs seem to play on the radio: K.L. Saigal’s ‘ Gham diye mustaqil kitna nazuk hai dil’ in Sthalpuran and the classical strains of Kumar Gandharv, Mallikarjun Mansur and Kesarbai Kerkar in Trijya .

The hero of Trijya could be the grown-up boy of Sthalpuran . Does he see his own reflection in them? Indikar has definitely been as peripatetic as his protagonists. For someone who as a child wanted to do something larger than life, like become a magician, he joined theatre only to give it up for its linguistic politics. Exposure to world cinema and the autobiographies of V. Shantaram, Dada Kondke and Charlie Chaplin made cinema seem like a secular medium; he could also “celebrate his loneliness in the darkness of the cinema hall.”

Peace in chaos

A still from Akshay Indikar’s ‘Trijya’.

A still from Akshay Indikar’s ‘Trijya’.

He joined FTII but quit at the end of the second year, disappointed that it was churning out filmmakers to feed the industry rather than nurture independent voices. “I didn’t want to work in Mumbai. I wanted to make films in my own language and on a small scale. You can’t play with characters if they talk in a language alien to you as a filmmaker,” he says. He started off with a docu-fiction film on the iconic writer Bhalchandra Nemade, titled Udaharnartha Nemade .

The protagonists in both Sthalpuran and Trijya reflect the sense of loneliness and alienation he felt while moving to Pune. “It is contradictory but they are all about finding peace in the heart of chaos.”

Indikar uses folk traditions such as Dashavatar in Sthalpuran and a Chitrakathi performance in Trijya , a way of going back to his own family’s migratory, performative roots. He wants to explore the oral folk traditions of India more acutely and widely and is working on a documentary on Vedic Lavani, a metaphysical, spiritual form of Lavani, different from the erotic one that is popularly known.

He is also working on a feature film called Construction , the love story of an archaeologist and an architect. One digs up the past, the other builds the future, and somewhere between the two is what is to become of the Indian identity.

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