Despite being raised up by a banker father and a school principal mother, Darpan Bajaj chose lights-camera-action over academics. Brought up like any other Indian boy, it was not much later after leaving his one year of engineering coaching that this budding filmmaker decided to study arts.
Darpan’s latest production Maharajin , a documentary on Gulab Tiwari which was recently screened at India Habitat Centre, is about the lady who disregarded the social norm of her gender being unsuitable for her profession. Maharajin bua , as she was called by the people of Allahabad, carried forwarded her forefathers’ line of work by performing cremations at the Rasoolabad Ghat for more than 60 years of her life. She carried boundless compassion and fury equally on both the shoulders. She was often compared to a coconut, symbolising softness on the inside and hardness on the outside. Bua was a generous soul who is known to have saved many people going to the Ghat with suicidal intent. Canvas shoes worn by her along with her white sari rightly complemented her sportsperson spirit. Gulab always considered death a companion and she would say, “Death is a friend. We have to ultimately go with him only. So, I take him with me all the time. And the day I have to take endless rest from life, I will to the banks of river Ganga.” In 2002, her soul rested in peace forever.
The documentary is a six-day shoot result followed by extensive editing from August 2016 to June 2017. Talking about his journey on documenting such an unconventional character, Darpan said, “No one would have known about Maharajin if poets like Harishchandra Pandey had not written on her. Interviewing all these thinkers and writers of Allahabad in the process was a good experience. One of the most challenging parts was when we shot the cremation process. I am a very emotional person and it was difficult for me to even see, let alone shoot the scene.” Narrating the story of Bua by presenting Rasoolabad Ghat as a character, Darpan decided not to show her face in the film. “I do not want people to imagine her personality by seeing her. It is all about her job, not her,” he said. On being asked as to why Maharajin’s struggles were not shown in the film, Moksh Krishnan, the cinematographer replied, “We left her struggles because she chose to leave her struggles behind.”
As one would reckon, making of the film faced numerous challenges. Darpan shared how when the team interviewed Lal Bahadur Verma, a writer and historian, it realised at the end of the long interview that the recorder was not working and nothing had got recorded. Verma had to leave Allahabad the same day at 8 pm. Later, they had to rush towards him and tell him that they liked his previous interview so much that they wanted to retake it and this way, got the final one recorded. “When I was shooting for the last scene, the place was so crowded that the camera once fell into a gutter and at one point, I would have got throttled by a tractor had my friend not pulled me back,” added Darpan.
Maharajin has been highly acclaimed in various film festivals, like South Asian Short Film Festival, Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards, Hollywood Independent International Documentary Awards, and won prizes in 5th Woodpecker International Film Festival, 6th Delhi Shorts International Film Festival, Calcutta International Cult Film Festival, Chambal International Film Festival, and Feel the Reel International Film Festival.
Darpan claims never having learnt filmmaking from anywhere, nor having been interested in watching even the renowned Bollywood films. “People still tease me for not watching Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge ,” he said. He started taking interest in filmmaking only while pursuing graduation.