Bombay Showcase

Celluloid conversations with an ex-taxi driver

Siya Chandrie is a busy 17-year-old. Her first documentary film The Silenced Siren (2015) is going places.

It has already been screened at three festivals: the 19th International Children's Film Festival of India (ICFFI), Hyderabad in November 2015, Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) in February 2016 and the 12th International Association of Women in Radio & Television Asian Women’s Film Festival, Delhi in March 2016.

Chandrie’s film won the Golden Elephant award for Best Film in the youth category at the ICFFI, and received a special jury mention at the KGAF. This month, the 12-minute documentary will be travelling to the International Youth Film Festival in Langesund, Norway.

Chandrie made the film last year, as part of the Y-Impact Project (YIP), a summer programme on filmmaking she had signed up for. This one-and-a-half month course is one of Mumbai-based arts education company The Pomegranate Workshop’s (TPW) many summer initiatives. Currently celebrating its tenth year, TPW was founded by Chandrie’s mother Priya Srinivasan.

Quite by chance

In an interview with The Hindu, Chandrie says, “I have always enjoyed watching films but this was my first solo film project. The Silenced Siren happened quite by chance. I was initially signing up for a theatre course, but ended up in the one on filmmaking, as the former was cancelled.”

The film which was shot in three weeks focuses on the city’s erstwhile textile mills, through a dialogue between the filmmaker and the film’s protagonist. Shot on a basic DSLR, the docu-film’s central character is Chandrie’s chauffeur, the 76-year-old Amarnath Pandey more affectionately known as Pandeyji. Talking about Pandeyji’s association with her family, Chandrie says, “He’s been with us for 10 years and is a part of our family. Not only does he drive me around, he also takes a parent-like interest in my academics. While he is happy about my film’s success, he always cautions me to not neglect my studies while attending festivals.”

Before being employed with Chandrie’s household, Pandeyji had been driving taxis in Mumbai for almost half a century. Originally from a small town near Allahabad, Pandeyji’s long association with the city makes him a repository of local history and culture. For Chandrie, who is currently studying in the 11th grade, Pandeyji is quite the raconteur. This quality of his made him the obvious choice for the docu-film. She says, “Pandeyji can really engage an audience with his compelling style of narration and vibrant tales. My friends have also been an audience to his stories while travelling with me.”

Initially, Chandrie wanted to make a film on the myriad changes in Mumbai’s landscape in the last few decades. However, while looking at the raw footage from the initial shoots, Chandrie, with the help of her mentor-filmmaker Batul Mukhtiar realised that much of Pandeyji’s focus had been on the textile mills. And that is how she finally identified the focus of her film.

Chandrie admits, “I wasn’t aware of the history behind the textile mills of the city which have now been replaced with malls and industrial complexes. It is through Pandeyji’s stories about the city that I learnt about them, and the topic intrigued me. This made me to research on the subject, which eventually helped me make this film.” The documentary looks back to the Great Bombay Textile Strike of the 80s, which had caused the city’s mills to shut down, leaving thousands of workers unemployed. Pandeyji, who was a witness to this movement, recalls the plight of his friends and relatives during that time, in the film. Chandrie also incorporated footage from the Films Division of India (FDI), which show the erstwhile textile mills in their heyday.

Story behind the title

It was while filling up forms at the FDI that Chandrie came up with the title of her documentary. “I hadn’t named my film at the time, and procuring footage from the FDI required me to give it a name. The film’s current title is the one that came to me on the spur of the moment.” She says, “The mills used to have a siren which would go off four times a day, informing the mill workers of their work shifts. But with the closing down of the mills, this siren has been silenced forever.”

Throughout the filming process, it was Chandrie’s mother Srinivasan, and mentor Mukhtiar, who guided her. In a telephonic interview Mukhtiar says, “It was wonderful to see Siya’s film come to fruition. Somehow, she managed to retain the simplicity of her core idea and made every attempt to not make it gimmicky. I found Siya’s ability to stick to her guns to be her biggest strength.”

The docu-film’s success comes as a surprise for the teenager who says that she doesn’t want to pursue a career in filmmaking. “This [filmmaking] is more of a hobby,” says Chandrie, who would like to study law. A keen theatre performer, the young filmmaker is currently rehearsing for a stage-adaptation of the Greek mythology drama, Antigone.

The Silenced Siren can be seen here: youtube.com/ watch?v=pTuwG1nSxy0

The writer is an intern at The Hindu


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Printable version | Aug 5, 2021 9:21:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/Celluloid-conversations-with-an-ex-taxi-driver/article14411485.ece

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