Indian cinema is getting more and more homogenous in nature. A similar formula applied to their storytelling is creating more or less the same films. With stories getting predictable and monotonous, the independent film world is our only hope for fresh stirring narratives.
The latest project from that world making waves is Gamak Ghar, a sublime tale of an ancestral home slowly drifting towards its end. This film is centred around a joint family in Mithila and the mechanism of their daily lives. Right from the establishing shot, it’s a dive into the essence of a village and the serenity it exudes. The film begins with square frames that give the Mise-en-scène a painting-like feel. Each frame is a complete photograph, slowly taking us deeper into the environment of a rural Indian village that screams comfort. The director takes his time introducing the characters, each one engaged in their own activities, from the mother swaddling her child to the children playing, the elder men playing cards, etc. He paints a perfect picture of a loving home we all remember from visiting our grandparents.
This story has a protagonist –– the house. It is the lead character that goes through its own development as the people around it change and move on to other places. And yet it lacks no emotion. Right from the start, we are dropped into the bittersweet pit of nostalgia. Throughout, the film creates a resonant relationship with the viewer that makes the story deeply personal. It’s a gift to the upper-middle class in India that has lost touch with its roots. It pulls on the heartstrings of the viewer by touching on subjects like moving away from your small-town home for bigger opportunities.
As the film proceeds, we see a decline in the basic joyous state of the family. The children grow up, the uncles move away for work, and the matriarch is left behind with just the memories. There are little details in the film that create a sketch of the slow decay that happens, like the same shots of the house, years apart with and without the playful hustle of the family members. We see, in real-time, how a vivacious home becomes a relic. There’s no antagonist here but time. And the director does an incredible job of using calm, still frames to capture its momentum.
This magnificent film is the work of Achal Mishra, an Indian filmmaker who lives in Mumbai. The film is based on his village home in Madhopur, Bihar. The grandfather’s character is largely based on his own grandfather, Kedarnath Mishra, who he never met but grew up learning about for 20 years, as he mentions in an interview with The Wire. He speaks highly of him and talks about how he was inspired by a rekindled connection to his hometown. The film had real elements from the life of his grandfather like his old diaries, a play he wrote called Bheekh ki roti, and his novel that was lost in the floods. Achal further addresses the filmmaking process. He comments on his own journey of acceptance and the transformation of his romantic idea of ‘a village’ through the creation of this film, how the people from the village served the story better than the actors he previously cast, the ways in which he let the organic conversations take over instead of the dialogues in the script, and how he learned to find the balance between his perceived reality and the reality of the village. He also refers to directors like Yasujirō Ozu, Hirokazu Koreeda, and Hou Hsiao-hsien who inspired the gentleness in this film.
Achal has created a cinematic masterpiece; a tender, deeply impactful tale of the life of an ancestral home. Though it centres around a house, the people in the family breathe life into it and make it home, without their love, it withers away as most things do. The entire film is an ode to the irony of evolution. What seems like progress also chips away at the connection to one’s roots. It’s a sweet but painful reminder of what we lose as we move on to greater things.
You can watch this film here.
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