“Bombay is a city of fuckers, I realised. Nothing ever happens here.”
“The cost of sweat is blood around here. That’s what this city is.”
As the opening lines of Sadhu In Bombay draw the viewer in, confusion pulls them back with a slight hesitancy. The audience is left in this awkward limbo the entire 14 minutes of this award-winning, short docufiction film, desperate to place the film’s genre or trajectory into a preconceived slot, only to realise the futility of doing so.
However, the film does allow the audience to fully comprehend that they are unable to look away. Shadows, haze, strained smiles, and despairing monologues shift over the screen, the subtly seductive cinematography puppeteering the observer’s flow of thoughts. To convey the experience of this short film in words would be about as useful as trying to chop down a tree with a butter knife; nevertheless the jury of the 29th European Media Art Festival’s (where the docufiction film, Sadhu In Bombay, premiered and won the ‘EMAF Award’ for best film) salute to Kabir Mehta’s first film is perhaps the best attempt at doing so.
“Sometimes to get at the truth, you have to look eye to eye with the camera. But the winner of this years EMAF award shows that looking the camera in the eye and speaking directly can make the truth more complicated and difficult to face.”
The film also won the Best Narrative Film at the 55th Ann Arbor Film Festival confirming to the mass populous of cinefiles that Mehta’s work is of meritable substance. Although the author of this article can offer no award and is no official authority on cinema, for what it is worth, his personal opinion is that the film is a work of immense forethought and deft execution.
Better than failing at explaining the film, perhaps it would be pragmatic to flesh out how this film came to be, so one’s understanding is scaffolded by real events, rather than one man’s opinion. During Kabir’s travels around India during 2013 he had the extraordinary experience of spending time with an aghori in Benaras. As Mehta explains, “He was an utterly compelling character- cranky, theatrical, somewhat misogynistic- and yet strangely unforgettable. Completely captivated, I developed a fascination with the idea of planting this character into a city environment.”
Thus, the Sadhu in the film is the shadow of Kabir’s brief and wayward companion, his reactions to this unfamiliar milieu mirroring Kabir’s bygone musings. Solely following this plotline would most likely yield a comedy instead of the metaphysical movie that is Sadhu In Bombay. The depth of the film extends from the parallels Kabir began to draw between sadhus and filmmakers whilst developing his protagonist.
“I began to draw parallels between sadhus and filmmakers who I recognise are equally hypocritical, manipulative and unfazed by reality (case in point- me!). After this it suddenly struck me- what if these two characters meet?! Intrigued by the potential of what I could do with this interaction sort of paved way for this entire film.”
Throughout the process of shooting this film and shooting his next Kabir has found that “through the lens of a camera every moment is as fictional as something fabricated and conversely as authentic as a documentary. Sadhu In Bombay is a film about filmmaking to a certain extent; a film that breaks the fourth wall, a documentary that poses as fictional cinema, a sequence of images that obscure reality.”
Kabir is currently finishing post-production of Buddha.gram, a seemingly vérité-style film about a Buddha Dev, a flamboyant cricketer in Goa, which recently won the Facebook Grant at NFDC Film Bazaar 2016. He is also selected to develop his fiction feature film project, Showdots, at Le Groupe Oust’s LIM platform – the European development programme for limited budget feature films.