Frames between black & white
filmmaker Sarah Singh feels, as an artist, one wants to work on something that is timeless
Aseies of photographs depicting numerous stories hit the screen. Sounds take the narrative forward. Sometimes characters speak to themselves, and to those around them. The deafening silence between frames completes the tales and tragedies of those playing parts and half-parts.
New York-based filmmaker Sarah Singh’s A Million
Rivers (2016) starring Om Puri and Lillete Dubey is neither a documentary nor a partition film as declared by most critics. Delicately touching external and internal conflicts, displacement, fragmentation of identity, control over landscape and alienation, the film, like a cartographer, maps varied emotions through shadows, extreme-close ups, smoke, mirrors and half lit objects. Just like her previous film, The Sky Below, she again proves that there are many ways of telling a story, the most interesting being– holding back and letting the audience decide. “Also, for me, a film is not just about showcasing the plot but also about evoking a series of everyday emotions and situations in a certain direction. Unpredictability and individual points of view therefore become paramount in the scheme of things,” she says.
The 45-year-old filmmaker who was recently in Chandigarh on the invitation of Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi, insists that there is a desperate need of visionaries in art as the challenge is not just to tell a story. Every time she is behind the camera, she wants to transcend time, and that is the only way she approaches work. “In this world, too many things are just produced. There is no time to contemplate. As an artist, one wants to work on something, overall core of which is timeless.”
Singh, who was born in Patiala and moved to the US in 1974, has completed two-feature length films, several short films and is in the development stage of her third feature; she has always preferred to shoot in black and white allows her to work with what is hidden and what is revealed. “For me, light and darkness convey presence and absence. With colour around, you can get distracted and caught up in glitter,” says Singh, who is also a painter and photographer.
Talking about her experience of working with Om Puri, the filmmaker says that for the late actor, experiencing something new was always
important, and that making a frame for himself was effortless. “The one-take exceptional actor, who never shied away from improvisation didn’t need a back story to deliver his best. He would always give more than what you asked for. Despite his grandeur, he was approachable. A gentleman who was always present in the true sense of the word.”
All set to work on her next film, A Western Summer, to be shot in Portugal with some prominent Indian actors, Singh is optimistic that she will be able to survive in the space she operates in. “I’ve always had this clarity that there is more to art than appeasing a mass audience. In that way, my priorities are pretty clear.”
As a person of Indian origin, living in Trump’s America is not really comforting for the filmmaker, especially in the context of increased racial attacks on Asians. She says it had to happen under the current administration, considering that the Presidential campaign was based on division, social disruption and fury against groups of people. “When a wave of rhetoric like this rules, you tap into people looking to cause harm to those representing inclusion as a way of life. The Kansas shooting and many other recent incidents are just the beginning. We will witness more,” says the aspirational filmmaker.