PUN­JAB’S POET OF DARK­NESS

Gurvinder Singh has put the state’s in­de­pen­dent cinema on the global map, one fear­less film at a time WHAT MAKES SINGH’S FILMS FAS­CI­NAT­ING IS THAT HE HAS NEVER LIVED IN PUN­JAB YET HAS A FIN­GER ON ITS PULSE

India Today - - GURVINDER SINGH | PROFILE - By Suhani Singh

The over­cast early af­ter­noon at the Sav­it­ribai Phule Pune Univer­sity’s syl­van cam­pus could well be a melan­cholic back­drop for a Gurvinder Singh film. The di­rec­tor of two Na­tional Award­win­ning Pun­jabi films—Anhe Ghore Da Daan and Chau­thi Koot (which re­leases on Au­gust 5)—sits on a damp bench fac­ing the univer­sity’s Vic­to­rian Gothic main build­ing. This is where he found him­self af­ter drop­ping out of NIFT and work­ing at an ad agency in New Delhi, to top the en­trance exam for mass com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Pune is where he would dis­cover for­eign cinema—at the Al­liance Fran­caise, Max Mueller Bhavan and the Na­tional Film Ar­chives of In­dia, where he would study direction at the Film & Tele­vi­sion In­sti­tute of In­dia from 1997 to 2001, read Hindi nov­els and trans­la­tions of Pun­jabi ones (Gur­dial Singh’s Anhe... be­ing the first) and fi­nally buy a house not far from FTII.

It’s a tem­po­rary home. For Singh now lives in a for­est above Bir in Hi­machal, where he writes, paints and grows veg­eta­bles. “I al­ways longed to move away from the city,” he says. “It’s a hol­i­day cum workspace.”

There was enough in­di­ca­tion in his ado­les­cence that Singh would be an odd­ity in the In­dian film in­dus­try. That he would mil­i­tate against its com­mer­cial dik­tat and work with non-pro­fes­sional ac­tors. That still­ness and si­lence would con­vey more than di­a­logue and song in his films. Born and brought up in the west Delhi neigh­bour­hood of Ra­jouri Gar­den, he spent hours scour­ing is­sues of Il­lus­trated Weekly and read­ing books on pre­his­toric and mod­ern art. His pocket money he spent on buy­ing tapes of In­dian clas­si­cal mu­sic or copy­ing por­traits of Rem­brandt, Van Gogh and Gau­guin. He sat in the li­braries at the Lalit Kala and Sahitya Kala Akademis, and took soli­tary walks around the Red Fort or Pu­rana Qila, wan­der­ing some­times to the ad­ja­cent Delhi Zoo, just watch­ing the an­i­mals. Now his films fea­ture char­ac­ters walk­ing, of­ten in dark, un­set­tling land­scapes, and an­i­mals—a sick goat in Anhe, Gaddi dog Tommy in Chau­thi Koot, a pi­geon in Pathankot in his forth­com­ing short.

What makes Singh’s films fas­ci­nat­ing is that he has never lived in Pun­jab, yet has a fin­ger on its pulse. He vis­ited the Golden Tem­ple as a child and, af­ter his grad­u­a­tion from FTII in 2001, toured the state for four years, ex­plor­ing its rich mu­si­cal tra­di­tion. “To get that cer­tain au­then­tic­ity of how peo­ple talk, of re­la­tion­ships, the ex­pres­sions, you need to live there,” he says. “But I get it when I read some­thing. Then I take it as the base and fuse my own ex­pe­ri­ences of hav­ing trav­elled and met peo­ple.” In Singh’s cin­e­matic world, the sound­scape is as de­tailed as the im­ages. “There is al­ways a lovely di­a­logue go­ing on be­tween mu­sic and paint­ing when I’m mak­ing a film,” he adds. Singh doesn’t spoon-feed his au­di­ence, he en­gages it. So he gets calls from a San Francisco Dalit cab­bie ea­ger to share his life story as well as posts from irate view­ers on Facebook ac­cus­ing him of wast­ing their time. Singh is pleased so long as he gets a re­ac­tion. “Am­bi­gu­ity ex­cites me,” he says. “I like films which are open-ended.” Main­stream pro­duc­ers in Pun­jab have taken note. Singh, whose two films, both lit­er­ary adap­ta­tions, have pre­miered at Venice and Cannes re­spec­tively, is now her­alded as a film­maker who has put Pun­jabi cinema on the world map and taken it beyond di­as­pora au­di­ences in Canada and the US.

Fear be­sets his reel char­ac­ters but Singh him­self is fear­less. He was crit­i­cal of Bahubali win­ning the Na­tional Award. His pro­ducer ac­cepted the award for Chau­thi Koot, trac­ing char­ac­ters caught in the con­flict be­tween the mil­i­tants and the state po­lice in Pun­jab’s in­sur­gency years. “How can I take awards from the same peo­ple who are hell-bent on de­stroy­ing in­sti­tutes like FTII?” he says. He lauds the French for giv­ing “many grants to film­mak­ers” and see­ing them not just as artists but “as philoso­phers”. “Here cinema is too synced with en­ter­tain­ment,” he says.

He is now writ­ing what he calls a “re­flec­tive com­edy” which he hopes to shoot in Pun­jab next spring. He has also been com­mis­sioned to di­rect a film on artist Atul Dodiya. Pun­jab, how­ever, will re­main his muse even though he says the state “is go­ing down the drain cul­tur­ally”. “In the name of cul­ture to­day, we have films about Jat iden­tity. Or songs about drink­ing, guns, women. The kind of work be­ing pro­duced in the state is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from its peo­ple who are very nice, open, sen­si­tive and hos­pitable.” In Singh’s cinema, Pun­jabis, if not Pun­jab, can find sal­va­tion.

Fol­low the writer on Twitter @Suhani84

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