Monday, November 28, 2005

A Courtyard Screening

For almost a year after I shot my Tulu film SUDDHA I did not go to Moodbidri, the place where I had shot it। My associate Surendra Kumar, who like me is also stationed in Mumbai, had been pestered by enquiries by local actors who had acted in the film. So, when I completed the film, we decided go to Moodbidri, to quench their thirst. Subhash Padiwaal, one of our actors, had agreed to arrange a screening, in his house.
A two hours ride on the three o’clock express bus that left Udupi, where I had gone to attend a cousin’s marriage, took me to Moodbidri। After a quick coffee with Surendra, who had gone there a day before me, we boarded another bus। Half an hour later, at our destination, we were greeted by a smiling Subash Padiwaal, some sweet ginger juice, an incessant local journalist who was pitching in for the non existent post of a PRO of my film and last but not the least, a deafening power cut। Tuesdays was the official power cut day in the area. We were supposed to start the screening at seven in the evening, by which time the power would have been restored, Subhash Padiwaal had assured us. He had made the best of arrangements.
A pandal made out of dry coconut leaves, locally called ‘chappara’, had been constructed in his courtyard. He had hired a few chairs. His 21-inch TV was to be used for the screening. And I was told that he had also arranged for some snacks and sweets. ‘Bonda', one of item that is to be served, is on our behalf’, quickly added Surendra, not to be undone.
While waiting for the power to be restored, we visited the nearby temple, managed by the Padiwaal family. The family spends around twenty thousand rupees a year just to conduct the annual temple ritual called kola. Subhash Padiwaal’s family was an erstwhile feudal landlord family which once owned a few nearby villages. ‘The story of my family is quite similar to the story told in your film’, confessed Subhash Padiwaal. SUDDHA dealt with the decay of the feudal mentality of erstwhile landlord families in Coastal Karnataka and their reluctance to accept changing social norms.
Decades ago, such families offered patronage to local folk arts like Yakshagana and different forms of puppetry. Performances were held in the courtyards of their houses. By sponsoring the screening of our film in his courtyard, Subhash Padiwaal was keeping alive such a tradition. The irony was not lost on me.
As darkness engulfed the Padiwaal courtyard, the wannabe PRO started drilling me with some questions, in the guise of an interview. By then the actors started coming. They too grilled – ‘What took you so long to complete the film?’ ‘Did you find any sponsor?’ ‘I thought the film would not see the light of the day’ ‘Why not have the screening in Moodbidri town itself?’
Fortunately the power came right at seven. We decided that the screening would be held in the very room where they had kept the TV, for I did not want the natural sound ambience of the courtyard to affect the sounds that I had designed in the film. An excited audience cramped into the room, sitting on sofas, chairs and tables; and even on the floor. Some stood at the back, shouting at people not to block their views. Among those were men and women who worked in the fields of the Padiwaal family; who are traditionally not allowed into the inner sanctity of the house. It took some time for all of them to settle down. ‘What a start!’ I cursed myself.
And then, five minutes down the film, just when I thought that the audience were getting involved in the film, the light went off again! ‘There is some repairs going on nearby’, I was told. Suddenly I an elderly man went up to the phone to call someone, pleading for a power restoration. He was the private contractor attached to the electric department responsible for the day’s repairs. He was one among the audience, for his daughter too had acted in the film. ‘In a few minutes...’ he declared.
Utilizing the time, Subhash Padiwaal and his family served us snacks. That was when we realized that there were around a seventy of us. We had just planned for an audience of twenty, but the word had spread. Although each one of us got just half a sweet, half a bonda and a peg of coffee, I felt secured for it reflected that there are people who wanted to see my film!
When the power finally came, it was decided, by public demand, that the TV be taken outside. There were far too may people wanting to watch the film. The audience themselves arranged the chairs under the पंडाल, I raised the volume of the TV to the maximum level that I could and left the rest, as they say, to the gods - even though I hardly believe in a whole lot of them.
For the next fifty minutes, the screening went off well. The audience reacted generously. It was music to my ears. But there was one thing that bothered me - Subhash Padiwaal’s courtyard had it’s own sound ambience. Night crickets shrilled through the darkness that evening, merging their voices with the sounds effects that I had orchestrated into the film. At one point even I got confused, was the sound coming from the TV or was it the natural sound ambience? Fortunately the audience did not notice it.
And then the light went off again, for the third time! ‘It is a major repair’ I was told this time. Some members in the audience almost ordered the electric contractor to make the necessary phone calls. This time the contractor was reluctant, for restoring power would be a hindrance to his business. But the audience was determined. It was already nine in the night and it would be difficult for them to go home, if it got late. Besides, Subhash Padiwaal had not foreseen such a problem for, if he had, he would have surely arranged for dinner for the whole lot of us!
Suddenly, as if by public demand, the power came all by itself, saving everyone the blues.
The rest of the film went off without any interruptions. It was 10’ clock when the film got over. There was not much of a heavy-duty discussion about the film, for every one had to go back to their homes to have their respective dinners. But from whatever little people spoke about, I was glad that they actually liked the film; some had even noticed my sound design!
The highlight of the post screening secession, much to my embarrassment, was that in a moment of inspiration, one of the actress’ of the film went to the extent of touching my feet, much to the amusement of Surendra!
SUDDHA is a leisurely paced film that has no music in it। It is constructed only through the natural sound effects that echo in the silent villages in Coastal Karnataka. It does not have those elements, often used in the mainstream cinema that would mesmerize the audience’s mind, strangle them and hold them captive. But the audience in Moodbidri watched the film, I would say, without any pre-conceived notions or prejudices. They took the film for what it is. I was thrilled for, contrary to what some people had to say after watching the trials in Mumbai; there was indeed a receptive common village audience for my film! Back in Mumbai, Surendra still giggles around when he jokes about the ‘inspired’ lady touching my feet at Moodbidri!

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