Memories of a Gotala...

Niraj Sah in GOTALA
Nostalgia sucks, but for some strange reason, I have cut one frame of the negative film of an unused take of my diploma film that I had done at the Film and TV Institute of India (FTII) in 1990 and I have preserved it over the years. A diploma film is the final exercise that any student does at FTII.  

My film's name was GOTALA (The Mess) and since it was in black and white, it was 30 minutes in length. The ones who choose color then, had to go only up to 20 minutes.

Again for some strange reason, Mathi Azhagan the cameraman who shot my diploma film had preserved a copy of the script of GOTALA for all these years. Mathi was a faculty in the Cinematography Department at FTII when I was studying. He had just graduated from the State film school in Chennai and he had already shot my song exercise.

In 2009, I had been to the LV Prasad Film Institute to conduct a documentary film workshop. Mathi was a faculty here. I had lunch at his house, after which he carefully opened a file from a cupboard and showed me the contents. It was a copy of my script and shot breakdown of GOTALA. He treated it as something valuable. You can down load the script here.   

I myself see GOTALA, today, with mixed feelings. Believe it or not, the plot goes like this, Lord Krishna comes down to earth to supply some Trishuls (an ancient Indian weapon) to a group of fundamentalists who call themselves 'Pandurangists'. In the process of doing so, he falls in love with a lady and takes her back into the skies. 
A negative still of GOTALA

I wanted a title song recorded for the film, which was supposed to be the anthem of the 'Pandurangist'. I met a few music directors in Pune, but things did not work out. There was a person in Udupi, my home town, with whom I had participated in a theater workshop. He knew singing and accompanied it by playing the harmonium. 

I went to his house situated in a temple premises in a village near Udupi to ask him if he can compose the song. He read the script, looked up with a grim face and sternly said something like this, 'You do know what they did to Salamn Rushdie, don't you? Would you like it if we also do the same thing here? You guys will learn a lesson, if we also do it here."

I was taken aback. He was otherwise very friendly and amicable. But he got offended by this modern version of 'Krishna Leela' or the 'Play of Lord Krishna'. It was a time when the implications of different versions of our epics had not yet taken the overt political tone that it has now taken. It was a year since Ayatollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa calling for the death of Rushdie for his wok 'Satanic Verses'.

Two years later the Babri Masjid mosque at the disputed Ram Janabhoomi (Birth place of Lord Ram) site was demolished in frenzy by right wing groups after a ceremonial procession centered around a chariot carrying the image of Ram went all over India and culminated in Ayodhya, the place of the site.
I came back to Pune, convinced in my mind that there won't be any song in the film. Thanks to my sound recordist Chandidas Mishra's initiative, the night before the shooting, we recorded the song sung and composed by Nirmal Pandey, who also acted in the film. Nirmal's theater stint with BV Karanth helped him do this. 

I completed the film and went back home, since I was the first one in the schedule. Sharmaji was the head of production at that time. When I came back after a few months, he told me that the film will not get a Censor certificate because of its content. I do not remember if he meant that the Institute did not sent it for certification at all; or if it was sent and was rejected. 

Without a Censor certificate, the film was not considered for the National Awards or the International Film Festival of India. It was shown at the initial versions of the Mumbai Short and Documentary Film Festival, of which one of the curators was Amrit Gangar. That was about it, as far as teh film goes.

I had a VHS copy of the film that got fungus infested. After many repairs, my VHS player too stopped working. Ever since I dumped both of them, I have been wanting to go to the Institute and make a digital copy of the film for myself, if nothing else just to see where is it that I had stared. 

The script of GOTALA, as I see it now, is structurally a bit flawed. But as I read it again, it still haunts me. I am not sure that I can make it today into a feature film without aligning it to the conformist ideology of a film like 'Oh My God' 

Really, oh my GOD!


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