A short film by the students of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), And What is the Summer Saying, was selected for the recently concluded Berlin International Film Festival. The students talk about the non-fiction form and the possibilities it offers.
TALKING of love has never been easy in India. It’s more difficult for women. As one travels away from urban centres, to smaller towns and villages, it almost becomes a taboo. A short film made by the students of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) captures the expression of love and longing in a remote village that must only be conveyed in whispers. The 23-minute film, And What is the Summer Saying, which was screened at Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) that concluded last week, is set in a tiny village nestled in the Sahaydris where humans and forest co-exist as amicable neighbours.
The film, which calls itself a documentary, is far from true to its generic convention. It comes close to the tradition of experimental filmmakers such as Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) and Mysterious Object at Noon (2000), and London-based Ben Rivers’ Two Years at Sea (2011) and What Means Something (2016) — films that trade the borders of fiction and non-fiction filmmaking.
This is the third film made by the team, comprising Mayank Khurana as cinematographer, Shreyank Nanjappa as sound designer and Ghanshyam Shimpi as editor, helmed by Payal Kapadia as director. Their last project Afternoon Clouds was the only Indian film to be screened at Cannes last year.
The audio emerges as a primary storytelling device in the short film, with the soundtrack giving sound and words the space to create meaning.
According to Kapadia, non-fiction filmmaking is an open form which concedes a lot of space for experimentation. “You can use a lot of devises because it is not necessarily narrative filmmaking. We look at documentary in narrow terms but its only difference from fiction is the approach. While making this film I was like a scavenger, looking for many stories and finally selected a few that made sense to me, and created a sense of a whole,” she said.
In the film, a honey-gatherer who depends on the jungle, to earn his living, enjoys an intimate relation with the jungle and those who inhabit it. The wilderness that engulfs the village in the night is captured in quiet, still visuals which let the soundscape of the film do most of the talking. The audio emerges as primary storytelling device with each layer serving a purpose. The whispers carrying sentiments of tenderness stand out.
Nanjappa, the sound designer, says the aim was to make the audience feel the wilderness. “Although dialogues and words can give information, they might not always help in conveying feelings.We meticulously designed the soundtrack giving sound and words the space to create meaning and unfold its effects on the viewer.”
There’s no piece to camera, a prominent feature of the documentary form, with exclusive reliance on voice recorded during intimate, informal chats. The fact that the crew was mostly male, didn’t help in making the women open up about matters of love when on camera.
“Considering the circumstances and the time that I had at my disposal, I remained an outsider. Even with the way the film is framed, there is always a distance. At one point in the film, one of the women weave a song with my name in it, telling me to dance. As if, I as a filmmaker too, am being led somewhere down a rabbit hole,” says Kapadia.
The director and some of the crew members have returned from Berlin where the film was screened multiple times, among other films in the ‘Berlinale Short’ that dealt with issues of gender and sexuality. “We had quite an interesting response. But I think most people outside are not completely able to fathom the extent of the issues here. For a woman here, to even openly say ‘I love you’ is so difficult. I cannot claim that the film was able to make people understand the issue but it definitely opened up an interesting dialogue,” says Kapadia.
The team is now working on their next film, which will be their final project at FTII that deals with the “impossibility of love”. The film tells the story of two scientists, who are trying to investigate the effects of climate change in the Western Ghats, and a woman who remembers her love affair when she was a teen.