Interview Hindi

Wanted to tell a story that will touch me, bother me: Filmmaker Dar Gai at Habitat Film Festival

In a conversation with us, the filmmaker talks about her journey in making Teen Aur Aadha and shares what filmmaking means to her.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Screenwriter, producer and teacher, Dar Gai is the multi-talented director of Teen Aur Aadha, a film that tells the story of one house in different eras as it changes from a school to a brothel, and then becomes a beautiful home to an old couple.

Starring MK Raina, Suhasini Mulay, Jim Sarbh, Zoya Hussain and Anjum Rajabali, the film is a unique exploration of life and love. Teen Aur Aadha has won many accolades across the world and was screened in New Delhi at the 13th Habitat Film Festival.

In a conversation with us, the filmmaker talks about her journey in making the film and shares what filmmaking means to her. Excerpts.

Dar Gai

Your film explores the nature of human lives through three chapters - death, dance and love. What was the thought process behind exploring human life through these focal points?

The entire film was a jump from the cliff, where you are thinking whether or not you should jump and when you force yourself off the cliff, you find yourself flying. When you are entering the water, there are so many memories attacking you, these memories that attack is the film. Because I felt that I was trying to express so many of my own emotions, whether suppressed or subconscious desires, wishes, fears. I guess I projected them somehow in the film. 

It’s a very simple film. It’s about basic human emotions and what all of us are going through. I wanted to tell a story that will touch me and bother me. I didn’t know if anyone else will be able to relate to it. It was challenging as it’s based in India, it’s in Hindi and one take was creating a lot of obstacles between me and the audience and that’s when I realized that a first film should be something like a jump from the cliff.

It doesn’t matter whether anyone will hate it or love it, one has to just jump! We didn’t know what people’s reaction would be like and we got a lot of support from the technical field and from the industry, because without Anurag [Kashyap] this film wouldn’t have happened.

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In fact, that was going to be my next question to you. How did you get Anurag to present the film?

My friends and I were thinking about different ideas and I told them about a short film which ended up being the second story in this film, and they said well, let’s just do it and we shot it with absolutely zero budget. I was planning for it to be 19-minute-long but it ended up being 40 minutes long! So, one friend of mine Avni Rai, saw the film and she has very interesting judgements on art house cinema, and she said that we should show the film to Anurag. She took me to him and we showed him the film and he loved it and said that we should do the film again using better cameras. We did that and he suggested that we make it as a feature film and then I realized that if I shoot two more parts, I’ll have a feature film. 

I knew at the time that no one will invest money in me since I am not known and I don’t have any connections or anyone backing me. So we decided to do it ourselves. Anurag suggested that we crowd fund the film so we did that and got Rs5 lakh. We got great support from the people. They liked the idea and the concept. We decided that no matter what, we should go ahead and make it.

My producer has backed the project throughout and he believed in the film throughout and has also managed to do so much with such a small budget. We have finished our second film and will be making our third one in 5 months and we realized that no matter what, we will be shooting at least one film in a year; a small film or big film. I don’t think we should be stopped only by the rules of Bollywood [the Hindi film industry] or the film industry.

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But you do need money to make a film. That is the baseline, so do you plan to crowdfund again?

Our second film was also zero-budget but we got some really good investors and once you’ve done two films, it’s much easier to do a third film and this was also my producer who said that no one will believe in skills unless they see the skills. Even now, looking back at the film, I see so many small bits that I could have done differently and I realized that as a filmmaker, my filmmaking school was brought to me.

I didn’t have enough money to pay the high fees for a filmmaking school so I decided that each film of mine will be a filmmaking school and I think this is something that we can afford in this century of digitalisation when we have opportunity to create content which will not just be sitting on the shelves of big studios but will go to Netflix and Amazon and hundreds of new platforms that are coming and giving opportunities to filmmakers.

At the end of the day, now it’s just about us showing the skills. 

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Tell me a little bit about your choice for the shooting techniques. You’ve used the camera very fluidly and one gets the sense of the camera being a character in the film because of the choices that the camera makes, and also the fact that you’ve chosen a single shot for each of the stories.

I’m very happy that you’ve noticed all these small details because not everyone is talking about it. It’s true, my idea was that the entire mut be told from the point of view of the walls. The house is the character and the walls are witnessing all the stories that are taking place there.

When we were discussing the kind of aesthetic narrative to go in for, we realized that a one take was the only solution for us because we needed to make people feel that they are witnessing the stories along with the walls. The walls are looking at all of us and sometimes they can be bored, sometimes the can be distracted by some sound, sometimes they turn away during an intimate scene and look outside the window. So, we were all fascinated by the idea but, at the same time, it was very challenging.

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Yes, because everything has to be choreographed perfectly for a one take shoot so that the camera can just move into different moments without pausing. That is very hard to do.

I think it was a combination of ignorance, arrogance and cowardice that made the film possible. We thought that shooting in one take can give you almost half a feature film so we were very excited about that but when we started rehearsing we realized how many hours need to go into the rehearsals. That’s where my theatre background also helped me. I used to spend hours and hours just rehearsing. 

In theatre, the relationship between a director and actors is very different. The actors are ready to give 6 months of their lives, not getting paid and just being in that environment. I faced a lot of obstacles here. I met most of the actors over the age of 60-65 in the industry and did a reading with them and when I would say, I want 2 weeks of rehearsals minimum, they would say they can give me maximum 5 days! And that was very unusual for me. That’s why I mainly went to look for theatre actors.   

In fact, you’ve put together a very impressive cast for your first film.

They were very responsive and extremely talented. It was easy to work with them and at the same time because of the one take treatment that we took, I think everyone got grey hair on their heads while shooting. My producer for sure. He’s an atheist but he sat in front of the monitor and prayed to all the gods because we realized that even if one thing goes wrong, everything will be cancelled. We didn’t even have money for camera rehearsals and the camera arrived on the day of the shoot. It gave all of us a great experience.

Well, it sounds like an adventure.

You’re absolutely right! Someone asked me today what cinema is for me, and I replied, 'Adventure'. You don’t know where you will go and where it will take you and what kind of self-reflection it will give you. It’s just about learning every day from your own thoughts and from forcing yourself to write and you hate every day and you love every day.

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Habitat Film Festival