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Interview Marathi

Looking at a festival run of a year or two for Kharvas: Aditya Suhas Jambhale

Jambhale's 38 minute-long Marathi drama about a woman coming to terms with stillbirth was the opening film of the Indian Panorama (Non-feature) section at IFFI 2018.

Suparna Thombare

Aditya Suhas Jambhale, who won the National award for Best Non-Feature Film Direction for Aaba... Aiktaay Na? in 2016, is back with Kharvas, a poignant yet hopeful tale of a woman's struggle to come to terms with delivering a stillborn child.

While the themes of loss and trauma are universal, Jambhale's film also feels personal as he portrays the physical and emotional ramifications of losing a child during birth.

The protagonist Asawari withdraws to her ancestral home in a Konkan village as she tries to overcome the tragedy and finds her catharsis in their pregnant family cow.

Jambhale uses kharvas, a sweet delicacy made from colostrum, as a symbol of healing, new beginnings and a celebration of life.

In an exclusive conversation with Cinestaan.com, Jambhale opened up on the significance of the title, the process of shooting in a Goan village, and the execution of the film's climax. Excerpts:

Why did you decide to use kharvas as the symbol and title for your film?

The most important thing for the story is the undercurrent that the milk has. An important thing is that the body doesn't know in a stillbirth that the baby is no more. The body is pretending the baby is still there.

Now, imagine the entire process of the body that is going to take place. There are many medical issues you have to deal with. Then there is the issue of the milk which is going to get secreted, because it is for the baby. Now, that undercurrent has been important from the start of the film.

Why Kharvas... well, the climax of the film is very important, which happens in a cowshed. The entire film is about Asawari's process of finding her peace. What Asawari needs is the space to cry so that she can find that peace and come to terms with the turmoil, the tragedy. For that she is unable to find a catalyst or trigger. As a society we probably provide everything that is the reverse of that. That is why she goes to her ancestral place in Konkan.

The climax in the cowshed is action-packed...

The reason why the climax is set in the cowshed is what it portrays — the milk and the cow's delivery, which is imminent. So both things are going together. Kharvas is made from colostrum, the first milk of the cow after she has delivered a calf. So that is the relevance for the topic. That was an important element in the narrative.

Have you used the cow's delivery as catharsis?

What happened is that she became part of it. It happened through her, kind of. Finally realizing that I have to come to terms with it myself. 

How did you shoot the intense climax which shows the cow delivering the calf?

First, it was very important that we get it done in such a way that the cow looks pregnant. Now, we would never get permission to shoot with a pregnant cow and it shouldn't be done anyway. So we needed to find a cow whose characteristics are such that we can cheat perfectly. So it was important that we have an authentic cow. It was like an auditioning process. We saw different photographs and all that. 

DoP [director of photography] Ravi Ranjan, who is from Mumbai, had to come to the location three times and we did a mock shoot to see what are the ways in which we can actually shoot this scene. The shot breakdown had to be perfect. I realized that planning is not going to work in this kind of a scenario. We have everything on paper and scheduling is done, but the entire scene is going to depend on what the cow does and you can't tell her 'Action!' and 'Cut!'.

On the first day, we entered the shed at around 7pm and the first two hours went by without a single usable shot. So we were under pressure wondering if this is going to work. My work in theatre helped. We decided to do it like theatre and the cameraman is not going to come inside at all because it is a scenario where one cannot really block. We decided not to say cut. The cameraman is not going to interfere. The DoP understood. 

Once the lights were on and suddenly there is a big crew, so we had to squeeze it out. So the synch-sound person was sitting on the roof, camera attendants were in another room. I was the only person there. It was a choreographed dance. 

It is a nice alley as it gave me depth. That was important in the location because when Asawari enters, it is not just that she is entering a cowshed, she is entering a new world.

We did long shoots. Twenty hours of shooting happened. The challenge was that Asawari and the cow in the climax had to go hand in hand. We took a lot of footage of reactions and hand-held cameras were the only way to do it. We got great support from all actors and crew.

When you try your best, things fall in place. So the last scene had to be that she comes out of the shed and it is raining and there is thunder. We always go for a rain machine. But in the end it was actually raining that day and we got real rain and thunder in the shot. So, it all fell in place. 

Though the screenplay portrays a lot of pain, the ending is one of hope. 

I did not want it to end on a tragic note because the film is about the process of finding that smile once again after you go through a tragedy. When she smiles in the end, that was important. I wanted the audience to go out of the theatre feeling positive. For me, the sweetness of kharvas is the perfect thing to replicate that smile.

Kharvas was recently screened in the Short Films Corner section at Cannes. How was the response?

The response was great. It gave me the confidence that you don't have to make a film in English or dub it in English to appeal to the international market. I got response from Pakistan, Indonesia, South Korea, Europe, Australia and other countries. We want it to do a festival run for a year or two before we look for buyers. 

Are you targeting more international festivals?

We are planning to go to the Venice International Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival next. Berlin International Film Festival is the first on the list actually. We have submitted the film and are waiting for their response.

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