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Interview Chhatisgarhi

A Dog And His Man is about pain and, probably, love, says director Siddharth Tripathy of his first feature

The Chhattisgarhi film examines the displacement of villagers as coal mining eats up their land and way of life, forcing them to leave their homes.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Siddharth Tripathy’s debut feature, A Dog And His Man, takes a hard look at the large-scale devastation of lush forests and the displacement of villagers as coal-mining projects swallow up their land and way of life.

In a region where villagers face wholesale displacement due to coal mining, the film traces the story of Shoukie and his dog Kheru, who spend their last night in the village. While the rest of the village was abandoned two years earlier and has been slowly transformed by the mining companies, Shoukie had stayed on with his dog, adamant in his belief that homes are not for sale. With a final eviction notice from the mining company looming over their heads, Shoukie spends this final night contemplating Kheru’s death, hunger and nostalgia.

The film won the FIPRESCI International Critics Jury award at the Bengaluru International Film Festival 2020 for its graceful ability to tell a touching story at once local and universal, one where the daily life of a humble man and the nature of which he is a part are trampled by the logic of profit.

A graduate in cinematography from the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Kolkata, Tripathy has been travelling across rural India, studying and documenting tribal cultures, agrarian lifestyles and developmental interventions among them. The film was a personal story for him as he belongs to Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, and saw many of these incidents unfolding before his eyes.

He said, “I wrote this story when I saw that my ancestral village was totally lost... the man [Shoukie] is a kind of representation of my pain, the pain that I feel when I go back home now, because the entire landscape has changed. The dog is a fictional symbol because symbolically it is about unconditional love. In my story, the people from that milieu see forests and animals as part of their lives. They do not attribute special meaning to pets the way we urban people do. The landscape, animals, are all one single organism for them, and leaving that place is like mutilating a part of your body. That is the pain that he [Shoukie] feels. In the film, there is the internal space which is nostalgic, and then there is the public space outside.”

Speaking about the treatment of the film and how it reflects the lives of the people in the village, the filmmaker said, “This is a film about things (humans, animals, nature) which exist in the margins. So there is nothing much happening about their existence. They need a spectacle to come to the limelight and be spoken about, be it a natural catastrophe like an earthquake or a charade of economic growth, which displaces them from their roots."

Tripathy added, "Interestingly, even if such a spectacle happens in their lives, nothing much actually changes in their story. It is as if their story is the meaning of the word stagnation. So, in the film we deliberately chose a treatment which reminds us of such stagnation. The static lengthy shots, lack of theatrics, and minimalist use of music were all intended to reflect that there is nothing sensational about it.”

A Dog And His Man had its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival in Canada and is part of the line-up at the 51st International Film Festival of India that is currently taking place in Goa.

The film was received very well by the audience in Vancouver. Recounting the experience, Tripathy said, “I would think why would people be interested in watching this film. But people who watched the film engaged with it and asked me questions which were relevant. For me, they were always relevant because I relate to the story, but if the audience relates to the story and starts thinking about the subject, it’s wonderful. When I was pitching the film, I was thinking it is a slow, dry, stubborn film. That feeling is still with me.”

He added, “It is a very single-tone film. In one word, it is a film on pain and, probably, love. It’s the pain of leaving things, which a person considers very personal to him or her.”

A Dog And His Man has been planned as the first of a trilogy. The first film examines what happens when economic development takes away your land and your home. The second, based on cotton farmers, will look at what happens when the government takes away your occupation. The third will look at people who are forced to migrate and live a migrant’s life.

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Bengaluru International Film Festival IFFI