Review Garhwali

Ek Tha Gaon review: A moving tale of a ghost village

Release Date: 2021 / 01hr 41min

Cinestaan Rating

  • Direction:

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Srishti Lakhera’s documentary evocatively traces the fate of people left behind in abandoned hamlets in Uttarakhand.

At the foothills of the Himalayas, there lies a ghost village, Semla. Once a bustling, robust village with fifty families inhabiting it, the hamlet lies deserted, with only seven people left behind. With no facilities or even people around, the remaining inhabitants ponder about their future.

Directed by Srishti Lakhera, Ek Tha Gaon (Once Upon a Village) examines the lives of two women from different generations as they contemplate the path before them.

The documentary opens by stating the staggering number of abandoned villages in the Garhwal and Kumaon regions of Uttarakhand. Over time, people from small villages migrated to the city for job opportunities, education, even medical facilities, and never returned. Their homes lie deserted and their farms overgrown due to neglect. In sharp contrast lies the bustling town, filled with people, activity and possibility.

Amongst the people left behind in the village are Leela Devi, an old woman, who has spent her entire life in the village and refuses to move away to live with her daughter in the city. She lives alone, with meagre resources, battling loneliness and the frailty of old age. On the other hand is a young girl, Golu, who is filled with hopes and dreams for the future, stuck in a place with no prospects. She observes that in the village, she can only become a thief or a dacoit, as there is nothing else available to her. “This village too will disappear,” she prophesies.

Through a glimpse into the lives of people left behind, Lakhera poignantly contemplates the shifting idea of home, of belonging to a place. The film weaves together several concerns from the vulnerability of old people living alone, the guilt and helplessness of family members who do not know what they can do for old parents who refuse to leave their home; to the idea of progress and what it means for people on the fringes. Lakhera shows the massive construction taking place to build roads and make remote places accessible, which in time, could perhaps turn around the current situation of such ghost villages. 

Amith Surendran and Kai Tillman’s cinematography effectively captures the loneliness of the villagers who quietly go about their lives. A young girl walks all alone amidst a barren landscape and an old woman sits by the window, just hoping to catch a glimpse of people far away in the distance. We are left thinking about the legend of Susitna, whose body turns into a mountain as she waits for her lover to return from war.

Ek Tha Gaon was screened virtually from 26 to 28 February at the 22nd MAMI Mumbai Film Festival.


Related topics

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival