Review Maithili

Gamak Ghar review: Eloquent look at the rise and fall of an ancestral home

Release Date: 22 Oct 2019 / 01hr 31min


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Sonal Pandya

Achal Mishra's directorial debut Gamak Ghar deftly illustrates the passing of time in a family and the decaying of its village abode in Bihar.

The year is 1998. A family has gathered to celebrate its newest member, a boy, as he arrives home with his mother from the hospital. It's summertime, and the mood is ebullient. There are mangoes to be picked from the nearby grove to feed the assembled and expected guests and for a feast following the rituals of welcoming the baby. 

The family's ancestral home was built with care by the late patriarch, who was a writer and playwright. His memory lingers throughout the film. This portion of Gamak Ghar (2019) is warm and inviting, and deeply nostalgic. It will remind many of their own trips to their ancestral places where large family gatherings took place. Here, director Achal Mishra and cinematographer Anand Bansal focus the frame on the mundane household items, like the washing left out to dry, or the empty seats in the courtyard, and capture them like vibrant photographs. 

The hustle-bustle of family and the intermingling of its members is replaced when the action moves to 2010. There is a marked change in both house and family — some elders are deceased, others have moved away and the children who once ran around with abandon are now young adults with few memories of what the ancestral house used to be. The warmth in the beginning of the film has decreased significantly. The house has lost its sheen.

The baby we saw earlier is almost a teenager now. He and his family have shifted to the city with no plan to return. The matriarch of the family, the grandmother, also has no reason to stay back; the family has only gathered in the village to celebrate Chhath Puja. But once the festival is over, there is nothing holding them back to the home.

Gamak Ghar eventually rolls around to the present day, where the fog parts to show the once-grand home in disrepair. An old caretaker is its only resident, the conversations and laughter of the past have long since faded away. Like many old buildings, it must now make way for a newer, more modern structure that will house the remaining members of the family. The coldness of this portion permeates everywhere, especially since it is set in winter.

MAMI 2019: Achal Mishra’s Maithili feature Gamak Ghar explores the world of documentary and narrative format

Set in Madhopur, Bihar, the film borrows from Mishra's own life and family. The patriarch mentioned in the film is his own grandfather, Kedar Nath Mishra. Yet Gamak Ghar is not a documentary. It is a curious but affecting mix of real and fiction. Scenes have obviously been recreated, but there is a realness about them that lingers. 

The passage of time is also marked by the changing of the aspect ratio from 4:3 to 16:9 to 2.35:1 finally. Subtlely, a few changes in modern technology are displayed as Guddu, one of the grandsons, uses a Yashica camera as a young man, his uncle from the city takes photos of the Chhath Puja via his digital camera, and later Guddu takes the film's final photo with his smart phone. 

Achal Mishra's Maithili-language directorial debut, which he has also produced and edited, is both poignant and moving. Incredibly, the director and his crew are all first-timers to the world of filmmaking, but their talent displays an understanding and nuance that should take them far. 

Gamak Ghar was screened at the 21st Mumbai Film Festival on 18 and 20 October. Repeat screenings are scheduled for 22 and 23 October.

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MAMI Mumbai Film Festival