Making a story work

D. Kaushik | The Pioneer | 18 Apr 2013

the-pioneer-180413Documentary filmmaker Pankaj Butalia tells D Kaushik how a Dokwok-Film-Making Workshop helped him complete a stuck production based on Kashmiri families affected by conflict

He has been a documentary filmmaker for over two decades, and is known for productions like Moksha, made in ‘93, about the widows of Vrindavan. He also filmed Tracing the Arc, on the Great Arc Project, which lasted through the 19th century.

Butalia then decided to make a trilogy, describing conflicts in three parts of India and their impact on people. The first in the series, was a film on impact of violence on people in Manipur. It was titled Manipur Song. Then he visited Kashmir and was moved by stories he heard about, “how issues there affected commoners and the loss they faced.”

While making the Kashmir film, called The Textures Of Loss; Butalia says, “I was stuck somewhere. The film was in making for eight years. It happens sometimes, that when a project extends for a long time, you lose track. In my case, over those eight years, I had no money. And with a deadline missing, I lost the motivation to complete it.”

Then he participated in the Dokwok-Film-Making Workshop, which happened in India for the first time a few months ago. Documentary filmmakers were required to get rough cuts of films, and screen them before experts from India and abroad, who would discuss strengths and weaknesses. “This concept is popular in the West and helpful for young filmmakers who look forward to professional advice for documentary films. Films are brought to the workshop, when they have completed the initial stage,” informs the filmmaker. “Experts make comments. It gives filmmakers direction. When I learnt about the workshop, I was in two minds. I thought I was too old. But then I felt, why have apprehensions, when it is a new experience and could help complete the film, which was stuck midway. So last year, I entered my film, which was an advanced rough cut, got essential inputs, and this year, completed and screened it,” informs the filmmaker.

He adds that participant in Dokwok should be open to criticism. “They must have an open mind, since people watching, present their opinion. Despite having made many documentaries I was still open to hear what I lacked.”

He soon realised that his story was being repetitive. The docu film features three women and their loss, due to the situation in Kashmir. “When I visited the place, I realised the women suffered most. Some had lost husbands, sons and were struggling with their lives. I showcased how one woman lost her husband, the second, her husband, and realised I had to change focus. While presenting the second story for instance, I shifted focus to the son, who was very young when the father died. The mother expected him to earn and take responsibility, but he was far too young. He wanted to lead a life like his peers, but was unable to. Angry and frustrated, he would abuse and hit people.

So I was showcasing how the family suffered, but had to change the angle. Then I realised the story flowed effortlessly and the audience had something new to look forward to.”

He now plans to take The Textures of Loss to film festivals in Indian and abroad.

Butalia ended by talking about the third part of his trilogy, Assamblog. “It has been shot extensively in remote parts of Assam over three years. It discusses ethnic conflicts that people face there. In Assam there are many small tribal groups that formed private terror groups and often fight each other. The film focusses on such groups and highlights the current situation in Assam. Work is in post-production stage.”

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