Amar Kaushik (33), an associate director on films such as No One Killed Jessica (2007) and Go Goa Gone (2013), has lived in Mumbai for over a decade. However, he spent the first 10 years of his life in Arunachal Pradesh. Born to a forest ranger father and a school teacher mother, Kaushik says he has fond memories of the valleys and forests of the state.
So, when his mother visited Mumbai last year, they spoke about their shared experiences of their time in AP. Somehow, it led to an idea for a film. “My mother recounted the story of a young girl whom she taught. The girl disappeared from school for a month,” says Kaushik. These were the times of no telephones, and Kaushik’s mother had to scout for the girl’s address. Eventually, she found the girl, but the latter was reluctant to leave her house. “The girl’s grandfather was very old and could die at any moment, and she wanted to be at home when it happened,” says Kaushik.
He says the naivety of the girl stayed with him, and he wrote a film about it. The film, titled Aaba, is about the girl and her ailing grandparents, and sheds light on innocence, mortality and confronting the imminence of death. We wonder if the story is a bit too morbid.
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Apart from the philosophical theme of the film, Kaushik’s story is rooted in the simple, daily life of the Apatani tribe, an indigenous people of Arunachal Pradesh. It stars the natives, with who Kaushik stayed for two months. “I could have cast actors from Mumbai, and flown them to Arunachal Pradesh. But the reality of the story would have been lost,” he says.
With the help of a translator, he communicated with the tribe members. He even stayed at one of the local houses, and got drunk on the local alcohol. Soon, they were comfortable with his presence. “Directing them and getting them to emote became easier after that,” he says.
The 22-minute film is set to premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, on February 11. It’s the only Indian film in the competition section of the film festival. After that, Kaushik hopes for a theatrical release in India.