Delhi’s dreamcatcher: Anamika Haksar on films, penury and making it to Sundance
The 59-year-old’s first feature, Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon, has been picked for the exclusive New Frontier section at Sundance.
Anamika Haksar is 59 and Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon is her first feature film. Seven years ago, after every producer she approached turned her down, the veteran theatre director sold her Delhi house, borrowed from friends and family, launched a crowd-funding initiative online — and made the movie that is now the only Indian film in the exclusive New Frontier section of the Sundance Film Festival, 2019.
This section describes itself as focusing on avant-garde work by creators committed to pushing the boundaries of storytelling. Haksar still doesn’t have the money to release her film.
What it’s about
The film got its name, Haksar says, via one of her aunts. “She told me an anecdote about hailing a tonga driver who had an emaciated horse. He refused to take her, saying he had to feed his horse jalebis.” The combination of ironic humour, a fading tradition of tongawallahs, a poorly fed horse and an impoverished driver who had probably not had a jalebi himself in months, got to her, she says.
Born to Kashmiris settled in Shahjanabad, she says the cultural oasis of Old Delhi had always fascinated her. “So many migrants from so many regions of the country, surviving together.”
It took over seven years to make Ghode Ko Jalebi…, which traces the lives and dreams of beggars, pickpockets, street singers, hawkers and rickshaw pullers in Old Delhi.
The film weaves a tapestry of the real and fantastical, its documentary footage overlaid with animation and paintings based on folk styles.
The dreams are cryptic, charged, emotional. A pickpocket dreams of Mickey Mouse in a remand home. In a vendor’s nightmares, he sees his children in his village home burning.
“The narrative moves from moment to moment, there is no particular storyline. The structure of the film mirrors the winding streets and lives of the homeless, who don’t have a structured life and who don’t know what will happen next.”
Haksar says she picked these characters because they are generally seen as types, or tasks, rather than individuals. She created a list of about 25 questions — on fears, imagery, dreams, oft-felt emotions, attitude to money, daily routines.
“I handed the questionnaire to a theatre colleague of mine who lives in old Delhi because it’s better to do it that way than to just descend on people from the outside. We spoke to 75 people over two years,” she says.
Based on the answers to her questionnaire, she created her four key characters — a pickpocket, played by theatre actor Ravindra Sahu, a snacks vendor played by actor Raghuvir Yadav, a labourer-activist played by theatre actor Gopalan and a conductor of heritage walks played by playwright and actor Lokesh Jain.
Her crew greatly informed how the film turned out, Haksar stresses. “I took an eight-month course in filmmaking and I had the direction part under control. But I didn’t know about things like lensing, or how to place the camera,” she says. “There were political issues too. There was a woman on the streets. She had been raped 10 times. Where do you place your camera when you show her? My cinematographer, Saumyananda Sahi, is a very conscious person. He prioritised her dignity over the idea of a good shot.”
Gautam Nair, the sound designer, used ambient sound only; nothing was dubbed in a studio.
Sundance will bring the film the attention it so desperately needs, Haksar says. “I’m broke. I can’t even afford to put up some screens and hire some projectors so that the people in my movie — these people who live on the streets of Old Delhi — can watch it. Sundance is a huge honour and it may help me get a theatrical release for the film too.”
Already, the film has been screened at this year’s Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival and has won a best debut director award at this year’s International Film Festival of Kerala.
But so far, only two of the people she interviewed have seen it. “One works with me,” Haksar says. “The other is a domestic worker who is very vocal. She said, ‘Didi yeh normal toh nahi hain. Thodasa hatke hain. Par hamare baare mein hain aur sachchai hain isme. (It’s not a regular film. It’s different. But it’s about us and there is truth in it)’.”
Watch the trailer here: