Indian short film exploring mother-daughter bond makes it to Cannes film fest

The film Asthi (Ashes) has been selected for Court Metrage (Short Film Corner) at the Cannes Film Festival 2018.
Meera, played by 20-year-old Antara Rao, struggles to let go of her mother’s ashes in the Ganges in the film.
Meera, played by 20-year-old Antara Rao, struggles to let go of her mother’s ashes in the Ganges in the film.
Updated on May 03, 2018 06:26 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByNaina Arora, New Delhi

Meera runs off to Haridwar to immerse her mother’s ashes in the Ganges, but is unable to do so because she can’t seem to let go of her mother. What follows is a journey of conflict and sadness in this 14-minute-long film, Asthi (Ashes), as the soothing voice of her mother, Saroja Devi, a classical singer, echoes in her mind and old memories resurface. A surreal conversation begins with the ashes as Meera travels the lanes and the banks of the sacred river. Exploring the bond of a mother-daughter relationship, the short film has made it to the Court Metrage (Short Film Corner) at Cannes Film Festival 2018. Interestingly, actor Antara Rao, who portrays the female protagonist, Meera, in the film, is a second year Delhi University (DU) student.

Euphoric about going to the prestigious film festival, Antara says the film was “challenging” and “emotionally taxing”. However, its selection for a screening at the French Riviera has validated her hard work. “I’m looking forward to meeting directors, experiencing world cinema, and the different styles of filmmaking. I am very excited about experiencing all of that,” she says.

Written by her sister, Lavanya Rao, and father, Dinkar Rao, who also donned the director’s hat, the film has been shot in a week and takes one to the mesmerising ghats, the markets, and the temples of Haridwar. Dinkar Rao has also directed yet-to-be released films such as Papoo Photowalah, Railway Raju, and Szoya The Black Widow, which was the official selection for Milan and Strasbourg film festivals. The film also features classical songs by Meenakshi Roy, a classical singer trained at the Banaras Hindu University.

Delhi girl Antara Rao, stars in the short film.
Delhi girl Antara Rao, stars in the short film.

From immersing herself in the river in the chilly month of January to getting into the skin of Meera’s character was no easy feat for this 20-year-old Delhi girl.

“I had to observe the streets with a sense of detachment. She (Meera) goes everywhere with her mother’s ashes, not knowing what to do. I thought it was a challenge to question traditional ideas of what is supposed to happen. She doesn’t want to let go of the ashes, which is a novel concept as one just assumes that once somebody dies, they are cremated. But it made a lot of sense to me that she was questioning it. After all, it’s the last physical proof of her mother, and she wants to cling to it,” Antara says.

A still from the short film.
A still from the short film.

“[During the shoot] I had to think of my mother. When I went into the river, it was very overwhelming. It was so much bigger than myself. [Playing] Meera is a phase of life that is different from the entire chain of events that I otherwise engage in,” she adds.

Meera’s role embodies the kind of feminism that is needed in India. She performs rituals that have always been conducted by male priests and performed by the men in the family, not caring about what anyone would say. — Antara Rao

The second year Economics student from DU’s Jesus and Mary College has always been “fascinated” by theatre, and acting is something that she plans to “pursue full-time”. “[In DU] I have been actively involved in theatre, debates, and public speaking activities. The education I have received in the past few years has given me guidance on how I deal with things around me and approach arts... I was interested in acting because storytelling is something everyone relates to. [It involves] understanding a character that is very different from you, so that you could experience emotions that you probably wouldn’t in your context,” she says.

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