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Chasing love and longing in India

Lost in Ganga is a rare Chinese film shot almost entirely in India.

world Updated: Jul 01, 2018 10:10 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
Lost in Ganga,Liu Juan,Chinese film shot almost entirely in india.
A Jaisalmer street in the film, Lost in Ganga(Photo courtesy: Liu Juan)

India and poet Rabindranath Tagore have always inspired Chinese film director, Liu Juan. So, it was only a matter of time that the director, winner of a Shanghai International Film Festival award in 2013, would shoot a feature in the country of her inspiration. Liu, in her mid 30s, is a graduate of Beijing Film Academy, China’s top film academy. She has also worked with renowned Chinese film director, Zhang Yimou. Her first full-length feature film, Singing When We Are Young was released in 2013.

Liu’s film, Lost in Ganga, a movie about love, longing and loss, is a rare Chinese film shot in India. (Other than documentaries, an entire Chinese movie has rarely been shot outside China). Made with a tight budget with schedules in Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Varanasi, it was shot inside forts, on jostling city streets, in the desert and in the ghats and lanes of Varanasi.

Lost.... is a melancholic tale of a Beijing couple, a photographer and his muse, who travel to India to repair their relationship as it falls apart. The storyline is connected to a real encounter Liu had in Varanasi, a city she had visited after her first movie. On its ghats, Liu had had seen, for the first time, burning pyres, red vermillion-smeared temples and tea-sellers who were tellers of myths as well.

“A Chinese couple was staying at the same hotel I was in Varanasi. They had met in Varanasi during an earlier visit, returned to China, got married and returned for their honeymoon,” says Liu as we meet at a chic café in Beijing. “But they were continuously fighting….” Liu decided to make a movie about a journey of love set in India. The film has an Indian actor too. Sandeep Bhojak, a theatre artist, plays a priest to whom the woman protagonist goes to for advice.

“In my film, the woman goes through a dry period in her relationship and then an abundance of desire. So, I needed to show that metaphorically – I needed a place which was dry and then a place with water. Hence, the deserts and forts of Rajasthan and the river in Varanasi,” she explains.

The movie begins at the desert and concludes at the river, Liu says, adding that it was only in India that she would have found the contrast in landscape she was looking for, for her movie.

Director Liu Juan has worked with famed auteur Zhang Yimou. (Photo: Sutirtho Patranobis)

“I really love India,” Liu says. Tagore seemed to be an important reference for her. “A stranger might not like India on the first visit. But the more you stay, the less you want to leave…China’s metros have become like the cities of Europe. In India everything is different. I am attracted to India’s multi-layered culture.”

Lu Xing Chen and Wang Chuanjun, two emerging Chinese actors play the lead roles in Lost... From its inception (including planning and pre-production) to getting the recent nod from the Chinese government to release it by end 2018, the movie took five years to complete. Ironically, it took just a month – October 2017 -- to shoot. The date for the film’s release in India is not known. It is likely to release first in China later this year.

The shooting schedule was an adventure, says Liu and her crew often had to improvise on the sets. Filming a sequence with a snake – hired from a local snake charmer – in a small room was particularly tense, she recollects. Liu’s focus will now be on the India-based documentary and a new feature film set in China. Liu heads back to India later this year to continue work on a long-term documentary on three families from Rajasthan and Bengal whose histories are entwined with and shaped by India’s Partition. A rough-cut of the India documentary created a buzz in Beijing last year.

“With the event also live-streamed on websites including v.qq.com and v.ifeng.com, more than 300,000 people tuned in to watch,” the Global Times tabloid reported about the screening. “I am proud of this movie,” says Liu. “Many Chinese film makers who have seen it found the movie were drawn to its lyrical language,” she says. This lyricism, she says, is inspired by India and Tagore.

First Published: Jun 29, 2018 20:42 IST