Set in the Himalayas, debutant filmmaker Ridham Janve tells us about the pitfalls and advantages…
SHOOTING a film a few thousand metres up a mountain in India isn’t the easiest proposition – but director Ridham Janve’s came through it to produce a film of power and simplicity.
There were also huge challenges in working with a non-professional cast in ‘The gold-laden sheep and the sacred mountain’ (TGLSATSM).
Indeed, Janve revealed at the film’s last screening at the London Film Festival (LFF) earlier this month (October 8) that he was close to giving up on this aspect of the project.
“Nothing was working – we’d seen a lot of people and we were thinking about getting a professional actor, but then we were waiting by a lake and this last shepherd came by – it had taken two days to get there…he is the shepherd in the film.”
A grand job the shepherd does too – and Janve’s film is all about the mysterious ways of the mountain.
On the surface it’s a simple story – it’s reported in the film that a plane has crashed somewhere over the mountains and there is a bounty that goes with finding it.
The shepherd and his assistant and others are seemingly all in search of the wreck and the film chronicles their journey.
That is the plot as it were – at another level, Janve’s film is a deep meditation on man, landscape, culture and belief, myths, stories and pastoral communities.
Shot in Himachal Pradesh and not too far from Dharamshala, the exiled home of the Dalai Lama and his people, the terrain is harsh and mostly inhospitable, but it does have its compensations and Janve’s film gives worthy expression to this too.
“The first half of the film is very documentary-like and then slowly as these people enter the sacred spaces, the landscape starts to turn into a mindscape – basically of their own imaginations,” Janve told us at a Directors’ Tea at LFF and in between the two London screenings of his film.
It’s perhaps not as esoteric or abstract as all that – Janve focuses initially on the spiky relationship between the shepherd and his assistant.
The decision to work with non-professionals was very deliberate.
“They are either playing themselves or a fictional version of their real characters. The shepherd has been one since he was 11 and is now about 60 – he spent all his life in the mountains and is like a living encyclopaedia.”
There are other characters and the film does have dramatic developments – it isn’t simply a landscape and soul sort of film. Janve describes it as ‘ethno-sci-fi’ but it’s more ethnic than high-tech.
Part of the inspiration to make it came from the people who inhabit the area and whom Janve and co-writer Akshay Singh had befriended on their many writing sojourns in these mountains – away from their commercial film work in Mumbai and other parts of India.
“The Gaddi people are a pastoral community and have a unique way of life – their lives really revolve around the mountains and there are a lot of stories and myths in their culture,” explained the director who studied filmmaking alongside Design, while at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad.
TGLSATSM didn’t take a lot to put together in terms of the story.
“We choose not to write a script and working with non-professionals we wanted the process to be organic,” added the Udaipur-raised filmmaker who is now based in Goa.
They also collected funds for the film organically (if we can put it like that) – and also from friends and family and as well as putting their own money towards it, as hired filmmakers and getting some cash from Indian indie icon director Anurag Kashyap who liked an early rough cut enough to help them complete their work.
His backing has been borne out – it won an award at last year’s Mami (Mumbai Film Festival) and has been on the international festival trail ever since.
For Janve, there’s a tremendous sense of achievement from what was an idea that gathered momentum and has now very firmly set him on a path as a filmmaker.
“Yes, it was really cold and the weather was very unpredictable,” responded Janve to a question about the physical challenges of filming.
“It rained and we could not shoot because our camera batteries were solar powered and there was no sun. There was a minimal crew and we had to train people behind the camera (as well as coach them in front of it),” he revealed.
It may have been modestly assembled but the result is a reminder that films don’t have to be preachy or obvious to show that we have all dreams and sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.