Former BBC Journalist Lalit Mohan Joshi tells us about a very personal documentary he has made…
DEEPLY personal and heartfelt – and showcasing the undoubted beauty of the surrounding landscape, ‘Angwal’ is an ode to a culture and region of the Himalayas few even in North India know too much about.
Made by former London-based BBC World Service journalist Lalit Mohan Joshi, his film is about a language and a poetic culture that has been obscured by its larger and much better-known cousins, Hindi and Urdu – which are mutually intelligible in spoken form.
“‘Angwal’ – means to embrace with warmth and affection – it’s actually a Kumaoni word and it’s a dialect of Hindi and spoken in the Himalayan region of Uttarakhand state,” explained Joshi to www.asianculturevulture.com.
Kumaoni is Joshi’s mother tongue and its vibrancy and elan emanated from a rich seam of poetry and music – which the 74-minute documentary explores lovingly and very vividly.
The film shot in 2019 has been in the making since and enjoys a formal public world premiere at the BFI Southbank on Monday (August 7).
With well-established Bollywood cinematographer Rangoli Agarwal helming visually, Joshi returns to the region known as Kumaon and his ancestral home.
He is descended from a line of poets and plots the development of the poetry and culture through his family going back at least three generations.
Joshi left India in 1988 to take up his role at the BBC here in London, and while he has been back to the area, he had not ever explored its cultural history.
In the documentary, which is part personal journey, part cultural exploration, he meets not only members of his own family but other prominent artists and cultural historians who offer further insights into how the poetic culture of the region differed from other parts of India.
“I wanted to go back to the roots of my maternal uncles and why they wanted to write poetry and it soon broadened out into an appreciation of the wider culture and music of the region,” Joshi told acv.
‘Angwal’ is interspersed with beautiful lines of poetry and has touching and affecting music arranged by Chandrasekhar Tewari and Harish Chandra Pant and on one of the vocal tracks, his British-born daughter, Uttara Sukanya Joshi, also sings.
With the images of Himalayan foothills and gentle streams in the background and the dulcet tones of Kumaoni, both in spoken word and song foregrounded, the film has a poetic tone of its own.
Unlike Urdu poetry, which is often popularly about love and/or the divine, Kumaoni deals much more with the landscape and natural life.
“Kumaoni also deals with social issues – such as deforestation and migration,” noted Joshi.
Some of the poetry as the film depicts, also railed against British rule and there is a strong flavour of independence running through some of the early 20th century poetry, as Joshi shows.
More recent local poetry laments migration and touches on environmental issues such as deforestation.
“Migration is a strong undercurrent in my documentary,” Joshi revealed to acv. “Kumaon has been denuded and abandoned by people in search of jobs and education – many leave the area and forget about the region.”
Joshi lived the first seven years of his life in Kumaon before going to Lucknow, where his father was transferred as a civil servant. Joshi himself attended the University of Allahabad and then went to work for a local radio station and then developed his career in journalism and broadcasting.
The filmmaker specialised in the Indian film industry in his later years with the BBC, compiling one of the most comprehensive radio documentaries about the history of Bollywood and Indian cinema.
He said that many people especially when they leave the area shake lose Kumaoni.
“There is an inferiority complex – but there was a sense of superiority for me – and I don’t say that with arrogance, but with humility and pride.
“It has always been a part of my identity and I wanted to make a film about Kumaoni and now I have.”
Two prominent figures – Gulzar, one of India’s best known poets and lyricists, and indie filmmaking icon Shyam Benegal – have both praised the film, noting its own poetry and beauty.
Benegal said: ‘Angwal’ is a loving ode to the Kumaon region of the Himalayas which Lalit Mohan Joshi and his ancestors can rightly claim as their own.”
Angwal, Monday, August 7, 11am – BFI Southbank, Belevedere Road, London SE1 8XT.
Info/tickets (sold out – check box office at venue also) Info/tickets: here