For Gurivinder Singh, a graduate of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), making his first film was born out of a desire to fill a gap, created by the lack of enough Punjabi films that address grassroots issues. The outcome was “Anhe Ghore da Daan”, Singh’s film based on a novel of the same name by Punjabi writer, Gurdial Singh. The film won awards for direction and cinematography at the 59thNational Film Awards of India. It also had the distinction of being premiered in ‘Orizzonti’ at the 68th Venice international film festival. Furthermore, the film bagged the special Jury award and the $ 50,000 Black Pearl trophy at the Abu Dhabi film festival. It has also been screened at the 55th British Film Institute,London film festival and Busan film festival. And most recently, Anhe Ghore Da Daan (Alms of the Blind Horse) was part of PIFF Toronto, the first Punjabi International Film Festival held in the city. Generation Next had the opportunity to speak to the talented and promising director, Gurvinder Singh. He spoke about his cinematic learning, inspiration and future films.
GN: Share with us your cinematic journey so far.
GS: “Anhe Ghore Da Daan” is my first feature film. Before this, I’ve been making documentaries; I started at the film institute in Pune. My introduction to Punjab and my learning ground in the state was through the documentation of folk ballads of Punjab for four years. I travelled extensively through Punjab, met folk musicians and documented how they narrated folk ballads such as Heer, Sassi, Mirza etc. While doing this, I became convinced that there is no serious cinematic talk in Punjabi. My cinematic learning happened by watching world cinema—the likes of masters such as Felini, Godard, and Tarkovsky. These were filmmakers I related to,and theirs were the kind of films I wanted to make in Punjab. While doing the documentation project, I became familiar with Punjab’s cultural ethos, the language, and the social fabric of Punjab.
My first film is based on a novel by Gurdial Singh, which I had read when I was studying. The novel had left an impression on me, and when I decided to make a film, that’s the first script I wrote.
GN: Do you think there’s more literature in Punjab, waiting to be made into films?
GS: Lots and lots. I already have two more scripts based on literature—my second film is based on two short stories by Waryam Singh Sandhu. Gurdial’s novel, although written in the 1970s, was contemporized by me because the issues it was talking of are still relevant. Waryam’s stories are based in the 1980s, during the turbulent phase of militancy in Punjab, so for that, I’ll have to stick to that period. Waryam Singh is, of course, a contemporary writer and possibly the best short story writer in Punjabi. It’s great that he’s still living and in Toronto right now.
GN: What distinguishes “Anhe Ghore Da Daan” from other contemporary Punjabi films?
GS: Firstly, it depicts the lives of a class which hasn’t been depicted before in Punjabi films; it might have been at the periphery, but a head-on engagement has never happened with the struggles of the low caste. Mostly, the films talk about Jats and Jat issues, but even then they aren’t too grounded in reality. This film is very grounded, culture specific, language specific.
GN:Did you expect the film would receive so much of international adulation?
GS: When you’re making the film you don’t think of it, but yes, as it slowly takes shape, you know that something exciting is happening. When it was selected for the Venice Film Festival, that was a big breakthrough, which opened the doors to many other festivals.
GN: Do you think this will encourage other Punjabi filmmakers to make similar films?
GS: If not similar films, then at least their own kind of films. Right now what people are making is just about aping a certain kind of cinema, which came out of Bollywood…they are all interested in making a preconceived image that they have seen in films before and which they feel will help them make money. They look at it as a commercial venture, which will yield them immediate returns. But a film isn’t like a bottle of Coke; any art has a long shelf life, and its relevance isn’t just for the time when it’s made but for many years to come.
GN: How do you feel about the film being a part of PIFF?
GS: PIFF is a new experience for me because so far I’ve been showing the film in various festivals where the audience has been primarily European or in Korea, Hong Kong…the audience was localized from those countries. For the first time it’s showing in a festival where the audience is primarily Punjabi. So yeah, I am enjoying.
GN: What other subjects would you like to tackle in your future films?
GS: As I said my next film is about the phase of militancy in Punjab—about how the common man was caught between the militant movement and the security forces and how their day-to-day lives became difficult; life almost came to a standstill during that period. I would love to make a film outside of Punjab—in Canada or UK, where there’s a significant Punjabi population, which was also the reason for my interest to come to Toronto.
GN: Who are your inspirations in the cinema world?
GS: I was very close to Mani Kaul; he was my Ustaad—I was with him for six years. As a teacher he was a brilliant person, and his cinema was something with which I could identify. When we were studying, the Iranian wave was happening. People like Abbas Kiarostamiand Mohsen Makhmalbaafwere making good films. These films were coming fresh from Iran, and they left a strong influence on me. The way Kiarostami used non actors was something which hasn’t left me. And that’s what I tried in my first film.