The average cinema viewer subconsciously tries to find some kind of identification with the film he/she is watching as more often than not, this places them in a comfort zone to get lost in the film’s narrative flow. But Anamika Haksar’s striking directorial debut, after more than 40 years in theatre, at the relatively young age of 59, Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Jaa Riya Hoon, distances one from any kind of identification because it opens the underbelly of an old world you may have heard of, but not really experienced its intricacies in real life.
In Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Jaa Riya Hoon, the glimpses of Shahjahanabad in Purani Dilli (Old Delhi), which forms the setting of the story shot entirely in real locations, is nowhere near what one has seen in Indian cinema for some time now. The structure and treatment of film itself is also something one sees rarely – a mixture of non-linear fiction coupled with documentary-style cinematography and surreal, fantasy-filled animated visuals. Haksar has rounded up 400 bit players picked from the neighbourhood with the exception of a few professional actors drawn from theatre and cinema. Characters that add meaning and dimension to the narrative, formed like a collage of stories, plots, images and dreams, are – a pickpocket, an Urdu-speaking tour guide who calls himself Akash Jain, a loader and a street food hawker. Except the tour guide, the others sometimes flit and float through other occupations such as the pickpocket trying to conduct a tour in the ‘open sky shopping mall’ with unsuspecting foreign tourists, confusing them with his pidgin English and the street food hawker who keeps his sorrows to himself and sometimes becomes a band musician for a band. The loader has been thrown out of his job but often waves the red flag of the Left and no one really knows why.
This medley of another-world characters sometimes remind you of the crowd of beggars in Luis Bunuel’s Viridiana (1951). In Bunuel’s masterpiece, a young woman and her cousin get involved with a bunch of beggars, who, faced with opulence, become a degenerate group, totally out of control. The difference between these beggars and the characters in Haksar’s film lies in that these people, who we think live in the margins, do not feel that way about themselves at all. They know they live in a no-exit situation but it is not as though they are looking for an exit point at all. “They threw me out of my job”, the solemn-faced loader says directly into the camera. “Let us also begin our own walk-around tour like Akash Jain”, says the young pickpocket as he takes his clients around the slums and the bylanes and the squalor that is an apology for a way of life for any average Indian. Akash Jain is very angry when he discovers that this guy is ‘stealing’ his business but the youngster (Ravindra Sahu) is nonchalant about doing so.
The complex treatment of viewer identification with the story, plot and characters involves not just a blend of different and often conflicting points of view but also in the presentation of individual points of view in a more critical and contradictory manner. The camera keeps moving constantly as it closes up on clogged drains, or a girl sleeping on a huge waste land filled with white, blue and black plastic waste bags where we see her dreaming about mothers of growing daughters feeding them with delicacies. This while the visuals overlap with black snakes in animation crawling right across the screen. We are witness to men fast asleep in every available corner and crevice under the open – vans, on the steps of a temporary barsati that can collapse any minute and the camera as if pokes fun at a suddenly animated figure of Goddess Lakshmi. The irony is subtle yet lucid. Is the Goddess making fun of the dreams of these slum dwellers? Or, is she really appearing in the dreams of these people? In a telling moment, the corner of the red Communist flag comes and hits her in the face. She looks irritated at first and then goes back to her benign smile.
The flow of the film is anything but linear so admittedly, it does get confusing from time to time. But once one warms up to the goings-on and enters the unique world of the film, Ghode Ko Jalei Khilane Jaa Riya Hoon offers many pleasant surprises and proves to be a rewarding watch overall. Haksar says that the actual shooting in real locations was backed with several years of field research where two members of her team carried structured questionnaires to the actual location but did not film these on-camera, only recorded them aurally. Haksar then worked on the transcripts of these interviews, adding in dialogue and other elements. Besides this, one of the actors who is also involved with a NGO spoke to the locals, who were totally unprofessional, to train them in a ten-day workshop.
The film tries to explore not just the faces and lives of the poor, the homeless, the marginal and the oppressed who try to cherish their dreams within that debris of life but also insistently, even stubbornly keeps probing into their inner dreams which enriches the visual quality of the film with corpses floating in suspension, carpets flying through the air, and imaginary kites dotting the beautiful yellow sky with a silhouetted line of people walking across a crowd of terraces of buildings in the distance. This becomes a repeated metaphor of their unrealised dreams and their way of accepting the reality of their existence. “This, also, is Life”, is the invisible sentence that runs like an undercurrent just beneath the surface of the film.
Hindi, Urdu, Color