I MAKE REGIONAL CINEMA THAT RESONATES WITH GLOBAL AUDIENCES: DISHA BHARDWAJby Vinta Nanda October 13 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 7 mins, 3 secs
Vinta Nanda gets in conversation with Disha Bhardwaj, a young filmmaker, whose first film Chupi Roh is selected to screen at the Tasveer South Asian Film Festival 2023.
Chupi Roh is written and directed by Disha Bhardwaj. It's the first production of Eiya Films P. Ltd., a recently established film production company founded by Disha. Interestingly, it is outside the so-called capitals of filmdom (Mumbai, Chennai etc.) and is nestled in the village of Nirmand, District Kullu, Himachal Pradesh.
The film is about a family of three, Leela Raju and their son, Abbu. They live in a small beautiful village deep in the Himalayas. Abbu is struggling with gender identity while Raju is stricken by loss and failure. Amid these problems, Leela tries to find a way to deal with everything to the best she can.
When I asked Disha Bhardwaj about the film, this writer, director said, “Chupi Roh explores how all humans are individuals in themselves. They have their own struggles but quite often than not these struggles get entangled with the people they love, thereby forming a cobweb of dangerous patterns. While the struggle continues, Chupi Roh celebrates identity, acceptance and resilience”.
I go on with my questions, because I’m intrigued by this young filmmaker and writer, who speaks to the world from the place that she belongs to, through her films about people and the complexities of their lives.
Over to Disha then…
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, and your impressions of the LGBTQA+ issues while you were growing up?
I am an independent filmmaker. I am also the founder of Eiya Films Pvt. Ltd., a film production company and Chupi Roh is its first production, which I’m really proud of. I belong to Nirmand, a northern village in the lap of the lower Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh, India.
I was brought up in Shimla, and honestly, there wasn't much awareness about LGBTQIA+ issues in my surroundings - just a few instances I can recount when I witnessed people getting bullied because they were a little different. As a teenager, I remember standing up to bullies because I knew it was not right, but I never understood the gravity of the issues LGBTQIA communities face, back then. I became more aware of them after I moved out of Himachal Pradesh for higher education.
What was the driving factor for you to become a filmmaker, and give us a view of your journey while you were becoming one?
Ever since I was a kid, I used to write poems and stories. I never thought I would become a filmmaker. I come from a simple middle-class family of government employees; no one I knew was in the film and media industry. Initially, I was inclined towards journalism, so I pursued a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication Theory from the Panjab University, only to realize this wasn't for me.
What I was certain about was that I enjoyed storytelling. I was still trying to find the medium through which I would like to tell my stories. I took a gap year and did a few offbeat courses like Photography and Mountaineering. I travelled a lot, which helped me understand myself better, and at the same time, I worked as a freelance content writer. After the gap year, I learned about this audio-visual specialization under Mass Communication at Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication, Pune. Once I got in, I discovered so many possibilities for my future.
Even though it was not a film school, filmmaking was one part of our curriculum, and that is where I found my path. I worked with multiple production houses in the film and television industry. Soon after that, I started working as a Freelancer.
I felt nothing could stop me - and then COVID hit. Back then, I was at my village in Nirmand, and there was no way I could work. So, I turned to what I knew best. I started writing. That is when I developed Chupi Roh, and now the film has its world premiere at TSAFF. It has been one hell of a ride.
Is Chupi Roh your first film? If not, please tell us about your other works. And if yes, how are you feeling on the eve of your premiere at TSAFF?
Chupi Roh is my first independent film. A film titled 'Shut Up' was my dissertation film in SIMC, Pune, which was my first film – it was produced by SIMC. Currently, the film is on several digital platforms like MXPlayer, Hungama Play and other streaming services. My team and I are thrilled and honoured to have Chupi Roh's World Premiere at TSAFF. It's a significant milestone for us.
Why did you make Chupi Roh? And what was the process like?
I am fascinated by the intricate realms of interpersonal relationships. Being an ally, I strongly feel about LGBTQIA+ issues. During COVID, I spent a lot of my time in my village. I started to tell my parents about things I had learned, and shared my experiences with them. One particular conversation with my mother inspired me to write Chupi Roh. Later that year, I developed Chupi Roh's script in a screenwriting fellowship with Film Independent's Global Media Makers, collaborating with the Dharamshala International Film Festival in 2021.
Once I locked the script, I had a producer on board, but it didn't work out. I was determined to make this film even if I had to do it on my own. I started scouting for locations with the help of my father Mr. Karam Dutt Bhardwaj, and simultaneously reached out to people I know for collaboration. I reached out to a friend, a renowned cinematographer, Salu K Thomas, who got on board. Things just started to fall into place after that.
I faced many challenges, one after the other, but I didn't stop. Choosing to shoot the film in local locations, and in the dialect of Nirmand was a deliberate decision because it stems from a deep-rooted connection to my Pahari culture. I wanted to explore the nuances of life in such rural spaces.
The cast, Palvi Jaswal, Vaibhav Sharma and Navendu, came together for the love of this film and craft from different spaces. Vaibhav, who plays Abbu, was selected from more than fifty children that I had auditioned. I took an acting workshop of eight children to make them comfortable with the acting process since none of them had any experience in front of a camera.
It was not easy for me to shoot a film in a remote village. It was a logistical nightmare, but I had the best support system, especially my eldest sister, Anchal Bhardwaj. I could not have pulled it off without her. It was the best set I have ever worked on because everyone did everything. It was a beg, borrow and steal (from my parent’s old possessions) situation. It was a small unit but a strong one. Post-production took place in Mumbai, where I worked with my talented editor, Divyashree Samantaray. We spent almost half a year on post since there was a lot of back and forth and travelling involved, from Himachal to Mumbai. The entire process has been enriching and a great learning experience for me.
What are the many things you're planning to do after this?
I am currently working on a documentary centred around the age-old cultural traditions and why they exist along with the changing times, sometimes also vanishing. It's work in progress at the moment, and I'm hoping to find a collaboration for it. Also, I have started to work on a new draft for a feature script called Laddoo that I developed at a screenwriting workshop.
I believe in the untapped potential and extraordinary talent that the youth of Himachal Pradesh possess. I want to make regional films that not only celebrate the local essence but also have the power to resonate with audiences globally.
Give a message to your fellow filmmakers at TSAFF.
I extend my heartfelt congratulations to all fellow filmmakers for having their films in this esteemed Oscar-qualifying film festival, TSAFF 23. It is truly an honour to be in the company of such powerful and artful voices representing South Asia and its diaspora.
The link to Tasveer page of the film is below:
Book your ticket right away!