Mr. Dinesh Lakhanpal is an award winning director, produce, screenplay writer, dialogue writer, creative consultant, creative writer, and a recipient of multiple national and international awards. As a creative person, he dons multiple hats and has been associated with feature films like Antaheen Sparsh, Cashme Badoor, Agneedaan. His body of work also includes some thought provoking documentaries like Tana Bana, Jeena Yahan Marna Yahan, From Green to Evergreen Revolution, Safaed Gulab, Kashmir: Daur -E-Tabdeeliyan, From Despair to Hope, etc to name a few.
He has represented India in various international forums. As a journalist and a social activist, he is extremely passionate about his craft and has been making films that are relevant from the perspective of society and film fraternity. He has his own media firm known as Argora Films & Media Inc. in the dream city of India, Mumbai. He possesses deep knowledge about various subjects ranging from food, hunger, art, literature, socio-economic factors, socio-political factors and also some biographical work on some leading Indian personalities.
He was the Former Vice-President and a Member of the Indian Film Directors Association (IFDA now known as IFTDA) in Mumbai and served on its Executive Committee for many years. He’s a member of the Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association, and the Indian Film Writers Association in Mumbai. He’s the Editorial Consultant of Gfiles inside the government, an English monthly on governance, published from New Delhi. He is also the Editorial Consultant of Bollywoodtoday.in, a web-magazine on cinema and television industry. He is a trustee of Daya Memorial Charitable Trust, the parent body of the Hygeia Hospital in Munirka, New Delhi. He has been a representative for India at the World Media Festival in Hamburg, Germany. He was also a Director of the Asia-Pacific region in the World Federation of Inter-cultural Journalists.
This interview with Mr. Dinesh Lakhanpal is about his documentary,The Wounded Souls of the Rann, a film about the traditional salt farmers of the Little Rann of Kutch, for PSBT in collaboration with Doordarshan. The film premiered at OPEN FRAME FILM FESTIVAL, IIC, in New Delhi during 20-24, 2019. It was also an Official Selection at the Mumbai International Film Festival during Jan 28-Feb 3, 2020 in Mumbai, India. In case you missed it, here’s our review of the documentary.
What inspired you to take up this challenging project?
Around 20 years back, I had been to Kutch for another project. That was my first exposure towards what practically happens in Kutch. Though I had read about it, but I had never visited that part. Post my return from Kutch, I wanted to make something on that part of India and I approached few agencies for support but didn’t receive approval.
However in 2017, PSBT (Public Service Broadcasting Trust) approved my film. I got in touch with my friends in Kutch, Ahmadabad to understand the changes that had taken place in the past 20 years. The response was that the situation has in fact deteriorated. On receiving the approval from PSBT, I delved into the subject.
What kind of research and preparation went into the making of this film?
Before submitting the film to PSBT, I got in touch with my friend in Ahmadabad, Mr. Kamlesh Udasi, who is also a filmmaker and another friend in Bhuj, Mr. Pankaj Shah and discussed this subject with them as I knew them from my previous projects.
Mr. Kamlesh Udasi connected me to Agariya Heet Rakshak Manch(AHRM), a NGO. With the help of this NGO, we could connect with the locals to gather information. Mr. Harinesh Bhai Pandaya, Founder and Trustee of Agariya Heet Rakshak Manch, he is associated with RTI, through him I got in touch with people working in Kutch. It is important to gain their trust and confidence as I am not the only filmmaker approaching them, their support is invaluable, and they opened all doors for me and allowed me to interview the concerned stakeholders.
The film has been shot in extreme weather conditions, how did your team prepare themselves to shoot in extensive heat?
There are members with whom I had been associated for the past 20 years, in fact at that point of time, we were working on 2 films simultaneously, one was being shot in Kashmir where the temperature would drop below zero degree and then we would come to Kutch and shoot in 50 degree temperature. Both the films were under production for 2 years as we had to capture all the seasons.
When you are dealing with professionals, one doesn’t face any problem as mutual trust is developed. Human resource is not a problem, we face challenges with equipments, for example in extreme heat the camera stops functioning. However as human beings we are great at adapting to all kinds of situation.
While shooting with the Agariyas, how was the overall experience? Did you face any kind of resistance?
We had clearly told them the film requires depiction of their lives for 1 whole year, they were extremely cooperative. We shot at midnights, before sunrise, during afternoons when they were asleep; the entire process of capturing their daily lives was done without any hurdle. We were constantly following their moves in order to get a better insight of their struggles as salt workers. The intent was to capture the situations faced by them as sincerely as possible. I wish I had more resources but I did my best with whatever was available to me at that point of time. There is nothing “artificial” or “manufactured” in that film, everything that has been captured took place on ground and in reality. There is nothing that can be termed fictional.
There would have been difficulties in arranging meetings with concerned officers of organizations who are directly part of the Salt Industry in Kutch, can you please tell us about those challenges?
We wanted to meet the Salt Commissioner to take his inputs but he refused to meet us for reasons unknown to us. He would agree to meet us on a condition only if we had a business proposition for him, same has been mentioned in the film as well. I don’t intend to insult or demean anybody but he refused to meet us in spite of us pursuing him relentlessly and more unfortunate was the fact that he had never visited the Agariya community.
However we continued our filming, over a period of 2 years. I had made 17 trips to Kutch because we wanted to capture each and every season, every time we visited Kutch we had something new to learn, our canvas was getting stretched. The intent was to make a film without compromising on the quality but at the same time ensuring that it doesn’t become loaded with unnecessary emotions.
While you started working on the film, did you have any specific audience in mind?
For me everybody is my audience, this country is my audience; whoever feels a little concerned about the Agariyas about the condition that they live in is my audience. Definitely the emphasis will be on administrators, higher officials who can bring positive change in the lives of the Agariyas, having said that everybody needs to be aware of the food we eat, the water we drink, what efforts goes into bringing that to our table.
This is how the mentality of the people will change for better. One of the well known editor of our country, Mr. Lenin had watched my film, after watching the film he was in tears and hugged me saying that we all are “Namak Harams” as we take something as basic as salt for granted. All the schools and colleges should screen this film so that they understand the supply chain process that goes behind these commodities and how as a consumer we should be responsible for our actions.
Where all has been your film screened? As a film maker do you feel you have done justice to this chosen topic of yours?
It was telecasted on Doordarshan and was Official Selection: SEOUL INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, 20-26 September, 2019. Semi-Finalist, New Harvest International Film Festival Moscow, 2019. Official Selection – INDEPENDENT SHORTS AWARDS, HOLLYWOOD, LOS ANGELES, USA. Official Selection: EURASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, MOSCOW.)
Salt making is an ancient process, it is as old as 600 years and nearly 70% of the salt produced in India is made in Gujarat and more than 40% of that in the Rann of Kutch by the Agariyas. With all the resources I had, I don’t think that I have failed, but given an opportunity I would redo the entire film in a different manner because in the process of filming I learnt a lot about the subject so as a filmmaker I feel there is further scope of improvement.
You must have faced multiple changes while creating this film, did you ever feel like shelving this project?
No, not at all. Giving up was not an option as there was cooperation from the concerned people. Yes, the limited resources was a challenge, and I wish we would add some more footage but there was time limitation and budget constraints.
We could have presented a truncated version of the entire project but that would have defeated the entire purpose of making this film. It took me 17 visits to Kutch because we wanted to devote 1 year to this film so that on a daily and monthly basis we are able to capture the various stages of salt preparation.
You have been part of this industry for the past 20 years, as a filmmaker what changes have you noticed in these years? Are documentary filmmakers more inclined towards commercial cinema nowadays?
Unfortunately, for documentary films there is not even a dedicated slot of 30 minutes but there are filmmakers who relentlessly follow their passion of making documentaries. The younger generation is coming up with interesting subjects and technology has grown with leaps and bound because when I had shot my first film on Chipko Movement, we had to go around the Garhwal region carrying camera equipments that used to weigh almost 10kgs where as nowadays with a smartphone, one can create wonders.
The upgradation of technology is a boon for youngsters and there is tremendous exposure as films are crossing regional boundaries and are going global. The younger generation is picking up challenging subjects and the competition has also become cut throat. There are film makers who are ready to cut corners just because survival is very crucial in this small market of documentaries. As a result of which the entire domain suffers in terms of cost and quality.
Documentaries in general don’t have a mass appeal as it is not prepared from a commercial view point. What can be done to increase the market share of documentaries?
There has to be a dedicated channel only for documentaries with free access on any topic- be it cultural, spiritual, travel and tourism etc. A committee of senior filmmakers with vast film making experience and knowledge should be formed; they will be responsible to assign film topics and allocate funds on those topics to the concerned filmmaker. There has to be a mechanism in place which keeps an eye on the way the funds are utilized by each filmmaker.
However, there are people who are passionate about film making irrespective of any available support. For some, it is a stepping stone to enter the world of movie making.
Please let us know about your upcoming projects? And what thought goes behind picking up a subject for a film?
- TOSA MAIDAAN – a film on one of the most prosperous and yet unexplored landscape in Kashmir, which has in recent past been evacuated by the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force from being a firing range for five decades.
- The Centre for Nano Science and Nano Technology, University of Mumbai – a short film, under production.
- FROM GREEN TO EVERGREEN REVOLUTION – a film on the Human quest to end Global Hunger, in collaboration with M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, India.
- THE LIFE MOSAIC – a global 13/26 part television series on the Spiritual and Cultural Values of Biodiversity.
- EK MEERA AUR (Yet Another Meera ) – A feature. film, based on the true life story of an illiterate Mumbai slum girl who being HIV positive and having lost her husband and a daughter ( because of AIDS ) rises like a phoenix against a certain death.
- JEENA YAHAN MARNA YAHAN (We’ll live here, die here) – a 26 part series for a private satellite channel, socio-comical drama depicting the day to day life of ordinary middle class Indians and their ability to face the crisis together even with different cultural and religious backgrounds.
Some of these films are in the final stages of completion and some are under various stages of production.
As a filmmaker, the topic should fascinate me to that extent that I become keen to invest my time, energy, money and resources. With experience you come to know whether a topic needs to be highlighted or not. It is important to check whether any other filmmaker has attempted to make such a film in the past. There are many documentaries on Agariyas but nobody had filmed them for one year the way it was done for my films. One has to keep scouting for interesting subjects and home work needs to be done.
Documentary film making is a challenging field with innumerable struggles. Do you have any message to give to the upcoming and young filmmakers?
There might be an element of glamour initially but eventually it is a tough road and one has to be sincere and unbiased in portraying the subject that is being chosen. Without being prejudiced, you have to present the angle that you have focused on, your point of view as filmmaker should be devoid of any personal opinions, and the subject matter should not be manipulated to suit the sensibilities of the film maker. As a documentary filmmaker, one should ensure that the commercial aspect should not impact the essence and soul of the film only then will it have its impact and will lead to making of a successful documentary.
With a Post Graduate in Marketing Management, and 14 years of corporate experience in General Insurance domain, Antara is based out of Delhi and shuttles across India for her work commitments. In order to pursue her higher education, she left home at the tender age of 16 and has stayed in different cities of India, allowing her to meet people from different backgrounds. As a voracious reader, traveller, and orator, Antara has always found the art of writing extremely therapeutic as it helps her channel her inner energy about various social issues.