In Achal Mishra’s Gamak Ghar, the gradual erasure of a village house that will live forever in the cinema-Entertainment News, Firstpost

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The Mishra movie took me through the lives that have taken place within the four walls of the house – in fact, routine, mundane, lacking in action in every way imaginable. Show life in its ordinary. Almost an antithesis to village life represented in Hindi cinema.

Movies and shows, old and new, have helped us experience them vicariously. They have allowed us to travel far at a time when borders are closed and people are confined to their homes. In our new What’s In A Setting column, we explore the inseparable association of a story with its setting, how the place complements the narrative, and how these cultural windows to the world have helped expand our imaginations.

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I have never had a house in a village or a village to identify as a house. In our mailing address we wrote village – Santragachi (where I grew up), but Santragachi was not really a village. We lived close to Calcutta where we went very often to meet friends and relatives, to shop, to eat or to watch a movie. Santragachi was nothing like the village I had seen in movies or read in literature or heard my friends talk about when discussing their stays in the village where they regularly disappeared during long school vacations. These villages were scattered throughout West Bengal and some in the neighboring states of Odisha and Bihar. From their stories, I borrowed excerpts and conjured up a village in my imagination. This village, however, only included pristine and serene undertones based on the tales I had heard.

I harassed my parents to take me to a village. So they dragged me to relatives in the hinterland of Midnapore or Murshidabad. Long family ties renewed to appease their eldest. It often took us hours to get to our destination after a long train ride, followed by several bus and rickshaw adventures. The long journey added to the thrill of it all. I didn’t realize then how difficult it must be for people living in these pockets to travel to work or study, or why the benefits of development had long eluded these parts of the state and country.

Recently an artist friend told me that she intended to move to the hills with her child and create a community that her child could identify as her own. Cities are impersonal, she thinks. Too big, distant, ephemeral. Almost chimerical in a way. I am tempted not to use the word “invisible” in connection with the city made famous by the writer Italo Calvino. My friend thinks that her child could eventually migrate to a city, in search of education and employment opportunities, but he will always have a place to return – the village. But would he really like to come back? My friend doesn’t know it but she is happy that he has the choice to exercise if he wants to. The village or the village house after all is simply not a point on the map, an accident of geography, or a concrete structure. It is metaphor, memory and intimacy united in one. Perhaps also a refuge and a sort of sanctuary.

When I saw Achal Mishra’s ancestral home in the village of Madhopur (in the Darbhanga district of Bihar) featured in his remarkable first film Maithili, Gamak ghar (2019), it felt like home – a real, inhabited space, not a structure built purely for cinema purposes, an intersection of fiction with reality. Various filmmakers have thought about and presented their homes in films. Pedro Almodovar recreated his on-screen home for the wonderful Pain and Glory (2019). At Chantal Akerman No movie at home (2015) is like a personal video documenting the story of his mother in their apartment in Belgium. Mexican avant-garde filmmaker Carlos Reygadas shot several family scenes at his home in his highly acclaimed film, Tenebras Lux substation (2012). One of Mishra’s major influences, Yasujiro Ozu, presents the house in the most intriguing way in his films. Rohan Shivkumar and Avijit Mukul Kishore Beautiful Villa (2019) reveals the story of a family lived through the architecture of their house.

Gamak ghar shows very little of the village per se as the focus revolves around the house and extended family members coming and going. Perhaps this is the moot point of the film – when does a structure become a house and when does it cease to be?

The Mishra movie took me through the lives that have taken place within the four walls of the house – in fact, routine, mundane, lacking in action in every way imaginable. Show life in its ordinary. Almost an antithesis to village life represented in Hindi cinema.

It didn’t seem for a moment that anyone on the screen was taking action. It helped make the people of the village appear in the film as themselves. The casting involved mostly non-actors, many of whom were facing the camera for the first time in their lives.

As shown in the film, the occupants of the ghar moved away to urban centers in search of opportunities that the village lacked. They built other houses in the towns or villages where they now live – Patna, Delhi, Darbhanga. The matriarch of the house lives between the houses – forever in transit, from son to son. The village house is now only visited on special occasions. Visits are ritualistic, infrequent and gradually cease. Emotional cords released, the former occupants of the ghar have now taken root elsewhere. The village house, however, waits patiently, desperate and neglected.

In Achal Mishras Gamak Ghar the gradual erasure of a village house that will live forever in the cinema

In the foreground of the film, we see a lonely tree, floating clouds, and a winding road. It evokes a certain poetry which is maintained in the film by its gentle rhythm and its beautiful framing using abundant natural light. The following image reveals the gamak ghar (Maithili for village house), and little by little, the camera travels through the different nooks and crannies that make up the house – courtyard, kitchen, windows, terrace, children playing, and finally, the entrance where some men engage in a playing cards. It is revealed to us that a structure becomes a house because of the presence of its occupants and the drama of their lives. As people leave, the structure remains but the heat in the house disappears. In humans, the genesis of the home remains. They are his life givers.

Gamak ghar ends with the demolition of the village house. The demolition process is shown in granular detail. We see people engaged in the act of demolition and hear sounds of wear and tear. There is hardly any dialogue in this part of the film. While they are breaking down the house, they are also demolishing memories. And no amount of talk could explain this loss. After all, central character of the film, the house is falling apart.

In Achal Mishras Gamak Ghar the gradual erasure of a village house that will live forever in the cinema

Maybe a new structure will take its place. The village now has several houses that resemble urban architecture. Its occupants live in cities but prefer to create similar structures in the village by erasing architectural styles or the local language. Achal Mishra’s film documents the erasure of his village home, but also records his life, rituals, occasions, and family reunions through his attempt to recreate past events in the film based on the memories. from his family. The film could be imagined as a visual journal, a journal or a mnemonic device for the filmmaker. It is a work of autobiography in frames. While his gamak ghar perhaps lost, he will live forever in the cinema. The cinema, after all, is also home to Achal and many more.

Kunal Ray is a cultural critic. He teaches literary and cultural studies at FLAME University in Pune.

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Read Part 1 of the What’s In A Setting series here – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the Desperate Outbursts to Greenland and the Himalayas, and the Inventiveness of an Uninitiated Tourist)

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