Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Road to Tumbbad - Interview with co-director Adesh Prasad

 "One does not simply walk into Tumbbad"

Tolkien didn't say that, but if he had been alive to see Tumbbad, he probably would have. Made by people with genuine regard for the genre, and a willingness to sacrifice all for the sake of the project, it is one of the finest entries in Indian horror cinema, one that has received accolades across the world. The road to Tumbbad was a long and rocky one. In this detailed freewheeling interview with yours truly, co-director Adesh Prasad gives a glimpse into the troubled production and behind-the-scenes chaos.

Interview conducted on behalf of Bollywood Crypt:

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Friday, May 14, 2021

Meel Patthar aka MIlestone [dir. Ivan Ayr]

Meel Patthar (Milestone) is not in the same league as Ivan Ayr's preceding venture Soni. Unlike that film's more universal concerns of how the world treats its women and how people in power forget the basic tenets of decency towards a fellow being, Milestone seems to struggle to find an inner core that would translate to an audience.

The protagonist Ghalib
(I'm sure some thought went into that name) is a veteran trucker. Ghalib swerves from the more sordid hard-drinking abusive stereotype of truck drivers - he reminds me of Travis Bickle in the early sections of Taxi Driver, before he goes full bore. Like Sanjeev Kumar's trucker in Gulzar's Namkeen, Ghalib is literate and sensitive, if also numbed by a life whose only constant is the dull rumble of the wheels under him. He has little consciousness outside of when he is driving, especially in the wake of his wife's suicide, a death he doesn't really understand. Ghalib is more intimate with the moods of his vehicle than of the woman he shared a house with, but that is to be expected, considering he spent a lot more time with one than the other.

Using Ghalib as our conduit, the film looks at different aspects of the transport business, the tough conditions all the working people face: When the laborers strike, truckers must bust their own ass to load the goods (but the laborers are not the villains here, they're fighting their own battle for a minimum wage). Aging drivers get unceremoniously shunted out in favor of fresh blood more willing to compromise. Ayr is of course too restrained to make this a piece of shrill social activism (no references to the multiple uses of truck apprentices, either) and Milestone remains mostly a personal tale.

There are some beautiful segments, like when Ghalib tries to bribe his new assistant to quit ("Because if you don't leave your job, I'll lose mine") or when his Kashmiri neighbor commiserates about his wife's passing. This is another interesting aspect of the film - it shows people of different cultures coming into the melting pot that is cosmopolitan India. Ghalib's own shift from his village to a tiny flat in the city occured on his wife's insistence - perhaps as a Sikkimese away from her native state, she felt more comfortable in the generic urban milieu than in the strongly Punjabi ambience of Ghalib's hometown? He sees it as a sacrifice indicative of the love and respect he had for his wife, but perhaps it was not enough to allay her loneliness during his long trips away.

All this is good, but perhaps Ghalib is too stoic a character for his deeper sentiments to register (even if in that vein he is expressively portrayed by Suvinder Vicky). Rarely did I feel the sort of emotional wash from Soni, which presented its protagonists in a manner that was both accessible and deeply felt. A conversation between two truckers about altruism and self-interest feels inserted rather than organic. Milestone fades out in a non-sequitur with an almost MR James-esque element, more puzzling than rewarding. But it's still worth checking out as a film in the grand old Indian arthouse tradition; I suspect a Mr. Mani Kaul must be smiling up there.