Ojapali, which is an ancient and dying artform of Assam, seemed like an interesting way to tell my story. Eventually, I wanted to just make the film with Ojapali as background music, but as I dug deeper, I started feeling Ojapali was much more than just music, and thus it became the core of the treatment of the film
Maharshi Tuhin Kashyap was born and brought up in Guwahati and his interest in filmmaking came from his love for theatre. Since he was in the fourth standard he has been into children's theatre. The news of Slumdog Millionaire (2008) winning multiple Academy Awards instilled in him the firm resolution to become a filmmaker one day.
During his graduation days, he met a bunch of friends who also wanted to make films or work in them; but they lacked exposure. The advent of digital equipment within the domain of filmmaking gave them access to DSLRs and editing software.
Armed with such facilities, Maharishi and his friends formed a group called Deuka Films and began making short, no-budget films. Some of the members of this group include names like Bishal Sarmah and Vishal P Chaliha- whose feature film Sijou is a part of the Indian Panorama section at the 52nd International Film Festival of India (IFFI), 2021.
In conversation with Dipankar Sarkar, Maharshi Tuhin Kashyap speaks in detail about his journey as a filmmaker.
Dipankar Sarkar: What motivated you to take admission in the film direction course at the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute of India?
Maharshi Tuhin Kashyap: I don’t know exactly, but it was a chain of events and motivation that eventually made me sure about going to a film school very early in my life. Most of my life decisions were dependent on the fact that I would one day go to a film school.
Given that studying filmmaking is expensive, the humble background I belonged to could only afford a government institute, so I always wanted to be in FTII or SRFTI. But the idea of being in SRFTI was very different from what it is now. The space has completely changed my perception of life and cinema. I feel SRFTI gave me a sense of my self-existence.
Dipankar Sarkar: How did the idea and treatment for the short film Mur Ghurar Duronto Goti occur to you?
Maharshi Tuhin Kashyap: Mur Ghurar Duronto Goti (The Horse From Heaven, 2021) is a film about a man who keeps telling the stories of his horse to whomever he comes across. This idea came to me when I met this unusual man at my grandmother’s funeral. As my grandmother was being cremated, this man sat beside me and kept talking about his amazing horse. This left me wondering: what if the horse this man has is not a horse, but a donkey?
In my story, there was a storyteller who would tell great stories about his horse. Ojapali, which is an ancient and dying artform of Assam, seemed like an interesting way to tell my story. Eventually, I wanted to just make the film with Ojapali as background music, but as I dug deeper, I started feeling Ojapali was much more than just music, and thus it became the core of the treatment of the film.
Like in Ojapali, everything in the film seemed grand. The songs, dances, and humour of Ojapali inspired the consciousness of the film that was growing inside me. The timeless nature of Ojapali, in which the performers frequently contemporise the grand mythical characters as someone from the village in which they are performing. The humour carries forward the expression in Ojapali. All these qualities of Ojapali evoked a sense in the expression I was trying to express. Although I feel I know very little about Ojapali, this is what I felt about the form and wanted to translate it into the cinema form.
Dipankar Sarkar: Tell us about how you structured your short non-fiction Water Water Everywhere (2020)?
Maharshi Tuhin Kashyap: Water Water Everywhere was an attempt to look at the rhythm of an old man who carried water to his home at the top of a hill. I wanted to juxtapose the old man walking with the story of Guwahati's flash flood as the backdrop. Hence, we go back and forth to various stories about the water condition in the city and this man who slowly carries water to the hill.
Dipankar Sarkar: The non-fiction was part of the Nagari Short Film Competition. What sort of mentorship did you receive to complete your film?
Maharshi Tuhin Kashyap: At Nagari, we had Sanjiv Shah as our mentor. Huge credit for the film getting made goes to Sanjiv sir. He was continuously working with us from the ideation level. Because I have done mostly fiction film-making, I have felt that deciding to finally go out to shoot is the most difficult part of the process because often I am stuck in the ideation process. We were not confident enough with the ideas for a long time and at a certain point, Sanjiv sir made us keep our feet down and asked us to go out and shoot. The editing process was the best as we edited the film and the mentor minutely supervised every cut.
Dipankar Sarkar: At Mur Ghurar Duronto Goti, as well as in Boroxun (2021), towards the climax of the film, there are elements of surrealism woven into the narrative. Are you inclined towards the genre?
Maharshi Tuhin Kashyap: In Boroxun, the idea of the last scene was Krishna Kanta Baruah’s, who is the co-writer and director of the film. But yes, I have often felt an inclination towards surrealism, or maybe magic realism. I guess that's how I end up looking at the world. I don't consciously do it, but the films end up being surreal in some way or the other.
Dipankar Sarkar: What are you busy with nowadays?
Maharshi Tuhin Kashyap: I am working on a non-fiction piece on the CAA protests in Assam. Also, there are a few other ideas that I am working on. But honestly, none of the ideas is concrete yet. I recently co-wrote and worked as an associate director for a film called Bulu Film by Himangshu Prasad Das.
Dipankar Sarkar: Lastly, you are currently studying at SRFTI. Share the kind of experience you had so far as a student and what are your plans for the future?
Maharshi Tuhin Kashyap: Being in SRFTI has changed me as a person. I feel a space like SRFTI gives us time to observe and understand more about what we are experiencing and the politics of it.
Since there are people from all over the country and abroad, one is exposed to varied ideas and ways of seeing the world. Although I don’t think it is the only way one can be more sensible or make films, film school has helped me evolve into a very different person.
Everyone I've met and worked with, mainly at SRFTI, has had a deep impact on shaping me as a person and has helped me realise my existence.