Veteran theatre personality Anamika tells TNM why she chose the medium of cinema for ‘Taking the Horse to Eat Jalebi’, which is being screened at IFFK.

Playwright Anamika Haksars debut film is about stories from the streets of Old Delhi
Flix Film Festival Thursday, December 13, 2018 - 12:47

There is something really beautiful about a person who has for decades been a prolific playwright, and now a filmmaker, not expecting to be recognised, agreeing to sit on a weak-looking plastic chair and joking that it might fall and take her down with it. Anamika Haksar hands out brochures of the first film she has directed after 40 years of being in theatre and then disappearing from the scene for a few years. Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon / Taking The Horse To Eat Jalebi, a film about four characters living in Old Delhi, is being screened at the International Film Festival of Kerala in the competition section.

“Yes, it is a brochure. It is my film,” she says, without taking offence, when a curious passer-by wants to know what she was handing out. The brochures look like old gramophone record covers and have the details of her beloved cast and crew. She insists her interviewers keep a copy so the names are not spelled wrong.

The four characters she chose to tell stories of are from the streets – a conductor of heritage walks, a pickpocket, a sweet vendor and a labourer-activist. Anamika believes that however good an actor is, it would be difficult to represent the life of someone from the road when you are on the stage. That’s the only reason why she chose to do a film, she has not left theatre. “The lens will go closer and catch it in a more meaningful way,” she says in an interview to TNM.

The subject must have rested in her for a long time. Her connection to Old Delhi comes through her ancestry. “Kashmiri migrants came and settled in Old Delhi. My great grandfather used to stay there,” she explains. She got married into the city too. “When I got up in the morning, I saw labourers sleeping on the roof.”

It’s their story she wants to tell, and to tell it she needed the help of cinema. We really wanted to go into the people of Shahjahanabad (the old name of Old Delhi),” she says.

It took her time to adjust to the new medium. She would forget to look at the monitor when they shot a scene. “How do I look into a frame? We are endless – there’s infinity – in theatre. Here (in cinema) there is a time, there is a frame, there is a way in which you have to fix things in that time frame. That was limiting. But the freedom it gave in the space-time disjunction is very exciting and it gives you a lot of freedom.”

All her actors are also from theatre. Including a man from Kerala who plays the labourer-activist Lalbihari. “It is played by theatre actor K Gopalan from Kerala, whom I have lot of respect for. In our research, we came across stories of people from various communities – it could be from Rajasthan or Kerala – who are given the promise of Delhi, that they would be given jobs and then left high and dry. We also found that there are people from Dalit and scavenger communities in Kerala working in Delhi, but in secret. This guy in the movie comes from Kerala and ends up as a labourer among the Biharis in Delhi,” she says.

She didn’t want the usual shots of the Jama Masjid or an auto rickshaw in her film. She wanted to bring on screen what the people in the streets thought about, what excited them. The actor who plays the pickpocket – Ravindra Sahu – trained with real pickpockets for three months. It is he that takes people interested in heritage walks through another route – showing them not valued monuments, but the underbelly of the city. “Poor people don’t have monuments. A pickpocket living on a roof – how does he define people and Delhi? He subverts the same space,” she says.

Lokesh Jain, who plays the character of Akash Jain, is also the dialogue writer of the film and the research person. The fourth main character is played by veteran actor Raghuvir Yadav, who made his film debut in 1985.

I ask her why none of the four characters are women. “Most of the migrants coming there are mainly men. We have a lot of women in the film, playing other characters on the street,” she says.

The brochure has a beautiful picture of men on the street playing music in the night, next to a fire. “We have worked with several people from the streets of old Delhi. Over 350 actors from night shelters, peeli kothi slums, sadar bazaar workers, Jamghat and several other organisations,” the caption reads.

It’s not a liner narration, her film. You will see elements of theatre in her work, she promises. Theatre cannot be absent in her work, is what she implies. Even when she took her long break, she used to have sporadic theatre workshops. Anamika was also part of the Kochi Biennale two years ago, with her theatre installation ‘Composition on Water’. 

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