The fairies among us
The pandemic and consequent lockdowns made Irfana Majumdar focus a lot more on planting and farming this year
She says everything is a tale. That we forget to see the daily events of our lives in a creative light. Children, on the other hand, can blur the lines between 'fantasy' and 'reality and can narrate true and made-up incidents seamlessly. Something that allows them to reveal bigger truths about everything around, and help us feel and experience things more intensely when we are with them. "Deliberately telling stories can make the same thing happen. The most powerful thing is that we decide how to tell those stories," says filmmaker Irfana Majumdar, whose Hindi feature debut, 'Shankar's Fairies' will witness its World Premiere at the prestigious 74th Locarno Film Festival.
Talking about the film, which emerged from her mother's memories about a childhood helper Shanker, set in the 1960s and shot in their ancestral house, the director says, "We both had a strong personal connection to it. I had the physical feeling of being in the house – waking up to the sunlight streaming in and the sound of birds, endlessly exploring both the inside and the outdoors… and my mother had her childhood of being brought up by Shankar. In her memories, the beautiful mother and the dashing father are complemented by the overarching presence of Shankar.
The village man who cooked cakes and puddings and acted as a perfect butler, but who also told wonderful stories. He talked to the children about the gods, djinns, sadhus, about churails, and always about fairies. The fascinating thing to me was to figure out why she remembered the particular things she did and to find a way to make them feel connected, for the audience, rather than remain a handful of incidents. And that was the key to figuring out the heart of the story, for me."
Adding that she felt grateful and elated to hear about the film's selection at Locarno, Majumdar who has also directed documentaries like 'Children Playing Gods' says she loves taking material and creating something from what she has -- her reason for enjoying the documentary film genre. "However, what I really love best is unlimited creativity, so fiction is my favourite."
The director, who studied Performance at the University of Chicago remembers the rigorous intellectual environment combined with intense creativity and experimentation there. "Everyone I met was brilliant and quirky, and not mediocre."
Also the artistic director of Varanasi-based Nirman Theatre & Film Studio which she started after college, as part of her parents' organisation, NIRMAN, Majumdar, after seven odd years decided to train more as a performer and in physical theatre. "So, I was away a lot, and no longer had a group in Banaras. It was still my base, and we continued to host workshops, do projects by visiting artists, and do our own projects in theatre and film. Now I am back full-time. The focus of my work is on my own research, training, and my own performance. My husband, Gaurav, who is also a theatre artist, and I work together a lot, and we have colleagues who collaborate with us on specific projects. Gaurav also teaches children in our school (at NIRMAN) and directs plays with young actors. So NIRMAN T&FS does a variety of different kinds of programming now. We'll see what happens after the pandemic is over," says the director who is planning another film with her mother and husband.
The pandemic and consequent lockdowns made Majumdar focus a lot more on planting and farming this year. Working on growing a 10,000-tree food forest using a variety of techniques, she says, "We faced some challenges – trying to raise money to continue to pay staff, finishing the film etc – it was nothing compared to what many people had to go through."