Aaba, the short film with a big heart which was the only Indian film in the competition section at the Berlin Film Festival last month, takes us to a region of India that we have so far not been exposed to much in our cinema
The stunning serenity of Arunachal Pradesh which has been used inVishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon to create war,is used in this new short film directed by Amar Kaushik to create an atmosphere of supreme stillness. In the poverty of the people eking out a living at the grassroots level in Arunchaal Pradesh , this short film seeks out a kind of spiritual awakening and redemption that come only to the very wise or the very desperate.
Aaba is a grandfather-granddaughter story set in the Ziro district ofArunachal Pradesh.A little school-going girl lives with her old grandparents in a hut where her grandmother’s only entertainment is the rapid flow of unprocessed inchoate information from the idiot box and the grandfather…well he smokes himself to death.
The lovely heartbreaking film opens with the discovery that the old man is dying of lung cancer. The empathy that his tender grand-daughter emits into the old man’s shrivelled soul is a marvel of telepathy that has to seen ,as it cannot described.
The film is set in the Apatani tribe where the favourite things of the dying are put into the grave. However the director builds on that narrative to show the old man “digging his own grave” a metaphor for many things including smoking which as we all know, is injurious to health. It is hard to believe but nonetheless the truth that none of the locals seen in this haunting ode to life and death have ever acted before. Director Amar Kaushik informs that these locals who are seen being their natural selves in this short-film have never even seen a film in their life nor do they know any language except the localApatani dialect.
This explains why Aaba doesn’t look like a film and why it is a far more credible and authentic rendering of the striking landscape ofArunachal Pradesh than anything we see in Vishal Bhardwaj’s film.