Anamika Haskar’s love letter to Old Delhi: Straight from the horse’s mouth

Multiple layers of history, a culture suspended in time, a way of life oscillating between the past and the present, fables as old as time and as new as now — there are many things about Old Delhi that theatre director Anamika Haskar can never get enough of — those arches and carvings on walls included. No wonder, her award-winning debut film ‘Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon’ (‘Taking The Horse To Eat Jalebi’), which will release on June 10 in India is based in that part of the city.

“Some of my family comes from there, also I wanted to work with the labourers from Old Delhi. It was fascinating shooting there, to be part of the essence only that place can boast of,” she tells IANS.

The film, which has travelled to more than 35 film festivals and won several awards stars veteran artists, Ravindra Sahu Raghubir Yadav, Lokesh Jain and K Gopalan and follows four main characters: a pickpocketer, a vendor of sweet and savoury snacks, a labourer-activist, and a conductor of ‘Heritage Walks’. The professional actors blend with 350 street people to create what seems like a surreal tale of truth.

Recalling the eight-month filmmaking course this veteran theatre director enrolled in before shooting, she laughs, “Imagine this 53-year-old auntie amidst 20 somethings. The best part was, that I used to be scolded too. It was so much fun learning a new medium. Of course, the background in direction ensured that there was no problem when it came to that area, but understanding certain nuances of the medium was enriching,” she recalls.

For someone who feels that ‘experiment’ is the most misused word, she stresses that it annoys her no end when anything that is a departure from the norm is considered an experiment. Haskar, known for using movement, body and text in her work asserts, “If you look at something in a different way and someone else looks at it from another angle, you can’t dismiss the creator. Instead of acknowledging that work has been done in a different way, they dismiss it. Nowadays, there is so much shouting about technology. I think it is absolutely alright if someone wants to use technology to express their work, isn’t theatre about reflecting our times? I quite like what theatre director Amitesh Grover does with the online medium when it comes to theatre.”

All for formal training in the arts, Haskar, who went to the National School of Drama (NSD) before studying at the State Institute of Theatrical Arts, Moscow in Russia says, “At NSD, I studied we had someone like BV Karanth. He did not have a training method as such, but it was like being under a great personality who made us read and study extensive material and exposed us to so much. In Moscow, the training was more defined, but at the same time very organic, helping me to discover myself further. Formal training imparts you the right tools to help open up and hone skills. One may be a fantastic musician, but when someone teaches you how to approach your music and your ground, there is much enrichment. In my film, the highly trained actors ‘adapted’ themselves to be the ‘whole’ that comprised hundreds of street people.”

With her work revolving around social issues and injustice including unforgettable ones including ‘Antar Yatra’ and ‘Raj Darpan’, Dalit literature is quite close to Haskar’s heart. Although when she adapted Marathi poet and Dalit activist Namdeo Dhasal’s poem ‘Water’ into ‘Composition on Water’, where he writes about caste hegemony and the denial of water to people from the lower caste at the Kochi Biennale, several people asked her if she had read the autobiography of Dhasal’s wife where she had chronicled his violent behaviour (‘I Want to Destroy Myself: A Memoir’). “Frankly, I had not. And if I had, I would have probably done them parallel to each other. But his poetry is absolutely fantastic even though it is violent. But that is because it stemmed from violence. It is brilliant and modern. I am finding Dalit literature closer to my heart as I grow older.”

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