Published: 23rd January 2021
How this 22-year-old NID student's Gujarati short film went on to be long-listed for the Oscars
Dhummas has been written and directed by Nainisha Dedhia and there are many reasons that make this 19-minute film wonderful. We tell you all about what makes it click and why it's a must watch
The relationship between grandparents and young adults is almost always stark white or pitch black, fond acquaintance-like interactions or soul-searching talks. The relationship between Mrinalini and her grandmother-in-law Baima in the Gujarati film Dhummas (Haze), sensitively directed by Nainisha Dedhia, is starkly portrayed in the dark. But all it takes is one conversation between the two women for their bond to transcend from one end of the spectrum, namely indifference, to another, where they find more than just common ground in literature and writing. Mrinalini ended up finding a kindred spirit in Baima, whose now fading memory was once itching to wield her pen.
It was the eyes of director and screenwriter Vikramaditya Motwane (of Udaan and Lootera fame) that spotted the novelty yet simplicity in Dhummas. So much so that he said that the nineteen-minute film was “amazingly paced, really well shot and performed film, with so much to say”, at the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival (BISFF) 2020. But it looks like the whole world has woken up to the wonder that is Dhummas because Nainisha’s short film has been long-listed for the Oscars in the Live Action category.
With no one but each other in an old and decaying red-stone mansion (more on this later), the duo end up striking a conversation. Mahadevi Verma — this pioneering Hindi poet is the first common link Mrinalini and Baima find. While the former is writing about one of Verma's books Shrankhala Ki Kadiyan, the latter met Verma when she was young, bright-eyed and eager. "The book itself is a compilation of essays on how women used to tackle oppression," says the 22-year-old filmmaker. And though Baima is holding on to only shreds of her past, she recalls for Mrinalini her urge to be a writer, a passion that her mother encouraged and her mother-in-law frowned upon. And as layer by layer the old woman’s story is peeled back, it reveals all the instances where her voice was stifled. And in the light of this life lesson-like revelation, the newly-wed Mrinalini examines her own marriage.
Nainisha | (Pic: Nainisha Dedhia)
The film is Nainisha's graduation project at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, where she was pursuing her undergraduate studies in Film and Video Communication. By the end of March 2019, the filmmaker had penned down the script and in June 2019, they wrapped up the shot in five days. The Mumbaikar knew exactly what she was looking for in a mansion where the whole film plays out, down to the kind of tiles she wanted, "mosaic, not smooth marble on which an old lady like Baima could easily slip on". And she found the one she was looking for in Matheran, a hill station in Maharashtra. "Of course, it was a logistical nightmare since there was a lot of trekking involved to reach the mansion," says the youngster. But smooth seas do not make skillful sailors anyway.
Though the whole film revolves around a conversation, initially, Nainisha wasn't sure if this is the right format to follow. "That's mostly because in film schools we are taught that films are a visual medium, you can't make verbose films. But I have always been of the opinion that we have so many conversations every day, so why can't conversations be the central point," shares the youngster and it is with this conviction that the film was shot in wide-shots with very few cuts. "For me, this movie is about women, but more so for mothers," she states.
The film has graced many festivals like Tamil Nadu Independent Film Festival and Dharamshala International Film Festival and is still doing the rounds while Nainisha is onto her next project, a non-fiction film for which research is on.