Published: 09th June 2021
How an FTII student went in search of Marathi legend Kalsubai and ended up scaling a mountain
Directed by FTII student Yudhajit Basu, Kalsubai is a 20-minute short documentary that celebrates a Marathi legend through the people who remember it
The story of Kalsubai is etched in Konkan history. The deity whose name has been adopted by Maharashtra’s tallest peak is also worshipped across the region. Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) student Yudhajit Basu found a sense of rebellion in the story and went on to make a 20-minute documentary film based on all that folklore. On May 31, the film won the Grand Online Prize and Special Mention of the Ecumenical Online Jury at the first International Online Film Competition in Oberhausen, Germany.
But back to the lore. “Locals told me that she climbed the entire mountain in search of a place to live and went on to lead a secluded existence, away from anything that controlled her. The legend is a triumphant story of rebellion by a young tribal girl against massive patriarchy,” says Yudhajit. The film weaves together photographic images of the people who spoke about Kalsubai and the stories that surround her.
Before joining FTII in 2017, Yudhajit received his Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication and Videography from Kolkata. In that time, he had already created three short films, including one shot entirely in Nepali. He says, “Only in India, do you get the chance to explore so many different languages and cultures. You can travel to different places and the moment you cross borders of the state, you find a new culture. I was very interested in bringing that aspect of our country, which is largely underrepresented in other countries.”
FTII was always a dream for Yudhajit as its alumni were his heroes. And channeling that filmmaking spirit, it was in 2019 that he was searching for an ideal theme for their documentary project. In search of a story with his mentor, he finally discovered Kalsubai. And after various conversations and trips to small villages where she is revered, he realised he had to be the one to make the film.
He says, “Documentaries were something I wasn’t used to or interested in. But in FTII, I was exposed to a whole new idea of non-fiction. Today, the boundary between fiction and non-fiction has been blurred. So I was exposed to this new wave of making non-fiction. I did my research and kept shooting on the side.
Most of what we see in the film was shot in 2019 itself. With a few additional scenes that he captured last year, the film was completed in March. The documentary explores the changes in mindsets and the way people approach such themes over time. “I think for me, time is a very important element in the film. And there is a certain kind of rhythm that one finds when looking for material. Of course, it also depends on the place where you are shooting.”
He continues, “So there’s a certain rhythm among the people you meet and interact with. In these villages, there was a huge world of stories where the pace was just different. I believe that this sense of time should be there in the editing pattern as well. This is why the film is made up of a series of long static shots. It is an invitation to the watchers to acclimatise themselves with the rhythm of that life. Which is in contrast with the rhythm that city dwellers are used to.”
The Marathi spoken as you climb higher up the Kalsubai Mountain is one that even fluent Marathi speakers would be unfamiliar with. Yudhajit credits a close friend, Anjali, for translating dialogues on the spot, even taking time to try and make sense of the music that they heard. He also credits his small team, especially their editor, for doing justice to a small piece of Indian culture that could otherwise have gone forgotten.