The Other Side Of Farming

A shooting incident on the farm

Here’s what led a young atheist to hold several rounds of prayers to purify his farm.

 |  The Other Side Of Farming  |  6-minute read |   27-04-2021
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Once a filmmaker came to the farm. He was a local boy from nearby hills who had run away to Bombay to become somebody and ended up a spot-boy in three films. As is the case with little knowledge, he thought he knew everything to mount a grand production. But besides the will and infinite hope, he had very little else including money. It’s true he may have shared a tin shed with four other huge talents, yet the unpredictable nature of the movie business had stripped him of every shred of decency except his dream.

main_sg_shooting_far_042721021848.jpgA delegation from the village approached us with a plea of how the film will not only make the village famous, but will also make the farm world-known. (Representative photo: Reuters)

There are two types of runaway village boys: those with fathers possessing subsistence-level land holdings, and the sons of slightly richer farmers. The rich, so goes the paradox, fight with their parents and leave to drive trucks in Canada while the poorer boys went to the big cities of India with wide eyes and stupid smiles. Both come back eventually, with tails secure between their legs, having been bitten in the butt many times in their misadventure. Their stories become legends for school kids who gather around, but the rest of the village goes tsk-tsk and calls them fools behind their patchwork buttocks. The Canada-returned idiot, in their view, is superior because his father’s money still waited like a beautiful wistful abandoned bride. The other prodigal was given food and yoked to hard labour.

The moron who came to the farm had not lost the spark. He bought smart clothes, dark glasses and made a list of things needed for shooting the best story ever. Not unlike Satyajit Ray, he handled most creative portfolios but for music and acting. His principles demanded that he encouraged local talent. So, the tailor, the folk singer, the better-looking boys and girls, the tent-house chap for the generator and many such distinguished faces followed him at a distance when he approached my father for using our farm as a prime location. My father was a kind of artist who saw the crops as colours and patterns. He had built an imposing house in the middle of the ten-acre orchard and this Satyajit Ray was correct — you could shoot a beautiful film with the eyes shut. You know how people go to Ladakh and come back with pictures only a very great talent could have taken while hiding the fact that it was Ladakh itself which was the real talent, the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton rolled in one. Before my father could utter a word, I said ‘no’. The farm was for growing crops and I was not having girls singing and trampling the crop as we see in movies.

A few days later a delegation from the village, led by the headman, probably bribed by Mister Ray with a role, approached us with a plea of how the film will not only make the village famous but will also make the farm world-known, which it deserved to be after all the effort my father put in. Once again I said ‘no’. Anyway the back and forth went on until too tired to argue, my father relented with a list of rules to be adhered to. On his farm, you could not throw even a banana peel, no matter how organic it may be. You could fall dead anywhere and not feel dirty.

The film crew took over the house for a month-long schedule. We lived in town and I travelled fifteen miles every morning. I did take a short nap upstairs, but I could do that on a cot under a mango tree just as well. For thirty days I did see some strangers hanging about mumbling to themselves. But that was about all. Most of the film happened in the house or at night. Our workers who stayed in the quarters behind the house were most excited. They talked differently and walked with a swagger as if waiting to be spotted by the great director. The women sang louder and laughed more at work. They found excuses to leave the fields and hang about the house. It was as if I was missing a grand party.

Finally, the director came beaming straight at me as I sat reading My Family And Other Animals for the third time. He had come to invite me as the chief guest at the premiere of the grand spectacle that was not possible without my sacrifice. The show was scheduled that evening in the wheat godown. A VCR had been set up in one corner. A folding tin chair was placed right in front for me, the riff-raff sat on the bags of grain at different levels. The lone yellow light bulb was switched off and the movies began on a close-up of our village headman issuing a decree in a head-dress that I immediately recognised as the kitchen curtain. I wasn’t listening I was contemplating the damage to the furniture. The next scene was of a couple running away escaping a villainous landlord, in slow-motion. I watched agape. The film had not been shot at high speed to get the effect, the two characters were actually trying to run in slow motion, the way kids playact. Mister Ray’s eyes were upon me hungry for adulation. I made some excuse and left, much to the relief of the esteemed congregation.

I can’t describe the damage to the house. I refused to enter until every stain had been scrubbed and a prayer held for seven days and seven nights. In the dark corners of my head, I held the suspicion that those dubious characters had shot not one stupid film but several not so saintly ones too. The farm, which was virginal until then, had lost its purity and I had failed in protecting its chastity. Fear gripped me for days, of seeing the house as a hero in some grainy dirty most-rented videos. I hung my head in shame for a sin I hadn’t exactly committed.

Many years later in Delhi, I saw a much-celebrated documentary about a village called Malegaon, in Maharashtra, that made movies with homegrown talent, and very close to what our farm had experienced. And I wondered. In that film, the remake of a blockbuster, dacoits on bicycles chase a girl in a rickshaw screaming to be saved. The audience declared it a masterpiece, a new genre in storytelling.

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Shashank Gupta Shashank Gupta @shankstheauthor

The writer was a farmer in 1980s and 1990s in the Terai region after his master’s in horticulture, and the author of ‘Pimp’.

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