Growing up in old Delhi, director Rajan Khosa loved to fly kites. “The houses had terraces that were connected to each other,” he said, “I could easily reach the main gate [of the gully] by going across twenty or thirty of them.” When a kite had its string cut and floated into someone’s courtyard, you could easily race downstairs and retrieve it. “Nobody stopped you if you came from above the courtyard and not the main gate,” Khosa said, “It was a fantastic place for flying kites.”
Khosa’s childhood memories culminated in Gattu, his new and sunny little film about a nine-yearold street kid who cannot get enough of a kite fight. He and the rest of the mohalla keep getting thwarted by a mysterious black kite, called Kali. The only way Gattu can defeat it is by flying his kite from the highest terrace in town, which happens to be a school-building. The enterprising little boy sneaks in, wearing a stolen uniform. Along with figuring out how exactly to get to the locked terrace, Gattu must circumvent suspicious classmates and dodge a stern uncle.
Produced by Children’s Film Society of India, Gattu has won awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, the New York Indian Film Festival and the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. Its cast features bright young kids from Rourkee who have never acted before. “We auditioned children across a dozen schools for the four central characters,” said Khosa. Mohammad Samad was cast in the lead role, and the three classmates who help him in his mission are played by Zoya Arshad, Sarvasva Singh Pundir and Harshit Kaushik. The film was shot during summer vacations, so as to not disrupt their studies. Intensive theatre workshops were conducted and Gattu was filmed over 40 days in Rourkee.
The neighbourhood residents pitched in as well, helping the team scout locations and lending objects from their homes for the shoot. “Gattu has a baby sheep as a pet in the film,” said Khosa, “And that belonged to Mohammad Samad’s neighbour.” In a way, he added, the shoot turned into a community project.
Another time, Khosa needed an overhead shot of Rourkee. “We had to shoot a kite’s point of view and didn’t have the budget to bring a helicopter in,” he remembered. The team quickly improvised. Since the shot would be canned at a height of less than 1,000 feet, they wouldn’t need to ask the aviation department for permissions, they were told. A paraglider was brought in and a 350cc motorcycle engine strapped on. “Then we put on a camera and took off to the riverside in a bailgadi (bullock cart),” he said with a laugh. The paraglider went up with the help of the engine and they got a beautiful shot.
Along with taking viewers for a soaring ride across the Rourkee landscape, the film lets them peek into the nooks and crannies of Gattu’s world. His character is one that kids can identify with. He can be lazy, tells fibs and nicks money from his uncle to buy kites. But Gattu is also a plucky young kid who goes after his dream, no matter what. A message about children’s education has been woven into the narrative.
“[Through this film] I want people – both children and adults – to realise that dreams are possible,” said Khosa, “It’s your inner resolve that makes everything happen.” The filmmaker started his own cinematic journey four years after he had finished a course in visual communications and exhibition design from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. He then studied film direction at the Film and Television Institute of India, travelled across the country and made his first feature film Dance of the Wind in 1997. Since then, Khosa has worked on documentaries, multimedia projects, installations and other films.
As a child though, he didn’t watch a lot of cinema. It was a treat allowed only after exams were done with. “We mostly saw mainstream Bollywood movies,” he remembered, “We didn’t have access to anything else.” Khosa wishes there were more films made for kids, especially because a huge potential audience exists. Hollywood studios, he said, have realised there is a huge market for children’s cinema – something Bollywood isn’t paying heed to yet. To a large extent, the industry still feels films for kids aren’t worth investing in.
But the audience response at special screenings of Gattu organised across the country proves otherwise, said Khosa. School-children and principals were invited to watch the film in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Rajkot. “[The kids] told me that their parents had never taken them to see anything like it,” Khosa said, “They were taken to films like Rowdy Rathore.” Kids’ films find few backers as they are not considered huge revenue earners but Khosa maintains that quality cinema for children will definitely find its audience. “In fact, we are the ones who fear that they won’t accept such content,” he said, “And that we need to Bollywoodise it and bring it down.”
By Mithila Phadke on July 18 2012