Gamak Ghar movie review: Achal Mishra's Maithli-language film, streaming on Mubi, is a love letter to 'home'

Achal Mishra's film Gamak Ghar is a fond letter to a home that once was.

Pratishruti Ganguly May 12, 2020 13:08:08 IST

4/5

Home is the ultimate sanctuary — it is the place where we seek comfort after the day's hard work, assured that its secure walls and doors will keep us shielded from all the adversities lurking in the world outside. Achal Mishra's film Gamak Ghar is an ode a fond letter to the sanctuary that once was.

Spread over three decades, Gamak Ghar is a part-autobiographical, part-observational drama that captures the banalities of quotidian life, the changing dynamics within a family, and by extension the socio-economic development that the country has undergone — with its primary focus on a whitewashed house.

Gamak Ghar movie review Achal Mishras Maithlilanguage film streaming on Mubi is a love letter to home

Lodged in the lap of lush vegetation somewhere in Darbhanga, Bihar, this gamak ghar (village or ancestral house) is the familial melting pot, where all cousins assemble once a year, perhaps twice, to celebrate festivals and happy occasions.

Gamak Ghar begins in 1998, where the entire family has gathered to celebrate the birth of a new member, who has just returned from the hospital with his family. The afternoon sun beats down onto the courtyard, where the men of the house are gathered to play cards. The women get together inside the kitchen to fry potato fritters, the children gallop around the house picking mangoes from the orchards, or playing hide-and-seek. The camera listlessly hovers over the tulsi plant on the terrace, the handpump at the back of the house, the wooden window shutters rattling against the iron grills until shut closed, the cutouts of Sachin Tendulkar stuck on the blue lime-washed walls — evoking a sense of familiarity and acute nostalgia for a distant past.

The wrinkles of time begin to manifest in the second act, set in 2010. Over the years, family visits have become infrequent, spirited discussions on daily activities have been replaced with reminiscing on half-forgotten memories, and dinky digicams have supplanted film cameras. Home-made fried fritters are no longer the evening snack of choice — children now demand mass-manufactured instant noodles. Those who've moved out in search of a better life in the cities, have erected sprawling buildings in their hometowns. But these houses almost always remain vacant; as professional commitments mount, and city lives become more demanding.

We are told that the house was once made by the family patriarch, Kedar Nath Mishra. The inimitable man used to write plays, stage them and make his children and grandchildren participate as well. His picture now hangs on the wall, and the man, whose presence used to tower over his family once, is now fading. We are also told that grandmother, who refused to leave the house even during a flood in 2004, now lives with his sons in the city. The death grip over permanence has loosened for more "practical" choices.

The third act is almost entirely without any dialogues. Set in 2019, the proud house has fallen to decay and neglect. The tulsi plant has withered away, the paint peeled off the wall, the doors and windows shut tight. A solitary caretaker stands as the roof tiles are taken down one by one.

Themes aside, Gamak Ghar's brilliance lies in Mishra's masterful manipulation of the craft of cinema. He directs with affection and precision, but his touch is so nimble that sometimes it feels like you're revisiting your family video reels, and not watching a feature film.

Unlike Rituparno Ghosh's Utsab or Asim Abbasi's critically-acclaimed Pakistani film Cake, Gamak Ghar isn't really interested in the tales of the inhabitants of the titular house. Thus, inane conversations between family members are often drowned out by the rustling of leaves, the old transistor playing vintage songs, the cackle of birds perched on the clothesline. Still shots abound the film, of trees, rickety chairs, half-lit rooms, burning mosquito coils — conjuring a lived-in space. There's a deliberate attempt on Mishra's part to immerse his viewers in the sights, sounds and aromas to create a sensory overhaul.

Even the staid, stream-of-consciousness narrative is not a product of a whimsical, indulgent mind. It's a ruse, made by carefully stringing together minute details, to create a sense of intimacy with his viewers. The aspect ratio gets wider with every time frame, to create larger, more vacant spaces as the number of visitors dwindle. The atmospherics become gloomier and denser, the landscape more unkempt, with time. The camera motif reappears in the final stage, as the caretaker takes a picture of the house with his phone.

Gamak Ghar meditates on the non-events of one's growing up years  — but never does it scoff at change. It does not take a didactic turn to preach about roots, one's culture and the demerits of migration. In fact, Achal Mishra's debut directorial presents change as natural progression. He invites his viewers to rifle through a few pages of his memory book, in hope that they too will cry and smile and giggle and laugh remembering their childhood days.

Gamak Ghar is now streaming on Mubi

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