Technology meets tradition in When Hari Got Married
As students in different parts of America’s Bay Area in the 1980s, Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam made a joint thesis film about the Californian Sikh community. The New Puritans: The Sikhs of Yuba City was well-received and they have been working together ever since.
Their films on Tibet-related subjects, including The Reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche (1991) and The Shadow Circus: The CIA in Tibet (1998), were commissioned by the BBC. In 2005, they made their first feature, Dreaming Lhasa, with Richard Gere as an executive producer. Their last documentary The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom (2009) won awards at Prague, Kerala and MIFF, and got a US release, running for two weeks at the legendary Film Forum cinema in New York. Their latest is When Hari Got Married, which is currently being screened as part of the PVR Director's Rare programme. It’s a heartwarming film about how life is changing in India, and how it isn’t. Excerpts from an interview with Ritu Sarin:
How did the idea of making this film first emerge?
We're interested in that point where traditional cultures meet modernity. How do they adapt? What is lost and what is gained? Having lived in Dharamshala for 16 years, we’ve seen a lot of changes. Also, we’ve known Hari since he was a 16-year-old. He lives in a village right behind our home. He had invited us to come for the wedding. But it was when he told us he'd got hold of his fiancee’s mobile number and was talking to her every day that we became interested in filming his story.
Indians have arranged marriages all the time. Why was Hari's marriage interesting?
First, the urban-rural divide. Though Hari is quite a forward-looking person, he was having a very traditional arranged marriage, where for two years after it had been fixed, he had never got a proper glimpse of his fiance. He would only get to meet his wife after they got married. This is still the norm in rural areas. Second, it fascinated us that Hari had taken matters into his own hands by getting to know Suman on the phone. It was such a good example of technology meeting tradition.
Hari seems so completely at ease in front of the camera.
That’s the great thing about Hari. He has no hesitation telling you the most intimate details of his life. He is totally unselfconscious, almost childlike in his openness. It’s rare to find a character like him for a documentary, because he makes no separation between being filmed and being himself.
Was anyone else ever uncomfortable about being filmed? Conversely, did you find people performing for the camera?
No, remarkably, everyone was totally relaxed. We've known them for such a long time. Also, we didn’t have a crew with us. While I interacted with Hari and his family, Tenzing did the filming. So it was a very intimate situation. But there was no pretence that we were not filming, so if someone acknowledged the camera and said or did something funny, we were happy to film it. Also, if you watch the film, you'll see I ask questions, offer advice, laugh and share jokes. So we as filmmakers are participating in the story rather than observing it from a distance.
How long did you shoot?
We shot nearly 50 hours of footage, intensely for a period of a month leading up to the wedding, and then periodically over the next nine months.
And you had to edit that down to 75 minutes! What were you looking for when you started editing?
When you shoot a film like this you have no idea how it will turn out. You cannot script it. But we were very clear that the climax would be the wedding itself and the moment Hari finally meets Suman. That's why we never made an attempt to meet Suman before the wedding. In fact, by the time the wedding came around, we were as excited to meet Suman as Hari was! During the edit, we built the narrative arc around this anticipation, while simultaneously commenting on the changing times.
There are long segments that record the actual wedding.
Yes, by going into some detail in the shaadi scenes, we see, for instance, how local deities are still important in people’s lives and make dramatic appearances in events such as weddings. These are precisely the things that might be lost in the near future. As the influence of cable TV and Bollywood grows, more and more shaadis, even in remote areas, are probably going to model themselves on a filmy version of the ideal Hindu wedding!
What do Hari and his family members think of the film?
When Hari first saw the rough cut, he was stunned. He told us that everything about the film was true, this was exactly as it had happened. We had to gently remind him that not everything in the film was strictly as it had happened. As filmmakers, we had taken the license of placing some sequences out of chronological order, but Hari did not notice at all. This was an important reminder of how the visual record can alter or even reshape memory. As filmmakers, that is a huge responsibility to bear.
We had the India premiere at the Dharamshala International Film Festival. Hari and Suman were our chief guests. The auditorium was packed and there was non-stop laughter. Afterwards, Hari and Suman were almost mobbed. Reporters interviewed Hari, some people wanted his autograph, and one person even gave him Rs 1000, much to his surprise.
What do you think people will take away from this film?
We think the film is uplifting and that people will go away feeling happy that there is still lightness and humour and warmth in the far corners of our country!
Updated Date: Sep 02, 2013 13:14:00 IST
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