Empty spaces with tonnes of unfulfilled desires and cravings to go back to one’s roots is the hallmark of debutant director Achal’s film Gamak Ghar (Maithili for the house in village). The uselessly hanging chair and the slowly growing tulsi (basil) plant are looking at the door in anticipation of the young owners’ return. Alas, they’re just moments, in a place that’s stuck in an old time zone.
With two generations, separated by two decades, trying to cope up with the changing times and needs, Achal’s film is an attempt to trace the legacy of a conventional Bihar family and how everyone is still connected due to the late patriarch of the house—Kedar Nath Mishra.
The village home becomes a temporary celebration of family ties through moments of celebration–the naming ceremony of a newly born, chhath puja, the ‘yajnopavit sanskar’ etc. The tropes of usual Mithilanchal village life like playing cards, VCR screenings, a sumptuous mutton feast, mangoes and folk songs, are present in complete glory so much so that they make you question the quality of urban life you’re leading.
Gamak Ghar is also about migration. Every now and then, we hear the references to Patna, Chandigarh, Noida and Delhi, as if the body and soul are at two different places. The clay-tiled house is slowly giving up amid the newly built pucca houses. Then there is the desire to own a flat in some megacity. Everything has changed and the only thing left is the ghost of the past secretly wishing for everything to go back to the earlier days.
From negotiating for mangoes to maggie, and replacing Yashica camera with a phone, it’s more than a full circle. Nuclear is the collective noun now. There’s just a couple and their kid in the name of the Mishra family now. The institutions are all broken.
Achal has used the settings of his ancestral house to tell the story. An ensemble of brilliant actor–mostly local–the film reminisces in the past with a childish persistence. From replacing the Ambassador car and wooden chairs to demolishing the clay-brick house to raise a concrete one, Gamak Ghar is more about loss than nostalgia.
Today, millions of migrants are heading back to their roots, but is it even there? There’s no home!
Achal, very rightly, describes his film. He says, “I wanted it to be something more than nostalgia. You can be universal only if you go local. On one of my unplanned visits to my village home, I realised how the house comes alive only for a week when everyone assembles for the chhath puja, and then it again goes into hibernation. Things were changing around us. I could see the empty land around my house being constructed with houses where no one stays.”
Gamak Ghar is now available on Mubi.
(Author Amitabh Mishra is a civil servant and a cultural enthusiast.)