Storytellers of the Year | Verve Magazine
India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
January 28, 2014

Storytellers of the Year

Text by Neha Gupta

A Storyboard with a social cause, novels doused with strong characters, films with emotional subtext…. Verve scripts the story of storytellers who have mastered the art of recounting gripping narratives

  • Anuja Chauhan
    Anuja Chauhan
  • Amitabh-Bhattacharya
    Amitabh Bhattacharya
  • anand-gandhi
    Anand Gandhi
  • Dreamvilla
    RAQs Media Collective
  • Faith Connections, still - Pan Nalin
    Faith Connections, still - Pan Nalin
  • Pan Nalin
    Pan Nalin
  • Jhumpa Lahiri The Lowlands
    Jhumpa Lahiri The Lowlands
  • Jhumpa Lahiri
    Jhumpa Lahiri (Photographed by Elena Seibert)
  • Still from Lootera Sawaar Loon
    Still from Lootera, Sawaar Loon
  • Tanishq Ad by Lowe Lintas
    Tanishq Ad by Lowe Lintas Ad Partners
  • Shekinah Jacob
    Shekinah Jacob
  • Still from Kush
    Still from Kush
  • ShubhashishBhutiani_B&W_PhotographyByRobertBraunfeld_-StylistDesigner-HeightsAndKenchi_FashionDirectorCreative-RogerMcKenzie
    Shubhashish Bhutiani (Photograph by Robert Braunfeld)
  • Anuja Chauhan Those Pricey Thakur Girls
    Anuja Chauhan, Those Pricey Thakur Girls
  • Manish Arora collection
    Manish Arora collection

It was on the nineteenth day of a rainy July when a paradox – Ship Of Theseus – from the first century was used to pivot three stories, all of which merged beautifully to become one on the 21st century’s big screen. A country that has the reputation of being enamoured by Bollywood’s thrusts and twerks lent a fraction of its population to fill the cinema seats for its screening. These may have been those theatre-loving people or even the curious kind. About 140 minutes of viewing time later the audience emerged separated by differing opinions – too slow or interestingly philosophical. Through this film, Anand Gandhi took his viewers right in the midst of the beginning of the protagonists’ life-changing-moments-in-the-offing. It was a journey into their routine living, their relationships and their very vocal beliefs. And just as the viewer assumed he had begun to understand them, he was made to realign his thoughts. The trilogy that made this brain-tickling piece of art ‘a hidden gem’ as termed by the Toronto Film Festival was because it was unlike the usual. Missing the opening to the movie will leave you at a loss to grasp the intentions behind its wrap-up that is explained in effortless strokes.

Not so long ago, something out of the ordinary happened in many Indian homes. The finger didn’t itch to press buttons on the channel-changer when a certain advertisement broke a mirthful show. The picture was of a bride in a pensive mood that beckoned you to stay. Her lack of expected excitement, one taken over by an amused child, made you wonder what all the fuss was about. While you may have dismissed the kid as a filler, and started to write off the storyboard as another pretty display of expensive baubles, the child’s referral to the lady as her mother, pulled your finger away from the remote again. Remarriage is the topic Lowe Lintas and Partners adopted – earning plaudits from the womenfolk and logical men. In the past they have been known to use charming storytelling techniques to appeal to the audience. But touching this subject with tasteful sensitivity, showing a closed family affair, and happy sets of on-screen aging parents backing this union was definitely a tale for a social cause. Now it has spilled over to dinner conversations, forcing the brain to stretch itself into accepting the rationally changing times.

Right after India got independence and just as it hit a resurgence, there lived two brothers in Tollygunge, Kolkata. Jhumpa Lahiri introduced them through nuances in instances, just so we could really read them, and maybe even be them. Such was the familiarity that was built between the characters and the readers – a relationship that formed not just in pages but also with them. The transformation, conscience and guileless actions of the protagonists that were set in that era of rebellion went a step further to share narrations from historic pages. The thorough narration wrapped this tale in a happy ending – one that walked a path of compromises – but not without satisfying the reader with a realistically exhilarating experience.

About a century ago in 1911, there once used to be a group of people who spent all their aptitude in creating maps in a dusty room of Kolkata. In 2013, three Raqs Media Collective artists – Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta – told a story of these figures, who brought down a constellation of stars to their drawing board, during the times when satellite mapping was but a luxury invented only a few years too late. The image seemed to be dull, stationary, far from striking, almost insignificant. But a closer look revealed a tale about the invisible routine of cartographers, on whose products an oversized population blindly depended for directions. The exhibitors employed a video projection that ran on loop for a duration that lasted a little over three minutes. An old photograph of their subjects, dug out from searched archives was tweaked to fit this almost still video as if to portray the monotony of their routine.

There was once a man whose life came to a shattering halt. He was convicted for terrorism. Society lamented him. Fanatics celebrated him. Family and friends deserted him. Ten years of isolation brought back memories with a fierce force. Each picture formed in clear colours. Some were redolent with familiar scents. In 24 hours Ali would be hung. His only friends were the spider and visiting mosquitoes. Did he accept the crime or was he wrongly accused? From his childhood tales emerged narrations of Muhammad Ali Jinnah – a travel back to the revolutionary times. The journey to the present halted at a podium grieving over the death of India’s just political scenario. His past life flashed before the listeners in detailed narration. In spite of being a good writer-actor project, it was really Shekinah Jacob’s story that kept the audience from leaving; one that won international acclaim. Three stories sprouted now and then from that of a man living a despairing one, which was cleverly seasoned with dark humour.

Pan Nalin was brought up by a tea stall owner in Gujarat’s remote village, a childhood infused with spiritual upbringing. One day his father sent him to Kumbh Mela, India’s biggest pilgrimage to bring back a bottle of holy water. By then, already a phenomenal narrator, his eyes caught sight of little tales that spoke from his many encounters during this visit. His camera played guide – the magnitude of the fair, the avatars of the people and the paradoxes in their personalities leaped out, giving a sense of the mixed aura in this holy gathering. Close shots of people’s bodies – clad or not – are the subtextual definitions of who they are. Their faiths, varietal yet unifying, played the subtle undertones of each of these stories. If this weren’t a documentary, one may feel ruffled for not getting closure. The connection with all these souls through Pan’s lens is definitely real – one that has stretched to receiving plaudits from film festivals around the world.

This is the story of a woman who experienced love for the first time. Overwhelmed with the butterflies somersaulting in the pits of her stomach she looked for reasons to justify the sentiments that flooded her heart and shut the mind out from straight thoughts. She spoke of the angered wind, the looted flowers and the dilapidated veranda as an excuse to pamper her soul. She complained of being able to see not the ugly sights but the bright beauty around them. All these were her motives to tidy up so she could look pretty for the one to whom she lost her heart. Amitabh Bhattacharya drew the lyrics of this love ballad against a time period when women blushing meant flirting. The song made you feel what she felt. It probably got you all nostalgic – reminiscing your own first time.

Until just recently the widows of Varanasi weren’t allowed to come out and play with colours during the Indian festival of Holi. And then 2013 saw a rebellion of sorts. These ladies clad in their traditional white costumes got out and doused themselves in vivacity. Manish Arora took from this applaud-worthy courage to display his lively collection in all its glory. The film opened with a gloomy shot of forlorn widows on the banks of the Ganges. The next morning before sunrise, they allowed themselves to be sprayed in bright pink dust. The protagonist boldly walked through Varanasi’s lanes to celebrate her freedom and her strength. And when the credits rolled in, the onlooker may have wanted to clap with force – rejoicing womanhood.

On the day Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, and Sikhs were being slaughtered in revenge, a class of 10-year-olds were out on a field trip. The teacher took it upon herself to save the only Sikh boy in her class from the brutality that day. This was a horrifying experience told by an economics professor to another class decades later. It moved Shubhashish Bhutiani, one of the listeners, to the extent of going on to make a 30-minute short film on it. Most of the movie was built from candid moments of filming children just being kids. The background score that sporadically tunes in and out helped in generating tension at the right places and find distractions at other points. It invoked a level of empathy from the audience towards the child who shows profound maturity, setting aside his fears, discussing the correct thing to do – all to save the inconvenience caused to his mates. To be able to tactfully appeal to the viewers’ compassionate side, must be the reason it has been shortlisted for the Oscars.

There is a lady who has been brought up in different parts of North India. She picked up varying idiosyncrasies from people she met on these journeys. And finally many years later, after receiving encouragement from reviews on her previous works, Anuja Chauhan went on to write Those Pricey Thakur Girls. She literally brought out the tones of her characters through cleverly written dialogues. So much so that readers could almost hear the voices in their heads, and may have even wanted to read dialogues in an accent. While the story may not have been an extraordinary one, it was her narrative that kept many awake. Racy scenes were typed within modest boundaries; relations between the sisters stirred far away from the snappy reactions that the modern sibling wouldn’t hesitate to growl back. The parent-sibling relationship and that between in-laws were adorably apt, bordering on brusque. This book is definitely turning into a movie – hopefully one that does proper justice to it!

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