Retelling the tale of Tenali Rama and The Brahmins: an ethno-fiction experiment

 

On 6th of July, our house was transformed into a film set. I live with a Banarasi family and their distant relatives in a three storeyed, courtyard house at the Panchganga Ghat, close to Thateri Bazaar in Varanasi. In total, we are 9 people living in the house. Espírito Kashi, our little office is on the third floor.

We had been thinking about our second folktale based fiction film, with Tenali Raman in mind. And this one day, Pankaj, a member of the family, comes home with a tuft on the back of a shaven head. Just like Tenali Raman. I introduced him to the short story about how the jester poet Tenali Raman teaches the greedy Brahmins a lesson. Not only Pankaj, everyone in the house became excited about the film.

They were ready to take up whatever task required to do this together. The land lady took charge of costumes and make up, the land lord organised food, the 90 year old lady who lives as a tenant on the ground floor, performed the main role of being the King’s mother. Rest of the characters were played by some of our old friends from Varanasi. Everyone agreed to this spontaneous plan of shooting on 6th July.

Should we bring in costumes, for example of a King, of a Brahmin and of soldiers, or just make the film in today’s context? But it is logical that, the film and it’s audio, will carry today’s context. Then why not, bring in the costumes to bring in the humour, not only to confuse the viewer about the time and space but also to bring the family members (who have never acted before) into the role. It worked.

The story is about 4 Brahmins who get themselves branded with Tenali’s hot iron rod, by believing that they will be rewarded with an extra mango of gold from the King. Always revolving around a certain desire or greed. The family I live with in Varanasi is also Brahmin, but they never passed any discouraging remarks towards the story itself. They all loved it. In fact, the story was told to us in Varanasi and thus retold here itself.

Soon, we were editing the film together. Immensely enjoying the process of putting the scenes together, and the magic that happens when the story is woven together and they saw how two seemingly different scenes can connect with each other. This was the peak of our experience – when they began to request me to continue making these films. For us, the house is no more the same. It was transformed into a film set and now it is somewhere in the blurred lines between a film set and our lives in Varanasi.

In this way, our second short film was prepared. May be not exactly the same, at some point the characters and the situations change the folk tale, and this is something expected. None of us want to retell the story as it is. And who knows what was the most authentic version of the folk tale? The film will be released in August, as we are requesting Dr. Vijay Choubey to work on the music for the film.

Rajat Nayyar  (Film Director)

 

 

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