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Field to Factory: Film and ethnography of industrialisation in Chhattisgarah, Central India

Kamlesh Kumar Sahu Interviewed by Margaret Dickinson

October 27th 2002

M. D: What was the background of Every Day Tales and how did it start?

K. K. S.: When we were near to completing the ninth month of our training in Jandarshan, we were told to develop a story or script of 5 minutes based on one of the family members, then I found this occasion to develop a script on my grand father. Right from my childhood I always see him surrounded by many people who came to take advice on many subjects, many topics based on social disputes or to handle, to settle some quarrel and this always impressed me. And I always found his personality very interesting. That's why when I got opportunity to make a film on one of my family members then it was obvious that I have to choose my grand father.

M. D: That was a five minute film we are talking about but Every Day Tales is a half hour film. First of all did you make the five minute film and how did you get from a five minutes film to a half hour film?

K. K. S: No I didn't make a five minute film. Finally I made it 30 minutes long. I find that in five minutes it is not a sufficient length for things which I want to tell the audience about my grand father. Five minutes was quite a short duration, that's why I decided to make it longer.

M. D: But wasn't the situation that first you had to make a five minute film and then you were asked to develop it - or given an opportunity to develop it? You did not set out to make a five minute film and just let it run on into a much longer film, did you?

K. K. S: As I said earlier, the personality which I want to impose to my audience, it was not possible to show it in five minutes. There are many aspects of his personality. He is 73 years old at the moment, but his activeness and what he is doing is joining with the main stream of society and he is very active and there are many other things which I wanted to tell about him and I developed it so it should be at least a half hour film.

M. D: How far did you know all the things the film tells us about your grandfather before starting the film? Did you find out anything while making it?

K. K. S: Yes, now the film is among the audience, but most of the stories I knew about him already. Many times when I sat with him I used to ask about his life and many times he too himself told the stories. And specially in the winter season when the work was going on, grinding and . this is when I sat with him or in our fields or in our home or in the workplaces. When I and my grandfather were together I always asked about his life and he too told me very interestingly every time.

M. D: So, the scenes in the film where you ask your grandfather to tell you things, those are almost re-enactments of things which have really happened without a film, on other occasions?

K. K. S: Sorry, would you like to repeat the question?

M. D: Yes. In the film we see you ask your grandfather questions. You say that this is something that you used to do anyway So, those scenes in the film are re-enactments of conversations you have really had with your grandfather, before there was any question of making a film?

K. K. S: Yes, most of the things, since I knew (them) already but it is re-enacted with real locations. There were places where I had never been before but while I was doing this film I went with my grandfather and visited those places, the land which was taken for the plant. I'd never been there but since I have to do this film. In this film the talking is a kind of re-enactment (but) somehow there were other questions which occurred at the moment, and locations are of my choice.

M. D.:- Did going to the actual place make the story seem any different to you?

K. K. S: Yes. Since it was a film medium so anyway I had to make things interesting. How I can press my audience, how I can influence my audience to see my film, it is always one of the aspects with filmmaking. So yes, it changed the impact of the story, I think, the real locations which I chose to talk with my grand father and I think that it made a lot of difference.

M. D: You wrote a complete script before starting the film, didn't you?

K. K. S: Yes.

M. D: Can you tell us something about what influences came to bear on the script? Were you simply writing off the top of your head about your grandfather or were you influenced by any outsider or by films you'd seen?

K. K. S: Yes. At two places it is influenced by outsiders. When I showed my script to you, you suggested some changes in it. And I too found that, since it is an autobiographical film, so it is worth accepting those suggestions. First is that I'd wanted to show the establishment of plant as a happening for Bhilai not for my grand father. I wanted to exaggerate as if in 1956 there was a great change in the life of Bhilai. It (was) established and people got to work and it came a lot of changes in the life of the people surrounded by it. But I changed it and did it as a personal point of view of my grand father.

M. D: So, you are saying that my influence was to push you to be more subjective? I'd forgotten now but you did originally have an introduction to the film which was like an objective general story about the Bhilai Steel Plant. And so the influence was that you turned that more in to a subjective story about your grandfather's relations with it?

K. K. S: Yes. Originally I had planned it as very objective, for a common viewer it was a general perspective of Bhilai being converting into an industrial city but later on, according to your suggestion, I changed it. I made it more personal.

M. D: O.K. What was the other influence?

K. K. S: Other influence is that I had planned a general discussion among my family members and I had planned to talk about many things like changes in society, changes in life of the people, the impact of Bhilai Steel Plant in the region. Here too one of your suggestions was that, the moral things which change in the society with time passing by, it is always difficult to measure such kind of things; the moral harassment and the things related to morality. That was the second point where I was affected by some outsider.

M. D: I remember that I suggested you should make the discussion specific, but in fact, as it appears in the film it is still quite general, isn't it?

K. K. S: Yes. Since there were three generations of people within a family among the discussion so it was not as successful as I expected. Things came in a very general perspective; in a very general aspect. I couldn't ask very specific things, very specific views of different members of my family.

M. D: Was it because you find it difficult to have certain kinds of discussion with your father and grandfather or was it because the family situation was awkward? Why do you think it happened?

K. K. S: Yes. Since it was the first occasion to sit like this for discussion in my family and to ask specific questions, to fire questions (about) various aspects of life. I too, I hesitated since I have my grandfather, my brother my uncles and my father as well. So, sometimes I too hesitated to ask those specific questions. Sometimes I feel that something I really lose since I am a member of the family, so somehow there were questions .. it always pressurised me not to ask those questions since it's a very simple thing and I see it everyday, so I say, it's a stupid thing to ask for me but if I see it from a film maker's point of view that might have been helpful to make the film more interesting.

M. D: But do you never sit round and discuss things in the family in a natural way? When you talked about this scene you said you had expected there to be some argument particularly about attitudes to caste and arranged marriage and that kind of thing. Were you expecting that because you had had informal arguments in the family before or was it just that you felt there was some disagreement and you hoped to do it for the first time?

K. K. S: Yes. In general I know the different perspectives about castism and intercaste marriages in society. I know my grandfather never accepts these things. He is always against intercaste marriage and same kind of affect was on my uncle and on my father but they are not too much orthodox about these. And I talked many times to my younger brother. He always said me that it should be happen.

M. D: What should happen?

K. K. S: These intercaste marriages should happen and there is no problem to have such kind of things but when I made to sit together all these family members my grandfather didn't quite express it as much as he liked at other places and my brother changed his views. Maybe it is because the elders of the family were there. His two senior generations were there and in Indian families to talk such kind of things in front of elders, it's always difficult. So that didn't happen.

M. D: The interview doesn't add as much to the film as you'd hoped. Do you want to say something about your decision to use it in the film all the same?

K. K. S: Yes. Actually I want to pose some questions, leave something on which my audience can think over after the film. So, although those discussions were not that much interesting but since the things are related to my grandfather and I think that anyway that should be a part of my film. When I scripted the film I wanted to put those things certainly (in) the film.

M. D: Was the film influenced by any films? Is there any particular scene in the film which is influenced by another film?

K. K. S: Yes.. Before making the film we have seen a good film which was made by a film maker on his father who installed a film talkies in U.P. (Uttar Pradesh). I saw the whole film before starting my film and I found that some things I can adopt from it.

M. D: Kumar Talkies?

[Interviewer's note: Kumar Talkies, (1999) d. by Pankaj Rishi Kumar, is a 76 minute documentary about a run-down cinema in a small town, Kalpi which in better days was owned by the filmmaker's father. It is part family history, part reflection on the social role of cinema. In the director's words from the 1999 Yamagatu International Documentary Film Festival Catalogue: 'The film documents cinema as simultaneously a vehicle that conveys a remote, urban, imagination to a small town such as Kalpi, and a medium in which different people expect their localised existence to be captured and displayed. Somewhere between the cinema hall, where disbelief is suspended, and the broader world of Kalpi, where economic decline questions the town's continued existence, lies a field of constantly shifting significance, made more complex by the competing images of television.' ]

K. K. S: Yes, from Kumar Talkies. I adopted the talking style, the interview at one place where I was talking with my grandfather, that was the place where his land was before the establishment of the Plant . I adopted that style from this film.

M. D: Something that I just wondered about - you know that scene where it is pouring with rain and your film has a gateway? That reminded me of the opening of Rashomon. Had that been in your mind or was that just an accident?

[Interviewer's note: The trainees were sown several of Kurosawa's films but were particularly familiar with Rashoman (1950) because some sequences, particuarly the early scene of walking through the woods, were viewed repeatedly for detailed camera and editing analysis]

K. K. S: No, it was not in my mind, it was just an accident.

M. D: What did your family think of the film?

K. K. S: Actually I tried to show the film many times to my family but I haven't managed it yet. Although my two brothers have seen the film and they liked it.

M. D: What did they say about it?

K. K. S: They said that it's good but they are not happy that the film is too much talkative.

M. D: Not happy with what?

K. K. S: They are not happy because film has a lot of interviews and a lot of discussions. I can imagine that it is a very general Indian thinking about films. They are also not happy about why the film doesn't have narration. It has only two bits of narration which are very small in length. They are expecting that I should put some longer narration and I think that it is also an impact of Indian documentaries which people expect with documentaries here.

M. D: What kind of narration were they expecting? Were they expecting you, as Kamlesh, to be talking in a first person narration or were they expecting that the film would somehow be more objective, that some completely unknown person would be talking about the life of your family.

K. K. S: Yes, they were expecting a personal narration by me as if I am explaining the things, that this is my family, that it is mostly based on a relationship between my grandfather and me and my family and me as well.

M. D: What do you say respectively? Do you agree with you brothers that it could have done with more of your own narration or do you think that they're wrong about that?..

K. K. S: Yes, I found that it could be worth doing. I think that can make my film more impersonal, more relative between my family and me.

M. D: More impersonal or more personal?

K. K. S: More personal.

M. D: Is there anything else which you would change? You have said to me that you wanted to change and improve the film before it went into the collection. I said, unfortunately there wasn't space on the editing machines but given space and time, what you would have done to it?

K. K. S: Yes, actually some aspects of the life of my grandfather I couldn't show it in the film. I want to put those aspects as well. He is a very active member of the council of justification, a kind of district committee which decides, which observes and settles disputes between society, quarrels and things related to marriage and related to Sahu Samaj.

M. D: This is the "Sahu Samaj" Committee? Essentially this is the committee which fines Sahus for doing things like marrying outside the caste, is that right?

K. K. S: Yes, it is a society of Sahus of the region and my grandfather is a member of the judiciary that takes care of such kind of things in (the) district and this committee has eight members from the whole district.

M. D: O.K. what else? You said there are a couple of things you want to change or you said there are a couple of other things about your grand father you want to show?

K. K. S: It was the first thing which I want to add in the film and second thing is that his co-ordination among other people, other outsiders; outsiders means out side of the family. Many people daily come to him to get suggestion, to get advice about the quarrels or handling some thing, so, that too I want to put (in) the film.

M. D: From what you said it seems that your own main central point of interest in your grandfather is his position in the community. But the film puts quite a lot of emphasis on his history with B.S.P. Did that come into the film because you knew that Johnyji and I were interested in B.S.P. or was it something that is natural to bring into the story anyway?

K. K. S: I would like to tell one thing which pressed me to put the film anyway:. the motto of 'Jandarshan' . . . and many times I had conversations with Johnyji - the changes in life of Bhilai. After the coming of the Bhilai Steel Plant it changed very fast. So I found that it is very relevant to my family history as well, the history and the Bhilai Steel Plant and relationship of Bhilai Steel Plant with my grandfather.. If I would make film on any aspect (of his life) I would like to show that part necessarily. So, I am not in favour of saying that the film (was) naffected by some outsider at that place. But this conversation, the statement that Bhilai has changed a lot after establishment of the Bhilai Steel Plant was always in my mind when I was designing the film.

M. D: What would you say you learnt in making the film?

K. K. S: One clear lesson that in Indian families discussions on some particular issues like marriage, it's always difficult. And I think as a whole I learnt many things since it was the first long duration film directed by me and I had to deal with many things as well. Especially I learnt solving problems at the location sometimes specifically. The shooting of the film was especially a great example of co-ordination. We shot the film in very odd conditions, in rainy season, so it was a very good group co-ordination.

M. D: Is there anything else you would like to add? Anything you think it would be interesting for people to know about you and the film that we haven't talked about?

K. K. S: Yes, actually the story of my grandfather is a story of a successful man. Right from his childhood he was always confidant about his views and I find him a very honest person, a person who had worked with society for quite a long time very closely and as a successful man I always appreciated (him). The people of the region, my neighbouring village, people who belong (to) those villages, they always appreciated my grandfather. I heard many times about my grandfather from some other villagers that he is a very nice man, he is a successful man He had nothing but now he has a very good property, very good reputation in the society. He has a very important place in the society. I learnt many things from my grandfather. Many things I couldn't put in my film. There were many reasons that I didn't have time and I was also a student, so, it was impossible to put all those things in the film. But I am really very much impressed with the life of my grandfather.

M. D: O.K., Thank you,

K. K. S.. :- Thank you a lot.