A Thing of Magic is a joy for ever

Nandana James | Updated on October 11, 2019 Published on October 11, 2019

Tinted glory: The film opens with a struggling harmonium player who presents a pair of 3D glasses to two sisters, telling them that the spectacles have magical powers   -  COURTESY: NITHIN ANIL

Slated to be screened at the MAMI festival later this month, Nithin Anil’s debut film A Thing Of Magic was made in collaboration with the villagers of Arale in Maharashtra

Nithin Anil makes his directorial debut sound deceivingly easy. “We placed a simple story in a village, and let the villagers tell the story for us,” the 23-year-old film-maker says.

He shot in a language that was as unfamiliar to him as the village he chose to film in. The residents doubled as actors in the film made on a tiny budget. All that he and his team wanted to do was to tell a strong story with a cast of non-actors. They did, and A Thing Of Magic is now slated to be screened at the 21st Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star later this month.

The film opens with Gundu Kaakka, a struggling harmonium player, who, after watching a 3D movie, presents a pair of 3D glasses to two sisters, telling them that the glasses have magical powers. An event occurs that piques the sisters’ curiosity, setting them off on a quest to find the truth about the glasses. Other stories of the village also unfold in the film.

With a script originally written by him in Malayalam and English, Anil and his four-member team travelled more than 2,000km from Kerala to shoot the film in Marathi in Arale, Maharashtra. They stumbled upon the “right village” after a month-long search.

Over 100 villagers turned up for the auditions. Anil remembers how a particular melancholic character, which they had assumed would be difficult for a first-time actor to portray, turned out to be the easiest to find. The woman who auditioned for the role slipped into it effortlessly because the character’s woes in the film mirrored her own. And this resulted in a stunning rendition which left them all speechless, he adds.

In a way, it is also the story of the people of Arale, Anil feels. The villagers were happy to find themselves in a story, and even enriched the script by weaving into it the everyday quirks and nuances of their lives. In the midst of dialogues, they’d sometimes trail off to real-life incidents.

But Anil was aware from the start that he was plunging into the unknown. Because of the shoestring budget, they fashioned their own equipment. The camera shoulder rig was made out of PVC pipe cuttings and bearings. They continued with the tripod that broke halfway into the shoot, he adds. They travelled from Kerala by train, “because even that seemingly minuscule difference of 2,000 bucks would have made a huge difference” to their budget.

The odds seemed to have been stacked against them: They had little money, no fixed script and no predetermined actors, not to mention the unknown language and territory. Was it a sense of iconoclasm that drove him?

“It wasn’t really that I wanted to make a film which was outside of Kerala just to prove a point. It was that I was ready to make one. I was saying, ‘Okay, because this is not a Malayalam movie, it’s not going to stop me’, because I believed that we can pull it off even if there is a language barrier — that’s something we can break. It was an idea that wouldn’t jail us,” says Anil over the phone. Film in itself has no language, he stresses.

The team — a collective of independent film-makers from Kochi and Thrissur who first met on the sets of a Malayalam film — had gone to Arale with the misconception that they could manage with Hindi. It turned out that they knew better Hindi than most people there.

“The idea of Hindi being the umbrella language, that people anywhere in India speak, barring the South, is a blatant fallacy,” he says. During the shoot, there was a profusion of languages such as Malayalam, English, Hindi and Marathi, all being translated seamlessly and simultaneously among the cast and the crew. “Every language had an equal footing during our film-making,” Anil emphasises.

But more than all these factors, the team was most touched by the cornucopia of experiences this far-flung village tucked away in the innards of Maharashtra bestowed upon them. “If I don’t speak about them, the effort they put into this, the kind of compassion and spirit that they showed, I would be doing them a huge injustice,” he says.

Anil fondly recalls the villagers’ unbridled interest in the film. Once, while the shoot was happening, an election van with blaring speakers happened to reach Arale. Before the film-makers could request the electioneers not to disrupt the shoot, the villagers had in hordes rushed to make sure that the van left, leaving both the crew and the campaigners amused at their protective act of defiance.

While the team is excited about seeing the film on a big screen for the first time at MAMI, it also looks forward to stopping at Arale post the fest and screening it there.

Anil also hopes to pen a book detailing their journey and how they learnt everything on the go. Apart from describing the experience of finding this village and its people, he wants to drive home the point that anyone can become a film-maker. “I will be happy if it inspires another person who is waiting there to know if it is possible at all,” he says.

Published on October 11, 2019
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