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‘Oh That’s Bhanu’ at the centre stage

Nandhu Sundaram | Updated on October 26, 2019 Published on October 25, 2019

Walk of life: Bhanumathi Rao takes her daily walks seriously   -  IMAGE COURTESY: RV RAMANI

RV Ramani’s documentary on Bhanumathi Rao, a 95-year-old Bharatanatyam dancer, screened at the ongoing MAMI film festival, celebrates both frailty and strength

Beautiful Mind — that’s the first title that film-maker RV Ramani could think of when he started working with nonagenarian Bhanumathi Rao in 2014. The Bharatanatyam dancer, now 95 years old, kept wondering why the director wanted to make her the subject of his new film. It’s a question she had raised several times during the five years that Ramani captured in a 112-minute documentary film that was screened at the ongoing Jio MAMI 21st Mumbai Film Festival with Star.

No one knows if she bought Ramani’s answer that he wanted to capture her “beautiful mind” but Bhanumathi’s free spirit, despite her failing memory and hearing ability, gave the film a title that only she could have come up with: Oh That’s Bhanu.

Bhanumathi became a social media phenomenon in 2016, when she danced to the famous classical song, Krishna Nee Begane Baaro, at a function in Bengaluru. The mother of theatre artiste, dancer and social activist Maya Krishna Rao, she splits time between Delhi and Bengaluru. And while treatment for poor hearing is one of the highlights of her current life, she is devoted to her daily walks and other activities around the house. One of the first few scenes shows her looking for an earpiece she has lost in a park in the neighbourhood. She is also seen dancing to the song that made her famous on social media.

Bhanumathi Rao became a social media phenomenon in 2016, at the age of 92   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Bhanumathi’s sense of humour shines through the film. In the opening sequence, where the director and the subject are studying each other through their cameras, Bhanumathi asks Ramani to drink tea instead of filming her.

The film is at its funniest when Bhanumathi, a former dance teacher, can’t quite remember who Ramani is. She keeps asking him the same in both English and Malayalam and he answers patiently every time. The process starts all over again every time they meet. “I can’t remember anything,” she finally confesses to him with a smile.

Bhanumathi makes us laugh again when she tells Ramani — a friend of her daughters Maya and Tara [both feature prominently in the film] — that she can’t understand how he makes money. “Money is important. How do you make it? What is your income?” she asks the Chennai-based film-maker more than once. She is equally candid in the prominent sequence in which she goes to cast her vote. She can’t seem to remember how to go about the process and is upfront about her inability to comprehend.

Going back to their first meeting, Ramani iterates that he was enamoured of the dancer’s “beautiful mind”. “Something happened between us when she took my hand in hers and sat right next to me... I didn’t know what was happening. I wanted to find out more,” he tells BLink during an interaction after the screening of the film in PVR Cinemas in Bandra. “Before I was out of the door, I was asking the family about making a film on her,” Ramani adds.

Some of the sequences in the film are quite long. The director gives his shots ample breathing time allowing us to think about what we are watching. The camera, also operated by Ramani, is often trained closely on Bhanumathi’s face, giving us a close experience of being with her. “There were many edited versions. I tried different permutations and combinations. In my mind, this is the best one,” Ramani says.

Ramani was very influenced by the idea of “memory spasms” while making his film. What makes a beautiful mind and what is the role of a person’s memory in shaping it seems to be Ramani’s central question. The film is as much about Ramani as Bhanumathi. ”My films on Mrinal Sen [A Documentary Proposal, 2016] and Anand Patwardhan [Hindustan Hamara, 2014], too, share this element of being partly about me,” Ramani says.

He is, however, quick to take the discussion back to Bhanumathi. “She has been through a lot. She has lived her life alone after she lost her husband in the ’40s,” Ramani says. “Her wit and her lightness of being contribute significantly to the film, but it was a process of discovery for me. In her mind, Bhanumathi has arrived at a particular place and that’s what is beautiful about it,” he says.

Oh That’s Bhanu will be screened at the Dharamshala International Film Festival between November 7 and 10. It will then be shown at India International Centre in Delhi on November 16.

RV Ramani, a Chennai-based documentary film-maker

 

Nandhu Sundaram is a freelance journalist based in Ooty

Published on October 25, 2019
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