‘Moti Bagh’: Between land and loneliness

Prachi Raturi Misra | Updated on October 04, 2019

That emptiness: Rural-to-urban migration is a key aspect of the film

Nirmal Chander Dandriyal’s documentary film ‘Moti Bagh’, India’s entry to the Oscars, is about 83-year-old Vidyadutt Sharma and Uttarakhand’s migration-battered villages

He loves it. The sudden attention, how his phone (which is usually quiet like him) has not stopped ringing, the constant visitors in the village home, not to forget a recent standing ovation in Delhi. At 83, Vidyadutt Sharma is a happy man. The farmer-poet, who thinks his life is pretty ordinary, is still intrigued that a documentary film made on his life had made it to the Oscars.

Moti Bagh, directed by the award-winning film-maker Nirmal Chander Dandriyal, is the life story of Sharma, who has been toiling at his farm in a remote Himalayan village for 55 years. Around him lie over 7,000 ghost villages, a sad reminder of the large-scale migration by the youth of Uttarakhand in search of employment. “Aa darpan maain dikha doon, nangi tasveer pahadon ki (Let me show you in the mirror, the naked picture of the mountains),” reads one of Sharma’s poems. He hums this and the many others he has penned, as he works on his five-acre farm in Sanguda village in Pauri Garhwal.

Vidyadutt Sharma


For Sharma, also Dandriyal’s uncle, this is the only life he knew and wanted to know — working on his farm, which he named Moti Bagh after his father. He left a plum government job in his youth to return to his village and the fields. Of course it was not easy, it never is for a farmer, says Dandriyal. It was this fact that he wanted to focus on in the film.

That this portrayal has been receiving rave reviews is gratifying, he says. Moti Bagh won the best long documentary award at the 12th IDSFFK (International Documentary and Short Film Festival, Kerala) 2019, was screened at Film South Asia, Nepal, this year, and is now en route to the documentary section at the Oscars. “If a director says he/she knew they were making a top-class, award-winning film, they’d be lying. Because you don’t know. One makes a film because there is a story to be told. And then you go with the flow of the story. It unfolds itself,” the director says.

It was in the past five or six years that the director started thinking of a documentary based in Uttarakhand. Though he has roots in the state, Dandriyal rarely visited his village except, like most citybreds, “for weddings and holidays”. With the filming of Moti Bagh, he found himself reconnecting to his roots, and growing closer to nature.

“It took me a few days to get into the rhythm of the village life. In fact, on the first day I started filming, I realised I was stiff while my uncle was at ease. Everything in the village life has its own pace and its own rhythm. And that essentially is the beauty of it. Slowly I let the life, as it unfolded each day, lead me on,” he says

He captured it all, frame by frame, season by season, as Sharma and his farmhand Ram Singh worked steadily on the fields, patiently, through all the challenges. “I wanted to capture the entire agricultural cycle. To show the monsoon, the snowfall, and the life, as it is.”

Ram Singh is an important part of the film, too. He and several of his brethren from Nepal are today crucial to Uttarakhand’s migration-battered villages. For instance, in the film, Sharma talks about an old woman who had died and how she could be taken for cremation only after a Nepali help arrived. “They have made a home away from home, becoming an essential part of lives here. You question if they are really the ‘others’. Who really are the others, aren’t we the ‘others’, somewhere else?” Dandriyal asks .

He wanted the film to be about the lives of people who are never spoken about. “So there is no journalistic approach of speaking to both sides. There are no government officials, no statistics. The ordinary voices which are usually unheard are the only ones that speak,” he says.

And no, he was not looking to answer any questions through the film. “Vidyadutt ji is the answer,” he stresses. “For he does not complain about migration, about the challenges that he, as a farmer, faces. Instead he quietly moves about, being one with the trees, the birds, and the soil.”

With Moti Bagh, as with his other films — whether it’s Zikr Us Parivash Ka (based on singer Begum Akhtar’s life), or Dreaming Taj Mahal (about a Pakistani taxi driver who dreams of seeing the Taj Mahal one day), or his directorial debut, All the World’s a Stage, among others — he allowed the setting to lead him on. “I have no preconceived idea of what I want to do with a film. Each one is different, and so is the path,” he says.

And Oscar or not, Dandriyal is already happy with the impact made by his latest work. “The fact that so many people want to see the film, so many are talking about it, that itself is very rewarding. The fact that farmers and farming are getting centre-stage is the reward!”

Prachi Raturi Misra is a Delhi-based independent journalist and author

Published on October 04, 2019

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