Filmmaker Jatinder Mauhar’s latest Punjabi film 'Saade Aaale' offers a cinema of feeling – the kind that is not so easy to come by these days despite technical brilliance and nuanced acting. And in that simple world of feeling love and brotherhood, it becomes a film worth talking about especially since Punjabi cinema stands at the edge of Change, feels BALPREET as she also talks to Mauhar.
STEPPING out of a film, there are immense possibilities within an audience. You could be walking out raving about the story and its telling, the performances, the music, the dance, the frames, the colours, the technique, the vision and many permutations and perspectives.
And then you could be flying out on a cloud, throbbing and inspired. Or knocked into a silence, with the heart bursting with things that grope for words and wet your eyes.
“For me the whole idea of cinema is to be able to uplift or inspire or be a mouthpiece and at least offer hope,” says filmmaker Jatinder Mauhar. Mauhar, who hails from Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab, India, is an important name in the entirety of contemporary Punjabi cinema with films like Mitti, Sikander, Qissa Punjab shining up his track-record besides a few interesting documentaries and collaborations. And the relevance of this man right now is in the fact that he has just released his latest - ‘Saade Aale’ (Our Own).
Yes, yes, hundreds of films break out of stables every week, spilling onto big screens besides our laptops, tablets, phones. So why a random Punjabi film that seems to stand somewhere in a corner against the likes of Runway 34 or Heropanti 2 or Ni Main Sass Kutni in this particular release timeline? Not to forget the OTT options...
Why Saade Aaale?
Good question. Glad to ask. And answer.
We all know that, increasingly, Indian cinema is looking slicker with interesting frames, special effects, technique. The actors look chiselled and toned, with their craft looking more and more honed. Yet, why do these wow-looking films of experimental storytelling and training-backed performances leave us cold and untouched? Why aren’t we stepping out of them riding clouds or flowing with rivers? Why aren’t we feeling affected? Stoked? Inspired? Moved?
Because, somewhere, our cinema has forgotten how to feed us energy. Or emotion. I think, what an audience really takes home after experiencing good cinema, is emotion. Some precious moments in the film, perch on our shoulders and go home with us, like little children after a village fair. These are moments of rapture, awe, amazement, miracle, belief. They unplug smiles from deep within, or silent screams of loss, pain or fury. And finally, they come away with us because they’ve spoken to our pain or joy somewhere and have healed us and lifted us to the skies of love and oneness.
Such cinema - Bollywood, OTT, or in this case, Punjabi - is not so easy to come by. Against cold winds, stand filmmakers who have the heart to pour soul into their films. Jatinder Mauhar is one of them who feels “no matter how technically brilliant a film is, if you are serving meaningless and forced comedy, violence, hatred, unnecessary sexual content, stuff that needles towards atrocity and darkness, your cinema is of no use. Cinema has to evoke love, goodness, ethics, brotherhood, humanity, curiosity...”
For someone who has constantly absorbed cinema by Latin American, Israeli, Argentinean or Dutch filmmakers like Rold de Heer (Ten Canoes), Mauhar’s idea behind creating cinema has always been to inspire or present thought. And since he has grown up in the arms of rural Punjab, his backdrop has been exactly that. And that’s where he intends to surf: “There are many out there making Hindi films. My canvas is - Punjabi cinema that speaks to anyone around the world.”
But developing a language of cinema with a social responsibility, comes with its consequences. His battles certainly aren’t small: “You will have more opponents than supporters if you are opinionated. And then misinterpretations of how you are, tend to travel and kill many opportunities. But then, this is my earning too. The message is clear – you will have to treat us well; you will have to respect. Now, that has not made our journey any easier. It is extremely tough to find people interested in our stories. But, not impossible. I am doing it and I charge a good amount of money. So, if I can do it, others too can!”
The competition is stark: “Filmmakers like me struggle at many stages, most of all – distribution. We are competing with a very different cinema in Punjab or outside. Prime show slots in a multiplex go to a few chosen genres and star-studded options. And then holding up principles is not always easy. Recently, during talks with an OTT platform, I asked how they hoped to normalise the society with so much violence, abusive language, darkness and sexual content. I guess they took offence and didn’t revert! But I have made my choices. Like, I just never can make a violent film. I cannot show even a drop of blood! Why would we want to serve the gory and the brutal? There are other ways to portray violence. Take Saade Aale. In our Balwinder Singh Grewal story, violence simmers. But it is inside the characters, their inner worlds. Their hatred and fury are on the edge of ferocity. But they are overcome. With love and forgiveness. That is the message. That is the intent,” says Mauhar.
And that brings us to the point that makes 'Saade Aale' worth the watch and this detailed mention. There are moments in the film when, beyond the scenes and the dialogues, emotion throbs. Somewhere Mauhar and his team have managed to rustle up the right kind of energy and emotion that leap out and become a lump in the throat. Eyes brim up and something rises from the deep. Some of these are Mauhar’s favourites too: When Bikker (Sukhdeep Sukh), while getting ready in front of the mirror, is singing a wedding song and his mother in the other room, is singing too. They can hear each other – he sings out of joy over getting married while his mother sings a folk song - ‘Raavi de kande Maa shagan kare’ - teasing him because Raavi (Amrit Aulakh) is the name of his beloved too. It’s a jugalbandi between mother and son, a harmony that looks very rare in Punjabi rural households, especially in Jat families where women are rampantly suppressed.
Then there is a beautiful scene when Bikker and Manjeet (Deep Sidhu) meet next to a village pond and build a beautiful friendship and brotherhood. They eventually become the bridge between their warring families. So herefor this scene, this slice of land with water on both sides is a metaphor. Mauhar had found this spot after much scouting and was buoyed up about using it.
Then there’s the scene when Bikker’s mother (sensitively portrayed by Harvinder Babli) sits in the Kabaddi field at the peak of her grief, trying to collect her late son’s footprints. For this scene, Mauhar insisted on a wide-angle lens to capture the entirety of life – the signs that it goes on - through the yellow mustards, the harvest swaying in the fields and the village houses. But even as we see a wide expanse, our eyes fall on the mother, crouching helplessly, looking like a dot in the vastness but carrying a grief that’s engulfed the whole village. The cremation ground next to the field strikes home the contrast between what was once a playfield throbbing with and life and Bikker, and the present where his death has turned into a collective tragedy and shaken up the precarious balance.
Then the film has faces that speak louder in silence. Like that of the village elder who is always blessing the boys; of Raavi; of Manjeet’s sister. There are moments that melt us: when Manjeet and Bikker, dressed for a wedding, take blessings from their mother and the village elder; when Bikker protects his adversary’s sister calling her ‘saade pind di kudi, saadi kudi’; when the families receive Bikker’s body... These are moments that tug profoundly – a possibility that is becoming rare in cinema these days. And in that, Saade Aale becomes absolutely significant.
Creating an emotion that leaps out of a film is not exactly a technical process. It’s always interesting to know how a director inspires his actors to touch that chord. Mauhar’s process is organic. “First it has to be decided what kind of world you wish to exist in. You define it and then you live around that idea. Your manner of being will express your inner world. And then, most emotions are inside you. So before a scene, I talk to my actors for a long time, pulling out matching references from my own life. With those stories, I try to touch a chord within them. That’s when they tap into the emotion and deliver a scene. So, for Saade Aaale, I would tell my actors to go hug their moms, thank their siblings, help people on the road, do random acts of kindness – so that the good within them could got accentuated and activated,” shares Mauhar.
With so much emotional effort behind his craft, Mauhar is trying to cement a turn in Punjabi cinema, the kind that Marathi cinema witnessed some years back. “It took just two films to change the language of Marathi cinema. Let’s hope we too create those two films to change ours in Punjab,” says Mauhar, his eyes shining.
For a man who has fed on cinema by Mrinal Sen, Vijay Anand, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mehboob Khan and Govind Nihalani, this is a hope that is logical. And possible. Indeed, we in Punjab are sitting on the edge of change. We have been through a giant wheel of the good, bad, ugly and the horrendous. We have travelled through Jatt-centred obsessions, dived into religious flavours of Nanak Naam Jahaaz Hai and Uchha Dar Babe Nanak Da, have pendulated from slapstick and double-meaning comedy to a cleaner, and sometimes even good humour. We have begun to see some good action too. And thrillers. Good storytelling the level of Marhi Da Diwa, Udeekaan, Chann Pardesi, Laung Da Lishkara has travelled across Jag Jeondeyaan De Mele, Haani, Mitti, Jatt & Juliet to Rabb Da Radio, Bambukaat, Angrez, Golak Bugni Bank Te Batua, Lahoriye, Ardaas et al. And somewhere along the way, our filmmakers have begun to grow courage – to tell stories differently or even better, tell different stories. Literature, art and aesthetics have begun to peep through in flashes. We are possibly at the doorstep of Change. And the hope that Jatinder Mauhar wishes to offer.
Saade Aale is an important brick in this new construct. A chapter worth reading.