Drishyam Films’ first Gujarati language short, 'Rammat-Gammat' (My Best Friend’s Shoes), had its world premiere at the 64th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, Germany, last year, and since then it has had screenings at 35 film fests across the world. Written and directed by Ajitpal Singh, and co-produced by Tejas Shah and Mauli Singh, the short will be out on Drishyam Films’ YouTube channel in April.
The 18-minute film is a simple tale of friendship between two small boys in rural Gujarat – Avinash (Yash Patel), a rich boy from the upper caste, and Bhushan (Shivam Math), a poor boy from the lower caste, but touches upon emotions and questions why we do what we do. The boys are avid footballers, but their bonding takes a hit when Avinash gets a pair of yellow football studs to play a selection match for admission to a boarding school under sports quota.
Bhushan eyes his friend’s shoes, and even though his role in the missing shoes is evident to all, he ducks all charges and bears the brunt of his action quite silently, even lying to his mother that his friend gave him the shoes. Mindless of all taunts, punishment and beatings at the hands of his classmates and mother, he chooses to be quiet. The last scene shows a badly bruised Bhushan looking at his bleeding wounds and his friend and smiling, as if the scars on his body and friendship are both a plaything for him, and would heal with time. Edited excerpts of a conversation with Ajitpal Singh.
What is the story behind its title?
It was not easy to find a Gujarati title that can reflect the essence of the film; it’s a simple story with complex characters. It portrays friendship with grey shades, and yet it’s a warm film. After numerous sessions, we found Rammat-Gammat to be best suited as it means Khel Khel Mein in Hindi.
What made you get into a children’s film?
I never treated it like a children’s film. Children’s mind is very agile, and a child can grasp complexities with much more ease than an adult. When we try to make children’s film, I think we try to simplify and sanitise the life, and in the process, we deprive an opportunity to introduce the complex world to the children and let them decide what is right and wrong.
How are cinematic sensibilities different from making a film for adults?
I don’t think we should treat children’s film differently. It’s like when you treat kids like an adult they treat you like a friend - that allows for a conversation. Otherwise we end up preaching, and they don’t listen because we are not listening to them.
How was the journey?
The original story was inspired by a short story of Premchand where the main protagonist were two brothers, and the third character - the poorer boy played a minor role, we changed the story entirely and told the whole story from the poor boy’s point of view.
Eventually, the film has no resemblance to the original story. Even though the story unfolds in today’s time in a different context, it is inspired from my own experiences and memories of growing up in Gujarati village during the 1980’s anti-Sikh sentiments and how that alienated me as a child. I made sure that those feelings are not lost. And I think that is the right way of making films, think about the emotions and not success.