BENGALURU: This film is an attempt to capture the inner worlds of people and their experience of separation and longing. It accounts for losses that are not part of the official discourse around labour and migration, that of disappearances and the missing person,” says Ekta M, while talking about her film, Gumnaam Din, which will be showcased at the Berlinale Shorts 2020 festival, currently taking place in Berlin, Germany. Ekta’s documentary-fiction, which she calls an abstract film, doesn’t focus on one particular person or group of migrant workers.
“It tries to move away from the person who went missing and more towards the deep sense of separation and loss that is inevitable in everyone’s life. Each person faces separation or loss, be it through someone’s death, or someone who disappears or a lover who never returns,” says the Bengalurean, who has directed the film. This would be Ekta’s fifth such film that deals with migration, with Gumnaam Din being a continuation of Behind the Tin Sheets, a collaborative film project conceived in 2009 that focused on the sub-conscious of the migrant worker in the city. While the first three were made in collaboration, the fourth, titled Birha and Gumnaam Din, have been solo directions for Ekta.
“Gumnaam Din has been guided by the Birha poetry of Shiv Kumar Batalvi, where I worked with a translator to translate 20 Punjabi poems from Batalvi’s large body of work,” she says, adding that the film is not a literal representation of the poems. “It’s more about the essence of what the poem leaves you with – the mood or emotion it induces,” adds Ekta, who is also the co-founder of a media and arts collective called Maraa. Having always been in Bengaluru, Ekta found interest in the back stories of people involved in building the Metro. “The first three films looked at the inner worlds of migrant workers – through ghost stories, love stories, and fantasies. People living here are attached to the city and don’t recognise parts of it anymore.
So I wanted to see what this sense of loss was like for a migrant worker who came to a city they didn’t even know,” she explains, adding that this also made her question the meaning for longing and how one could stay so far away from their family. “This led me to speak to the workers and the friendship I formed with them led me to meeting their parents, spouses, lovers etc. It helped me see things from their perspective. The film is a missing conversation between the two worlds.”
Both Birha and Gumnaam Din had Ekta travel to Punjab, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar in order to meet families of migrant workers, with both films taking close to five years to make. Thanks to support by Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, Ekta will be travelling to Germany for the screening and expresses her happiness for the opportunity. “More so, because my film isn’t topical or focussed on any specific issue. So it is hopeful to see that there’s space for different kinds of narratives. I am particularly interested, since there are other films addressing the subject of disappearances, from different contexts.”