Dust director Udita Bhargava: Terms like ‘Maoist’ and ‘Naxal’ are used to demonize resistance movements
Dust, on Mubi, follows a German man who visits Indore after the death of his photojournalist girlfriend
Udita Bhargava’s Dust was recently released on Mubi. The film, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2019, is backdropped on the Maoist insurgency in India. It follows a German man who visits Indore after the death of his photojournalist girlfriend whilst documenting the maoist movement in India. The film is led by Morten Holst, Vinay Pathak and Kalyanee Mulay.
Before making Dust, Udita assisted on films like Slumdog Millionaire, Life in A... Metro, and Mira Nair’s short film Migration (2008). Here, the filmmaker discusses her journey and talks about tracing resistance movements through fiction.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how filmmaking happened.
I studied English literature at St Stephen's College, Delhi University. At that time, without articulating that wish publicly, I was hoping to become a writer. Afterwards, I joined the Centre for Mass Communications at Jamia Millia Islamia with the idea of working as a professional photojournalist after my Master's Degree was completed. At Jamia, I encountered filmmaking and understood, for the first time in my life, that films are made by people; they do not just appear magically on the screen. And that revelation changed the whole trajectory of my learning, thinking and doing.
How did Dust happen? Did you write the screenplay?
Yes, I wrote the screenplay for Dust. Like I mentioned earlier, I had secretly nurtured hopes of becoming a writer. The first film is a challenge at all levels: writing, directing and production. It was a tough ride!
The film deals with the Maoist insurgency. Any particular reason to choose this topic?
Dust is about the crises of lives in a landscape torn by conflict; a conflict that influences and shapes the life of many people; even an individual born very far away from the site of conflict. I would like to point out that Dust does not refer to 'maoists' anywhere.
Unfortunately 'Maoist' and 'Naxal' are terms that are being used interchangeably today to delegitimize and demonize resistance movements and individuals related with those movements. I am interested in the resistance movements and drew inspiration from them, to create a fictional story, which touches upon the grim and confusing reality on the ground in large parts of our country.
How was your experience working with Vinay Pathak and others?
Vinay was a great boon to Dust! Along with Abu Bakr Golu ( Krishna), he was our lucky mascot. Vinay supported us and had a nurturing attitude towards my team, especially the foreign members who were new to India and to our tough shooting environment. It was spectacular to shoot Dust with a mixed German-Indian team. Later, I edited the film with a master Danish editor Anders Villadsen and the sound post production was done in Greece with Persefoni Miliou and Kostas Varympopiotis.
Any memorable moments from the sets
Well, there are many. One of the most moving moments on set was shooting the scene in which Krishna's head is shaved. The adult team members were in tears as they watched the performance, while the Golu and the other boys would snap out of the role as soon as I called cut and be running out in full masti mode. The contrast between the two emotions on set was reassuring for me, because I had been quite apprehensive before we started.
Is it tricky to make a film like this in India?
Logistically, it is very tricky to make a film like this. We shot on real locations and not in a studio. That presents several challenges as one cannot 'control' the shooting environment very well. For example, we were usually surrounded by huge crowds as we filmed. Additionally, one feels daunted at the start, as large sections of society are growing increasingly intolerant, especially towards women who take a stand that goes against the narrow nationalism that is currently being promoted.
Tell us about your future projects.
I am preparing several projects currently and they are in various stages of development. One of them is set in Orissa, another one in Goa, and I'm also writing a film which might be shot in German language. I have already begun gathering some wonderful people around me and feel confident that each of these projects will be an amazing journey.