Writer and director Dar Gai talks to Frankly My Dear UK about NAMDEV BHAU: IN SEARCH OF SILENCE and her inspiration behind the film

In her second outing behind the camera, Dar Gai delivers a film that is as visually striking as it is affecting with NAMDEV BHAU IN SEARCH OF SILENCE.

Driving mad by the constant noise of Mumbai City, chauffeur Namdev Bhau is at the end of both his career and his wits. Packing a suitcase and leaving his family behind, Namdev sets for the fabled mountain retreat Silent Valley, where he hopes to find peace at last. On this journey, he chances upon an exasperating 12-year old boy, who happens to be on his own solo expedition to the mystical “Red Castle”.

Following its screening at the BFI London Film Festival, writer and director Dar Gai talks to Donna Kelly from Frankly My Dear UK about NAMDEV BHAU: IN SEARCH OF SILENCE and what inspired her to write the film.

Frankly My Dear UK (FMD:) Can you start by telling us a little bit about the film and what inspired you to write this story?

Dar Gai (DG): I guess my main inspiration was Bombay because Bombay is such an unusual and diverse city which has so many different stories inside it. This idea actually came from the irritation of Bombay because Bombay is louder than London by 46 times and 46 times is a lot. In Bombay, you can’t hear each other so when we started developing and discussing the film, we’d always complain about the noise. The idea about the driver, who is the most irritated because he has to drive in that madness of the traffic all the time, became my main character when actually the only thing he wants in his life is silence. He finds this article which says in the world there are only three places which have 000.01 percent decibel of sound and one of those places is in Ladakh, the mountains of India, so he decides to leave everything and just go on a journey to find silence. On this journey, he comes across a boy who is also on his own journey to the find a mystical red castle and it’s the journey of those two characters. They are looking for something very physical in their head which turns out to be much deeper than we expect.

FMD: The lead character is almost silent throughout the whole of the film. How challenging is it for you as a director to work on a film with little to no dialogue and how did you overcome those challenges?

DG: There is a saying that the most challenging thing when you are dating someone is to keep quiet, to keep silence together and for me, it’s the same about the actor. If the actor knows how to be silent in front of the camera and relax in front of the camera and be natural, it’s the most challenging thing. We were thinking about different options for the main character and when I saw Namdev Gurav, I realised he was the only person. Even though he hasn’t acted before and he doesn’t know anything about acting, he has a natural charisma is the only charisma that will work for this film. If he wasn’t able to pull off this role, I don’t think the film would happen because you wouldn’t be able to find an actor who could say so much with his face. He doesn’t say anything but all throughout the film you can read his emotions he’s experiencing. All the experience he has ever felt in his life is on his face, its actual experience, he doesn’t need to enact it. That helped a lot. We also did workshops, hours of workshops of him getting used to the camera and walking a lot. He has never taken a plane in his life, he has never travelled anywhere outside of Bombay so each step of our production was a surprise, a new life experience for him.


FMD: It sounds like a journey for you as a crew as well? I believe that you only had a small crew working on the film?

DG: It wasn’t a journey, it was complete hell [laughs]. Usually, on a really small budget film, they have 2 to 3 assistants but my cinematographer didn’t have any assistants! My producer was my associate director and was doing everything. I was doing everything. My crew was doing everything. It was crazy 247 and it was physically crazy because you need to adapt to high altitude. Its completely different air, the sun is very harsh and in no time, it goes into really low temperatures so you’re fighting like this from all angles. I think that nowadays, no matter what, with the progression of technology, it’s much easier to shoot a film than it was before.

FMD: It must make the whole experience quite personal for you all though because so much of you and the crew have gone into the film?

DG: Yes. I feel very comfortable. I feel that right now we can make a film that will look like a huge budget film without having a really big budget or big cameras or big lights. That’s why there is no excuse not to shoot now. When I’m talking to my students, I’m telling them that if you have a mobile phone, you already have everything you need to tell your story.

FMD: There is a turning point in the story which highlights a controversial cultural issue. Was it important to you to bring that across in the story?

DG: Both of my characters are looking for something that they think is very important in their life. Namdev is looking for silence, Aaliq is looking for the red castle where he will meet his parents because he’s playing a game. Through this journey, they realise something about themselves and help each other – to achieve inner silence for Namdev Bhau and I guess acceptance of the no-game for the boy. Personally, when I was writing the script, at that moment in time, I was reading a lot in the news about honour killings in India. We are living in 2018 and we still have ridiculous numbers of deaths happening every year because of honour killings. It’s not just in the villages, it’s in the big cities. We’re still not able to overcome this greed, envy, these human sins, and this scares me. I have friends who are studying abroad and are from wealthy families and yet they believe they have to be married inside the class so that their wealth will stay inside the family. That actually horrifies me because no matter how advanced we are with technology, we’re still living in the 15th or 16th century. I was really shattered by this and by talking to these people so, as a filmmaker, I wanted to tell a story about that. I’m not very comfortable about creating a story that has a message or a social cause because I’ve seen so many films about social causes and no matter how strong they are, they don’t change anything. In this film, I just wanted to just show the experience of people who have stayed alive after honour killings, what they might experience. This is how the boy came into the picture. Even as a writer I don’t know whether he knows subconsciously, whether he’s just playing this game because it’s easier to cope or whether he doesn’t actually know about his parents. But seeing his innocence, seeing how he’s trying to move on with his life, it’s something that was important for me to say.

FMD: How have you found the festival so far?

DG: I was very happy with the audience because I didn’t expect that the reaction would be so good. Before that, we were at the Busan Film Festival and everyone laughed at it but I thought maybe it was because everyone liked the idea of sound pollution and because it’s a simple story. It’s a simple film, it’s a simple narrative and it doesn’t have anything provocative like the usual film festival type of style. I was really worried when coming to the festival because I thought people would say what is this? It’s such as simple film but somehow both of the screenings were so good and the reactions of people, they were clapping, they were laughing throughout and it was a pleasure.

FMD: It must be pretty nerve-racking for you as a filmmaker sitting in and hearing the reaction?

DG: Oh, it’s the worse. After the first screening, I thought the second screening wouldn’t be as nerve-racking but no. I needed a glass of wine to calm myself down.

FMD: What’s next for you? Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

DG: We have right now numerous projects, feature films and web shows. There are three that I’m very excited about. One is a commercial film which is set in a small town of India. For me, it’s interesting to see whether I’ll be able to fit into this traditional way of Bollywood filmmaking using music and dance so I’m quite excited about that. The second film is about the India/Pakistan border and it’s a black comedy about a boy who comes back to his house and he finds out his house is not in India anymore. The third story is the one I’m most excited about. It’s a bit more controversial than other films that I’ve made. It’s about a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law and the relationship they start developing towards each other because of the entrapment they are experiencing living in the same house. Their husbands are not giving them the needed attention and they don’t have any time for themselves – like 50% of women in India. You have to have a child and you have to take care of your husband. This is your main destiny and if you don’t do that, you’re not a woman. This feeling of being trapped and looking for love, looking for care, throws up some weird emotions or circumstances so it’s about their relationship.

NAMDEV BHAU IN SEARCH OF SILENCE screened at the BFI London Film Festival on 11 October 2018.