Today, One in every Seven child is a laborer. Over 200 million children between ages five and fourteen work worldwide, as some kind of laborer or the other.
Jhalki … a moving tale of lost Childhood, is a lyrical story of the search of a 9 year-old girl for her 7 year-old brother against the backdrop of bonded child labor in the carpet weaving factories of India. This compelling film takes you through a bedtime folk story and by the time you wake up, you may want to be part of a huge revolution that can impact 200 million children worldwide.
Film Jhalki: Tale of a Tireless Sparrow has just been completed and starts its International journey now, ready for Festivals, World Sales & and other movement-based collaborations. It releases in India in February 2019. It has been produced by Brahmanand S Siingh & Annand Chavan, co-produced by Vinayak Gawande & Jayesh Parekh & co-directed by Tanvi Jain.
Here’s an interview with the filmmaker, Brahmanand S Siingh:
What were the casting challenges of getting the lead child actors? How was it to cast for Kailash Satyarthi?
Jhalki had to be a firebrand 11 year old, pre-puberty girl, so that was a big challenge … To find someone who could carry the film on her fragile shoulders. Each time we would shortlist a few of them and a few years would pass by, they would grow up. A little less but almost the same was the case with the young boy. Finally, we went on a rampage, when the film was to be done, looking for appropriate face and fire in Mumbai as well as through our casting director, to areas like UP and Bihar, where the characters belong to get the local flavor. We must have shortlisted over 50, narrowed down to some 15 and finally took 4 of them through a 2-week workshop. We were thrilled with the final results.
Kailash Satyarthi’s was a different case. Ideally, we would have wanted him to act himself, but then acting and the takes and retakes is a tall task … Especially when you have to do it in 45-48 degrees. Again Karmas changed … Over a few years from KK to Manoj Bajpai to Boman Irani. The best part was, when we approached Boman, one of the first things he said, is that ‘I am not bothered about my position in the film … I just want to do this film, period.’ That was very touching, and even later the way he carried it all, it was an amazing spirit to see and note.
Tell us something about Aarti and Goraksh,both in front of camera and between the shots. How joyful or challenging was it to work with kids?
They are both amazing actors. Both of them, in less than 3-4 days of shoot, were maintaining their own continuity like the seasoned actors and were incredibly fast in taking instruction and understanding the need of the takes. That they survived the heat and the make up for six weeks was no mean achievement. They won everyone’s heart in the unit. And I feel. Both of them have a great future ahead. They are both natural actors. They think, they understand, they internalize, they improvise … What more can a director ask for from two kids aged around 10 and 8!!!
It was challenging no doubt because you had to communicate to them in way different from the grown up actors. But it was a great pleasure to see them switch off from mischief, especially Goraksh, who is mischievous little nut, and switch on to the character he was playing.
How was the experience with such fine actors like Boman, Tanishtha, Sanjay Suri, Divya?
You said it … They are fine actors. And to add to it, also wonderful human beings. So it was out and out a pleasure of having good actors to understand the need of the role, their position in the story and I bribe the characteristics of the role they were doing and then improvising or sticking to the script, depending on when we chose to give them that freedom and when not, they delivered the best. Whether it was Boman and Divya and Sanjay and Tanishtha, they were a pleasure. So were actors who came from big mixed backgrounds of cinema, television and theater … actors like Joy Sengupta and Akhilendra Mishra, Bachan Pachera and Govind Namdev, in their own very contrasting styles, gave wonderful performances. Same is true even with those with the likes of Vikram and Sanchita.
This story is of 90s. What measures were taken to give it a 90s look?
Thankfully, we didn’t have to do too much. But yes, things like characters not having cellphones or the bus stop Chauraha having film posters of that era and certain precautions in the village in terms of the clothes they wore. Though we could not do much with the cell phone numbers on poster adverts of tuition classes etc. But then it was late nineties that the film is placed in and it’s not much of a period film in that sense. The idea of the film is far more important than all these put together. I would say, we could put in 80 percent precaution and efforts to have the late 90s bit but also missed out on 20 percent, otherwise the budget would have hit the roof!!
What measures were taken to make the language sound authentic? How easy or challenging it was?
It was challenging. But we did let it loosen up a little bit towards a Bihari Hindi rather than an orthodox Bhojpuri! After all, it needs to be understood by the viewers and we were not making a Bhojpuri film. It was needed as long as the girl is in the village but the moment she comes to the town, it becomes a mix of her native tongue and Bihari Hindi because that’s the way people actually speak in the belt.
Real locations; Last minute hurdles; Local support and opposition … Why Mirzapur?
Well, we selected Mirzapur because of many reasons. Firstly, because it housed the maximum carpet factories in one small town. Added to that, we had people who were known and had welcomed offering support (many of which happened and many didn’t). Last minute hurdles started coming from one interview that one of our lead casts gave and mentioned that it is a film against carpet factories. Thereafter, the entire Carpet Association always withdrew their confirmed bookings and had to spend a lot of time that the film is about the girl’s search for her brother and it is not for or against carpet factory but it is about awareness for abolishing child labor, wherever it exists, in whatever form it does, in its 200 million worldwide number and that it was based in the 90s not today!!
It was a big hurdle, no doubt, to look, for new location for a shoot next day, shift schedules etc. But at the end of it all, we managed it well. Two people who deserve unending appreciation for this is my co-director, Tanvi Jain and Line Producer, Neeraj Gohil! There were nights when all of us slept for just 4 hours and Neeraj none at all because he was busy sorting out yet another hurdle that had come up!! It was an everyday affair!!
What is your personal connection with the story or this project? What kept you going for so long to make this film?
Whichever day, we didn’t face it, it seemed some fun is missing!! But we finished everything as per the overall plan and pretty much with everything that we had set out to achieve.
It’s just the love for the cause of lost childhood. It troubles me anywhere, even in proper homes where, under parental tyranny, children never get a right to their childhood. This was a beautiful story and with a special cause to be addressed for over 200 millions children worldwide. Our anthem song, written by Jhankar, sung by Shankar Mahadevan and composed by Sandesh Shandilya, is a befitting one about the value that we must attach to each and every childhood! It is such a beautiful phase of life and I think we are all party to a crime, if children don’t get and a free and unfettered and unburdened childhood!!
About the Director
Brahmanand S Siingh is an award-winning filmmaker (producer-director) and writer based out of Mumbai. Best known for his films like Kaagaz Ki Kashti (Paperboat … 126 mins), a biopic on legendary ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh and his National-Award winning (among many other awards and accolades) feature-length documentary on RD Burman, Pancham Unmixed: Mujhe Chalte Jaana Hai, (113 mins) which continues to enjoy an amazing, sweeping cult, critical and popular acclaim across viewing platforms, all his films draw great response, and are highly recognized for their sensitivity, authenticity and engaging quality.