In the many languages that exist in the world, different words are used for various things. What may be a word for a feeling or act in French may not have any equivalent in, say, English. These specific words existing in a language have come about because of the cultural roots of the space when the language developed. When we come to know of such words and are unable to find any similar word in the language we know, it creates a different feeling in us, of awe, that we have been seeing this happening around us, but we didn’t know what sound to associate it with. Language creation is an involuntary thing that happens over a period of time. Assigning a new word for an emotion involves defining it so that it creates collective meaning in all of us. Poetry and prose do that by bringing together a collection of words touching on those parts of our experience that lack meaning, till it is illuminated with literary brilliance. Cinema does exactly the same through visuals. Cinema that is true to exploring the depths of human emotions. It is cinema that becomes poetry, having that literal affluence in its frames that is brought about with carefully etched visuals. Achal Mishra spins a tale in a similar fashion in “Gamak Ghar,” taking us into zones that we have not reached before and doing wonders through his layered filmmaking.
As the name suggests, “Gamak Ghar” is about an ancestral home in a village that holds as many memories in its bricks as the substances that bind it together. The film covers two decades and changes that come with time in affecting interpersonal relationships and also the bond one shares with a space which makes it a home. In getting closer to the members of the family, Achal just teases the depths that lie in human emotions, not getting into any details. The filmmaking gives an odor of sensitivity, with some of the technical decisions elevating it further. Starting in 1998 with a squared aspect ratio, the visuals seem to be taken off from a summer video record of the family. There is an occasion for a baby shower that is celebrated by singing local songs and conducting a ceremony. All the kids playing hide and seek among the walls of the home, going to fetch ripe mangoes from the nearby farm, and then coming back with the taste of mango all over their fingers; these instances pop up to create a sense of nostalgia. While watching it begins to feel like a time lost; like a time when things were supremely beautiful, when people occupied all the spaces in the home and stayed together. The house looms around them, intricately linked to all the family, standing tall amidst the deadly flood, built more with love than materials. In giving the home a sense of character, Achal speaks volumes with the silence that echoes in its chambers. It’s as if the home speaks through its haggard windows, doors, and old photographs. The effect of seasons and a change in them is also utilized to invite a sense of change. The happy summer days are replaced by the melancholy of autumn, when the playful teenage years are over. The home starts to show signs of ageing with the walls developing cracks. In between all of it is a Tulsi plant that shows the change that has taken place. And here, the aspect ratio changes again to 16:9, making things wider than before which also adds in a sense of distance among people. There is more negative space, evoking the feeling of loss, as the younger members of the family have moved away from their village home to settle down in the city, owning flats of their own, a sign that they would never return. The village home becomes a yearly get-together place for everyone where they gather and celebrate festivals, which is also the time when the house is alive. And for the rest of the year, it becomes empty, making the air haunted with its presence. The progression becomes complete when we turn ahead more than 10 years into 2019, where it is a cinemascope with two bars coming from up and below. It is devastation here, with the ghostlike fog of winter enveloping the space. The house is in shambles, uninhabited for years, leaving it devoid of the human touch. Living alone, perhaps to save it from ghosts, an old caretaker sleeps within the cracked walls. The Tulsi plant is dried completely and just by showing the harrowing visuals of what once used to be home, we can make out what would have happened to the people. Looking at the same place, where life had once flourished, where children had played, where men had joked around, and women had made delicacies, now in lying-in seclusion sends shivers across. The last quarter of the film is so difficult to watch as we see the house being smashed to the ground. We wonder if it was just a structure made of brick or a place where generations of a family grew up amidst the walls, the pieces of which now lay scattered all over.
The camera of Anand Bansal stays undisturbed throughout the film, peeking through the mirror sometimes never making its presence known to either the characters or us. All the actors communicate without the knowing presence of a camera, and we very well may be just watching a documentary unfold in front of us, where we don’t see much involvement from the maker in what is happening, and it all seems very poetic. This is a technique that Achal uses to blend his world and characters into the narrative so that they don’t at all feel like actors in a film but rather it feels like we are looking through a peephole, watching them do things. An important conversation between an uncle and nephew takes place completely while we look at them from behind, not going much to the front. The nephew is sitting on the stairs while the uncle eats his dish of sweets standing. This provides a sense of eavesdropping, and it is in this absence of drama that the film shines through in taking us to unexplored places. Poetry is invoked by showing things in pieces, by just giving a snippet of the entire thing so that the rest is either implied or understood. There are such snippets of information spread across the film that leaves it to us to make them whole. We get into the depth of the characters’ hearts in just a few seconds. In what is one of the most evocative scenes that builds from the start of the film, there comes a moment halfway when we see a mother who has lost her husband sitting alone in a corner as the others are burning crackers. As one of the red lightning sticks is about to fizzle out, we cut to her sitting alone, not in very good shape. The red fades over her, and she sits half in shadow, alone in an empty frame, looking in a direction where no one else can. Her agony of being a housewife and the grief of having lost her husband find their expression in just a few seconds of this beautiful scene. Bansal paints his frames in a manner so new that they are stuffed with perforated packets from which drops of emotions fall onto us, leaving an after effect.
“Gamak Ghar” is a truly cinematic film in that it manages to take the language of films to newer heights. The word “cinematic” has been conventionalized into a specific type of filmmaking with certain rules of lighting, framing, and even writing. Under its garb, we have films looking almost exactly like each other, being mass produced to be consumed by all. “Gamak Ghar ” invents new ways to tell a simple story of loss and migration that is at once deeply personal and heartbreaking. Achal provides images of some unexpressed feelings that could only happen in cinema, just like how some words have meaning only in certain languages and not in all. If “film” is a language, “Gamak Ghar” is a new word that has joined the dictionary, a word that brings along the unsayable, and that too, with a simplistic charm.