First film is a challenge at all levels: Udita Bhargava

The filmmaker gets talking about her film Dust screened at the Berlin International Film Festival, working with Vinay Pathak, what it is to be a female director and more

By   |  Published: 15th Mar 2021  7:29 pm
A still from the Indo-German production, ‘Dust’.

Udita Bhargava feels being a female filmmaker is extremely tough as they have to prove themselves thrice over each time they do or plan something.

Udita’s directorial debut Dust, an Indo-German co-production, was screened in the New German Cinema category at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2019. It recently premiered on the streaming platform Mubi. Starring Danish actor Morten Holst, Vinay Pathak and Kalyanee Mulay, it follows David (Holst), a young German who visits Indore after the death of his Indian photojournalist- girlfriend Mumtaz (Amrita Bagchi) and “embarks on a journey to the troubled heart of India”. As he tries to retrace her steps before her death, he digs deep into Mumtaz’s documentation of the Maoist uprising in Indore.

Udita studied English literature at St Stephen’s College, Delhi University. At that time, without articulating that wish publicly, she was hoping to become a writer. Afterwards, she joined the Centre for Mass Communications at Jamia Millia Islamia University with the idea of working as a professional photojournalist after her Master’s Degree was completed. At Jamia, she encountered filmmaking and understood for the first time in her life that films are made by people; they do not just appear magically on-screen. And that revelation changed the whole trajectory of her learning, thinking and doing.

Talking about Dust and her experience of directing the film, Udita says, “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!”.

“A Hindi/English language film in the ‘New German Cinema category’ at the Berlin Film Festival was a first! People were surprised. Most of them were thrilled that the section could offer such diversity. A few thought it was out of place since the film did not resemble any of the other films in the section thematically. I enjoyed the premiere thoroughly. At a film screening in a theatre, one can experience first-hand how people are reacting — what questions they have, with what thoughts they leave the cinema,” she adds.

Udita Bhargava

How was her experience working with Vinay Pathak? She answers, “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.”

One of the most moving moments on set was shooting the scene in which Krishna’s head is shaved, she says. The adult team members were in tears as they watched the performance, while Golu and the other boys would snap out of the role as soon as Udita called cut and be running out in full ‘masti’ mode. The contrast between the two emotions on set was re-assuring for her, because she had been quite apprehensive before she started filming.

Udita is currently preparing for several projects and they are in various stages of development. One of them is set in Odisha, another one in Goa and she’s 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,” adds Udita, who is inspired by filmmakers Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mani Ratnam, Mizoguchi and Lucrecia Martel. Apart from filmmaking, she enjoys hiking, photography, writing and acting, and wants to learn to dance.

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