Kolkota - Part 1
27 hours is a long time. It’s also about how long it takes to get from Nashville to Kolkota. It’s also 100 hours less than that James Franco movie, but that’s a whole other thing.
I was lucky enough to spend 10 days at the end of February in India filming a documentary about the city of Kolkota and a few of it’s inhabitants. We set out to tell the story of people just like us living a very different life. I spent most of the plane ride having a mini panic attack realizing what I had gotten myself into. This was the largest and most ambitious project I’ve taken on yet, something completely foreign (literally), and in a place I knew pretty much nothing about. Somewhere after the 3rd in flight movie, I rested somewhere between realizing that I was already in anyways so I can’t do anything but figure it out and that the very nature of filming a documentary is to go into something knowing nothing and learn about it, experience it, and get to know it all while a camera is rolling (and hopefully in focus).
Around 5am on a Sunday morning, my east bound plane finally landed and I met Piyas and Jaiashree, our fixers/guides/translators/babysitters outside of baggage claim. The producer on this project, Seth, had flown west from LA and beaten me there by a few hours. We spent the first day going all over the city filming at the Kalighat Kali temple, the Victoria Memorial, on the bank of the Ganges river, and several locations in between. It was a headfirst dive into the complete culture shock of India. Driving around the city was at the same time maniacal and perfectly orchestrated. Thousands of cars, motorcycles, taxis, buses, trucks, scooters and cows dangerously sped horns blaring through the roads (which change direction depending on the time of day) always seeming to just miss each other. It was terrifyingly impressive.
Outside of the temple there were these boys sitting at the river bank with long ropes that had magnets tied to the end. They sat there posted up at their spot waiting for people coming to pray and throw an offering into the river. We watched them move immediately (most of the time the person was still there or the coin was still mid-air) and the kids would throw their tethered magnets right to the spot where the coin landed and dredged the river for the hindi offerings. Some pretty blatant yet enterprising young boys.
We ended the day filming the sun setting on over the Ganges hardly believing we were on the other side of the world and actually diving into this project that always seemed to far off.
The next day we drove about an hour and a half out of the city to a village where one of our main 3 subjects lives. The villages were filled with huts made of brick and mud with concrete floors all surrounding ponds to wash in and wells to pull water from. We filmed with and in the home of a woman named Gouri and her two daughters and all around the surrounding area, the nearby flower farms, locals fishing with nets in the ponds, and the nearby schools. Everyone was so welcoming and loved showing off for the camera. They’d climb trees and cut coconuts down and the kids would burst out laughing (some covering their mouths because they didn’t like showing their teeth).
One of my favorite parts of what I get to do is to be trusted with representing someone by sharing part of their journey and how it is a part of who they are. Most of the people who I get to work with this way keep in contact, but it was very powerful and humbling to be given this gift and responsibility by people who probably think that they’ll never even see the film. This thought hit me like a train after the first day with Gouri and was a perspective that I carried with me every time I pointed a camera at someone or something for the rest of the week…especially with Chandi and Manika when we went to the slum. More on that to come soon...