Of Delhiwallahs and modern-day servitude
Journalists and cinema-enthusiasts gathered in London last night (24 July 2012) for an exclusive screening of a new independent film, and a chance to meet the director.
Bonny Mukherjee’s production Koel reveals not only the life and work of a servant boy, but the challenges facing society in modern-day, consumerist Delhi.
The film follows ten-year-old Sunder as he leaves his village behind to enter into a life of
servitude for a dysfunctional family.
An exclusive screening of the film was organised by the UK branch of the Commonwealth Journalists Association and School of Oriental and African Studies, and was held at the University of London.
Director Bonny Mukherjee explained that shooting the film took just three weeks, and was set almost entirely in her own home in Delhi, which in the story is owned by the aging Mataji.
There, the character lives with her unemployed alcoholic son Manu, and his unhappily-married wife Damini.
As the only wage earner, the fate of the family revolves around Damini, a fashion designer, and when a secret admirer offers to take her away to Australia, their lives are left hanging in the balance.
Sunder becomes a part of this family drama when he travels to Dehli in search of work, following the illness and eventual death of his father.
He has glittering aspirations for cars and fancy watches and this is reflected by the spending habits of his neighbour, who enjoys nothing more than showing off her latest purchases to Damini.
Despite her many precious things, the neighbour spends the film ignoring perhaps the most valuable jewel in house, her young daughter Bubbli.
Sunder and his friend Bubbli are played by Ishan Gambhir and Nancy Kumar, neither of whom had acted before, but provided compelling characters on-screen nonetheless.
In fact Bonny revealed that Nancy was such a success that she decided to extend all her scenes.
At the film’s conclusion, we see Sunder fully transformed from village boy to ‘Delhiwallah’. The plot jumps forward ten years, the audience sees him checking his hair and an expensive looking watch in the mirror.
Despite the heavy themes of alcoholism, financial insecurity and child labour, the film is lifted by moments of comedy, such as the young Sunder hiding himself in a basket of material to avoid Mataji and her obsession with spoon-feeding him laxative.
The film and its director received rapturous applause at the screening, which was followed by a short question and answer session and a drinks reception.