An Interview with Rajula Shah (Director)
Walking with the People and the Wind
Q: Throughout the film you keep a distance as you observe the crowd. Did you struggle with whether to include their personal stories too, or did you set out putting it this way?
RS: For the previous film I made on poetry, I interacted with people, talked with them and questioned them, wanting to know what they understood from poetry. But when I set out on this film, there was a striking number of people walking. So I was in a struggle, torn between shooting and just walking to be a part of the people while not shooting at all. I felt that it was not only religion, but the journey which was important. I felt if I talked and questioned them, I would be interrupting their journey. I preferred to just accompany them from a distance, not intruding, just being there like everyone else and observing.
It was also a way to find out why they were going on this pilgrimage. I realized that they were not seeking to reach their temples, which was possible by taking a train. Why were they doing it? There was an unmistakable joy on their faces, which was not seen in their routine life when the problems of the everyday were overpowering. Yet on the journey, they were doing the same things as usual. The women cooked, washed clothes, carried their children. So why were they so happy doing the same things outside their homes? It struck me that it was just to be with everyone else, doing these things together, and being out in the sun and rain. This feeling of freedom allowed one do all the hard work yet not let it tire one out like in the everyday routine at home. The scenery keeps changing, the mountains and the trees. That is why I wanted to watch from a distance, without intruding, because I realized I could be a listener to this poetry if I didn’t talk.
People think that poetry is abstract and difficult but I think not. There is more to it. It could be the sun, the streams, or the moon, but we are so cut off from nature inside our constructions. It is not who they are that I wanted to know. What interested me is what connects us, our similarities, across countries, regions and cultures. Rather than finding out our differences, I found connections which brought me the most unforgettable experience I ever had in filming.
Q: What was the biggest inspiration you got from this journey?
RS: The simplicity. In my daily life, I see a lot of depression. In the last two years, I’ve personally been in a very difficult position for several reasons. Sometimes it seems like there is no reason for us to be happy. Everywhere there is war, abuse, acts against human freedom and dignity. So I think, how can cinema heal? Can it heal? Cinema deals with looking and hearing, some of the very basic things that condition us. This means, it could also de-condition us. I went into looking and listening closely. For example, when you look closely for a long time at the close-ups of a lot of feet walking, something changes. At a certain point, the images even stop looking like feet, but like faces, as if you can see the person in those feet. Different meditation practices in India and in Japan have spoken of the relations between the whole and the part. Inside the part there is the whole, and it is also something you can see. I’ve been interested in the philosophy of the East, and I took what I studied out there to the people, finding its simple resonance without words. For me, the biggest take away was being able to “think without words,” if I may say so. It is something I find very difficult, because I am a teacher, poet, and filmmaker—someone who is usually good with words.
(Compiled by Sit Pui Yin Annie)
Interviewers: Sit Pui Yin Annie, Sugawara Mayu
Photography: Abe Shizuka / Video: Abe Shizuka / 2019-10-16