YIDFF 2019 International Competition
An Interview with Ekta Mittal (Director)

The Various Faces of Separation through Visual Images

Q: You were inspired by Sufi poetry from the tradition of Islamic mysticism. How does it show in the film?

EM: There’s a genre of Sufi poetry called birha which sings of the sadness of separation. The word birha originates in the Persian language, but birha poetry itself spread to many regions by poets working in various tongues. I especially like the Panjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s work and translated, with friends, around 20 of his poems into English and published them in a book. Throughout this film you see the essence of birha poetry in metaphors, while two poems, Nooran and Sheesho, are referenced directly in specific scenes. Towards the end of the film, you see a woman in black walking in the fog with a photograph, which she places into a hole. That scene is based on the poem Nooran. In another scene, you see a woman in beautiful clothes putting on makeup. The moon shines behind her. This scene is based on the poem about a woman named Sheesho who has experienced extraordinary pain and unbearable difficulties in life. The moon is ashamed that it cannot save this Sheesho. Every time I read a birha poem, a range of images come to mind. This has become my cinematic language.

Q: Among the birha poems of different regions, why did you prefer Batalvi’s?

EM: He lavishly uses metaphors. His language is very visual. He does not fear writing of pain and sorrow, and his poetry is in part extremely melancholic. That tone matched what I wanted to do in this film. I’d encountered his work when I was looking for poetry to use in the making this film. Meanwhile, I don’t consider this a film about Batalvi’s poetry even though I have borrowed many ideas. Rather, I think of it as a conversation between his poems and my film, something that developed out of the filmmaking process which brought me to him.

Q: So many people of different views and emotions appear in this film. What was on your mind as you edited it all together?

EM: It was truly a complex process. I talked to many people because I didn’t want to make a film from a single person’s perspective. Every person who appeared in the film had a different view and used different words to express what separation meant to them. One of the premises of the film was to present multiple viewpoints. I wanted to depict the difficulties of both the people who departed from the village and the people who were left behind. I knew I didn’t want to use the stories I’d researched in a literal way, but I did want to express the thoughts and emotions of the people I’d talked to. In some sequences, I asked friends to act out some scenes for me in order to convey the essence of the stories.

(Compiled by Sugawara Mayu)

Interviewers: Sugawara Mayu, Kusunose Kaori / Interpreter: Yamanouchi Etsuko / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Abe Shizuka / Video: Abe Shizuka / 2019-10-15