As we set our eyes on the screen, there is nothing but an arid field of white sand standing tall as pyramids with its dry presence. It takes a little imagination to realise that debut director Ankit Kothari’s film Paanchika, an adaptation of a Marathi short story Bawa, is a metaphorical representation of Indian society that still holds ages-old class and cast barriers.
The film was screened on Sunday at the ongoing International Film festival of India (IFFI) 2021 in Goa, under the Indian Panorama (Non-Feature) category.
Paanchika (Five pebbles) revolves around a seven year-old Miri, clouded in mud, walks miles amid the wilderness to deliver lunch across the desert. Miri is followed by Suba, the closest confidante of her age, who keeps herself at distance owing to her social background. The girls are not supposed to play together. But, what follows is a tale of friendship where the bounds of society unravel one pebble at a time.
“I was interested in exploring the individual will of my characters in spite of their age and how pre-defined relationships of blood and society make one do things while a relationship like friendship brings out what they truly stand for,” explains the director.
In Paanchika, Kothari as a director shows his vision with a suitable cast and visuals capturing the beauty of the Rann of Kutch. “I found this location after six months of hard work. When I saw the terrain for the first time, it was white not because of snow but millions of salt crystals. This dystopian world seemed the perfect setting to narrate a story on friendship struggling with the phantoms of casteism,” he explains.
Talking about his protagonists, two Agariya girls, Kothari reveals that the girls were finalised after auditioning over 300 child artistes.
“Initially, I auditioned girls from cities but realised they are naturally confident and inherently can’t fit in a role they have not lived. So we travelled to surrounding villages where we found Anjali and Aarti (child artistes),” reveals Kothari.
A fine arts graduate, Kothari has been in the industry for over a decade. His film career started with Dibakar Benerjee’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2007), Love Sex Aur Dhokha (2010), (2011) and director Anand Gandhi’s Tumbbad (2018) as an assistant director.
He confesses that working with experienced storytellers helped him to create narratives that are engaging while conveying their views of society. And his learnings have worked in favour of Paanchika. “If there is only one story I get to tell in this lifetime, it has to be this,” says the director in conclusion.