The Telegraph
Tuesday , February 23 , 2010
Since 1st March, 1999
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Happi in her heart
Bhavna Talwar with Debojyoti Mishra at Seagull last week.
Picture by Anindya Shankar Ray

Running from the distributors’ office for prime-time slots to the high court for her right to the Oscars, Bhavna Talwar has fought a long battle for her debut film Dharm that finally fetched her the National Award last year. But even as she gears up for the April release of her next film Happi, she describes as a “Chaplinesque comedy”, Bhavna’s search for viewers who would connect with the tale of a Brahmin priest and his conflict goes on.

After private screenings at the Kala Ghoda Festival in Mumbai, Bhavna touched base in Calcutta last Wednesday for a screening of the film at St. Xavier’s College and the Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre. “After the National Award there’s been an interest in Dharm again. I feel it’s my duty now to travel with the film and I’ll continue to do so even 10 years from now,” smiled Bhavna.

A mix of film enthusiasts and budding filmmakers came together in the evening to watch the story about a staunch Hindu priest Pandit Ram Narayan Chaturvedi, whose world falls apart when he realises that the child he had unknowingly adopted and raised as his own was Muslim by birth.

After the screening, Bhavna along with Debojyoti Mishra who had scored the music for the film faced an enthused audience for a volley of questions. About tracing the practices of a Brahmin priest, Bhavna explained: “I had never been to Benaras before the making of the film. Before we started shooting I went with Sheetal (her husband) and spent days following a pandit with our handycam. We studied the day-to-day life of around three priests and also sat with a shankaracharya to understand the various kinds of penance a Brahmin can impose on himself.”

Mishra explained how the “story of the film was the brief for his music”. Bhavna added: “I was very particular about not giving a brief for the music to Debuda. I wanted him to respond to it instinctively and the music evolved naturally.” On being quizzed by the director about any part of the music that he might like to change, Mishra said: “Maybe I could have used more vocalists to heighten the choral impact and a Tagore song to go with the turbulent times.”

Despite the renewed interest in the film, a re-release of Dharm is not on the cards. “It’s too much of an expenditure. I’ve already gone through it once and now I want to reach out with my other films. Happi will be a very different film about life in a big city and the philosophy of being happy with what you have,” says Bhavna.

Happi is about “rising beyond the suffering”. It revolves around a happy old man called Happi, who lives by himself in a chawl and makes a living as a singer at a Parsee restaurant. The music keeps him going till the winds of change sweep through the restaurant. A flashy young crooner takes his place and life takes a different turn till a lonely dog wanders into his life and fills his world with a fresh wave of joy.

Bhavna donated the entire proceeds from Dharm to an NGO called Rahi. “It was Nandana’s (Nandana Sen is the ambassador for the NGO) idea and it felt good doing something like that,” she smiles.

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