A father and a daughter competed in different categories in an international film festival. The highly unusual coincidence took place over the weekend in the Lampa International Film Festival in Moscow. The Shower was Bauddhayan Mukherji’s entry in the social advertising segment, while daughter Aarsha Mukherji’s film The Letter featured in a special section on commercial social advertising. And the icing on the coincidence cake was a winner’s trophy for both.
The Lampa is a seven-year-old festival of socially oriented short films, videos and social advertising.
Still from The Shower directed by Bauddhayan Mukherji which was screened over the weekend at the Lampa International Film Festival
The Shower is the first Indian ad film to get a National Award. The film, made by Mukherji’s Little Lamb Films for Unilever India, shows a swanky glass-panelled bathroom with a shower being installed in the middle of a field in an arid village. A villager walks into it and discovers how to switch on the contraption and get the water flowing. In no time, the entire village queues up to quench its thirst, either drinking in palms or filling up a container. Even after half the village is done with a drink from the shower, a narrator’s voice states that an urban resident’s bath is still not over, pointing a finger at water wastage by shower users. Aarsha’s film has a child writing a letter to Mother Earth, assuring her that they still care for her, promising not to cause more damage and requesting for an end to earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters.
Still from The Letter by Aarsha Mukherji which was screened over the weekend at the Lampa International Film Festival
Both the films by father and daughter have been touring the festival circuit. Before the National Award, Mukherji’s 90-second film was shortlisted for Cannes, won a platinum Remi at the WorldFest-Houston Film Festival, won Best Public Service Announcement at the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival along with other awards in the US, South Korea and Russia.
Unicef picked up Aarsha’s one-minute film and released it across Maharashtra on Children’s Day last year. It also picked up an award for films made by children at the Psaroloco Film Festival in Greece in August.
“But this is the first time that both our films have got selected at the same festival,” says Mukherji, who was supposed to travel to Moscow for the festival. “I did not get a visa as it was not essential travel. Aarsha could not have gone anyway as she is not vaccinated,” says the Calcutta-born, Mumbai-based ad film-maker, who has also directed feature films like Teenkahon and The Violin Player.
While Mukherji took part in a panel discussion online at the festival along with directors from the UK, Australia, Lebanon and Russia, Aarsha was spending Durga puja at her grandparents’ place in Calcutta. “It feels crazy that both our films made it to a festival. It was a school project for Mother’s Day and Earth Day in 2019. We were supposed to pitch a product. My product was a farm. There was a choice between making a video ad and a poster ad. Most of my classmates chose posters as it was simpler but I wanted to do something new,” says Aarsha, who used her iPhone to shoot her friend Arika, the daughter of playback singer Arnab Chakraborty, writing the letter. She was 15 then. “I shot the film one evening in my room. Baba later made some edits to the conclusion to suit the requirements of Unicef India,” said the 17-year-old whose song for another school project, on the beauty and glory of India, composed and sung by her in all 22 official Indian languages had gone viral in 2019 and earned a good wish tweet from A.R. Rahman.
Mukherji’s film was a far more elaborate affair. The shooting took place over two days in Manglaram ki Dhani, a tiny hamlet in Rajasthan. “Two of the cast members were actors. The rest were villagers who had never seen a shower,” he said.
Mukherji stayed true to the communication of water conservation in his film-making. “It seemed unjust to let the water used in the shoot go waste in a village reeling under water crisis,” he said. So a pipe under the showering unit collected the water and preserved it in a reservoir. The accumulated water was shared with the farmers for their irrigation needs. “The villagers were very happy.”
The Lampa International Film Festival, he pointed out, gets active participation from the Russian government and the United Nations, and is about socially relevant communication dealing with the 17 sustainable development goals to achieve by 2030 set by the UN.
On Monday night, when the awards were announced in Moscow, parents Bauddhayan and Monalisa were watching the proceedings live online from Mumbai and Calcutta respectively — and soon jubilating at the double victory — but Aarsha was fast asleep. “We will give her the news when she wakes up tomorrow,” Mukherji told The Telegraph late on Monday.