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How I Made It: Barah by Barah (2021)

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

Barah by Barah is a story of the last remaining death photographer at the burning banks of Manikarnika who is going through troubled times like old Kashi. The ancient town is being demolished to build modern beautified pathways. The death photographer is out of work because of the fancy smartphones with exquisite cameras. He stands at the crossroads - either he continues seeking dummies to click or he looks for greener pastures beyond the singed banks of Manikarnika to secure a better future for his family.

118 mins | Hindi | Drama | 2021 | India

In its persistent mission and zeal to promote good cinema, Diorama brings you the experience of the Director of the film - Gaurav Madan

Why this subject matter for your film?

I have always wondered about the eternal ‘circle of life and death’. I have grown up listening to the folklores about soul’s endless quest to quit and be free of the burdens of life. The mystery of a possible afterlife or rather many afterlives excites me endlessly. Everyone is aware of the cliché, the inevitability of death but that very inevitability scares us to the bones. But in Banaras, this inevitability is celebrated every day, every hour and every minute! It is a place filled to the brim with metaphors, mysteries and mystics. This quality of the place and its dwellers really enticed me to make a film!

Where did you find this story for this film?

My writing and producing partner Sunny Lahiri had come across this character in Banaras during a recce in 2017. A Death Photographer, who clicks the last photographs of the dead at Manikarnika ghat. He had told me about this character and I remember rubbing my hands in excitement over the cinematic potential it had. So the genesis of it was this novel character in an ancient town. I wanted to know how he frames his subjects, how he adjusts the exposure on his camera, where he focuses and above all how he copes with the fact that he is clicking dummies whom he can never instruct or ask to smile! Soon we landed up in Banaras and started building from there.

What were the challenges you faced in making the film?

Most of the challenges I faced were typical challenges faced by any independent filmmaker setting out to make his debut feature film. Getting funds procured, struggling to get the right cast with the limited amount of money, getting an honest line producer on board to help execute the film and so on. I’d like to narrate a funny incident here. We were trying to cajole a well-known casting director to help with the casting. He told us that he will come onboard on one condition. That we will have to create a meaty role for him in the script. We said okay and created the character of protagonist’s friend. The said casting director didn’t end up doing our film but the character we had created turned out to be absolutely pivotal!

The challenges were endless and then we decided to shoot on celluloid which brought on a certain disciplinary challenge! We somehow managed to finish the shooting but ran out of funds during the post-production stage. Wishberry came to our rescue and we managed to raise some funds via crowdfunding. Once we completed the film the biggest challenge looming large was to crack an A-list festival. When our premiere finally happened the quest was to get more festivals and some media coverage. Now when we’ve got some of that post a one and a half year journey, the challenge is to find a release! So it doesn’t really end at any stage for an independent filmmaker. The trick is to become sponge-like and keep absorbing and absorbing. When you finally get done with one film and move on to your next just wring out all the tar from the sponge and get ready to absorb again!

Did you face any problems in releasing the film?

We are yet to find a digital/satellite release.

What was your background before making this film?

I had been making ad films for a while before making my debut feature film. Shooting advertising films is a great way to hone your aesthetics and craft. Then I made a short film called Sambhavtaha which garnered a lot of acclaim and released on Zee5 in 2020.

How do you think filmmakers like you can overcome common challenges like finance and distribution?

I think a common mistake that a lot of independent filmmakers do is not think about distribution at the very onset, the scripting stage. It is understandable because the anxiety to make the film first overpowers everything else. But it is absolutely essential to do some kind of maths and try to balance both sides of the equation. As they say making your film is only half the job done! We are fortunate that there are so many funds available now – developmental, production and post-production. Also almost every decent scale festival has a market running as a parallel event where one can crack both funding and sales. A lesson I learnt from my first outing as a feature filmmaker is that the best time to attach a sales/distribution agent to your film is immediately after finishing your first cut! If one can manage to do that then everything follows in a timely manner.

Any other interesting facts about this film that you may like to cover, any experiment you did, or style?

We decided very early in the development stage that we will shoot the film on celluloid. It was purely an artistic call. The story we wanted to tell was of a death photographer struggling to make ends meet due to the advent of smartphones. Filming it on celluloid in a digital age seemed like a happy irony! We decided to live it. Also, we were going to document an important leaf in the so-called transformation of old Kashi in our film. We thought it would be beautiful and just to preserve it on Film!!

Is this film going to affect the society, and who should watch it.

Barah by Barah raises some pertinent questions. How much of development is necessary? How much of history can be sacrificed in lieu of that? What will the future generations be like without a hint of the rich tradition? It brings to the fore the constant tussle between modernity and tradition. Also, migration is an important theme in the film. During the pandemic we witnessed one of the worst chapters of mass-migration ever. I believe this film is for anyone who is somewhat unnerved by the imposition of forced development upon history. But even if you aren’t the advocator of ‘preservation of tradition and history’ you can watch the film to witness the life journey of this unique character called ‘death photographer’!

List of Festivals and Awards

  • Indian Premiere: IFFK, Kerala 2021

  • International Premiere: Shanghai International Film Festival 2021

  • Germany Premiere: IFF Stuttgart 2021

  • Australian Premiere: Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2021

  • Toronto Premiere: IFFSA, Toronto 2021

  • North America Premiere: DFW SAFF 2021

  • Bangladesh Premiere: Dhaka International Film Festival 2022

  • Russian Premiere: Kazan Film Festival 2021

  • Middle East Premiere: Slemani International Film Festival 2021

  • Sofia Premiere: Sofia Menar Film Festival 2022

  • World Competition: Pune International Film Festival 2021

  • 'Best Director' award at Pune International Film Festival 2021

  • 'Best Indian Feature Film, Best Critics' Choice Film and Best Editing at Diorama IFF 2021

  • 'Jury Special Mention' at Slemani IFF 2021

  • 'Best Feature Film' award at OIFFA 2021

  • 'Best Director' at DFW SAFF 2021

barah by barah movie poster
Film Poster: Barah by Barah

Meet the Director - Gaurav Madan

Gaurav did his Masters in Communication Studies from University of Pune and arrived in Bombay to make Films. After assisting Shashank Ghosh (Quick Gun Murugun) and Raja Menon (Barah Aana) he started working as a freelance ad Film director. Gaurav has produced and directed over 200 TV and digital commercials and has his own Ad Production Firm Last Joker Pictures based in Mumbai.

In 2014, Gaurav’s feature Film script ‘Shaktipur Crude’ was a part of prestigious Sundance script lab. Since then he has been a part of many writer’s rooms and has been a semi-finalist in Cinestaan Storytellers 2017 and 2018.

Gaurav’s debut feature film Barah by Barah (2021) is currently touring film festivals around the globe. It recently won the ‘Best Director’ award at Pune IFF 2021, NYC SAFF 2021 and ‘Best Feature Film’ award at OIFFA 2021. His second feature film script Kanda Vanda was a part of NFDC Filmcity Script Lab and West meets East Screenplay Lab, a part of Dhaka IFF.

Social Media:

Instagram: @barahbybarah, @goraviara

Facebook: @barahbybarah

Twitter: @barahbybarah


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