FC Hotlist is a series that spotlights films which are looking for buyers and distributors. It is an ongoing project to link indie filmmakers who are looking for a wider audience, to producers looking for fresh stories that stand out in the cinematic landscape.
At the recently-concluded Dharamshala International Film Festival, Ritesh Sharma’s Jhini Bini Chadariya (The Brittle Thread) was one of two films that was given an encore screening due to the crowding, serpentine audience’s insistent demand (the other film was Joyland).
Jhini Bini Chadariya had its world premiere at the 34th Tokyo International Film Festival, in 2021, and its Indian premiere at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), in 2022. Recently the film won the ‘Best Debut Feature Film’ at the New York Indian Film Festival. The film was also screened at the UK ASIAN Film Festival, the Kolkata People’s Film Festival, and Habitat International Film Festival, and the movie had its Australian premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne.
Set in Varanasi, the film follows two individuals brutalized by the world — Shahdab (Muzaffar Khan), a Muslim weaver; and Rani (Megha Mathur), an erotic dancer. Despite never meeting each other, the two exert a cosmic, life-altering influence on each other’s life. In a throwaway line, director Anurag Kashyap who was present at the festival and has worked in Varanasi in the past, mentioned how moved he was by the depiction of the city in Sharma’s film as rotting yet brimming with life. The radio and loudspeakers give us a glimpse of the creeping violence of the state. The parrots being fed, the soft groping of a mannequin, the furtive kiss in a run-down heritage site giving us glimpses of the affection that renders the creeping violence bearable, even surmountable. If “city as a protagonist” can be considered a genre, Jhini Bini Chadariya slots itself comfortably here.
Love animates Shahdab and Rani’s stories — Shahdab’s friendship with an Israeli tourist and Rani’s affection for a man who wants to save her but cannot muster the resources for it. In textbook indie cinema fashion, Sharma’s screenplay is never rumbling towards something. It has this patient gaze, merely documenting life as still and somewhat stagnant, until something cataclysmic parachutes unsuspectingly into the narrative. There is no build-up because this isn’t a story as much as it is a life being lived. Conversations are allowed to sputter in odd directions. Scenes don’t build upon the previous scenes. Even the camera’s stationary quality gives the impression of us voyeuristically peering into lives of others. Shots of processions and gatherings feel yanked out of Anand Patwardhan’s films, as though any moment the film will cut to an interview with the procession participants proudly proclaiming their hate.
While the brutalisation of minorities is a subject that indie filmmakers are increasingly flocking to — especially women, especially Muslims — one can also sense the film’s tenderness. It doesn’t want to sell you pain as much as point you towards its inevitability in the lives of some people.
The writer-director Ritesh Sharma can be contacted at [email protected]