Achal Mishra's debut film Gamak Ghar is set in Madhopura, a village near Darbhanga, Bihar and tells a story of a house that weathers a lot more than just the passage of seasons and people. As the camera moves from sunlit veranda to the old television set to the clothesline and then to the Tulsi in the courtyard, the forgotten nostalgia ruptures and slowly travels back to the places we have left behind to run forward.
"There is a house now far away where once I received love… The house withdrew into silence…" wrote Kamala Das once remembering her grandmother's house. Gamak Ghar is the house caught in the warp of old timelessness and the new rush of forever. It is every house that was lived in once and now is deserted to rest in memory for years to come. Watching the life of its inmates from the sidelines Gamak Ghar unfailingly captures the desertion and dilapidation of a house through three decades. The family members,particularly the sons, move away to the brighter prospects and finally carry the mother – the anchor of the family- away with them. The house that nestled warmth of familial bond once transforms into a haunted place of cold silence filmed aptly on a foggy chilly winter morning. The house assumes the voice of a homodiegetic narrator so powerful that everyone else appears as a side character. The narrative consciously looks back to the house and appears to recollect and retrieve itself through those photographs the family members keep taking with progressively developing models of cameras. "I used to take photos like you" an ageing man of the family tells the younger one. "See this here…how you are making faces in this photo! Remember who took this photo of you? I did, who else?…Grandpa was soaking in the sun and I sneaked this photo of him." They share a common memory of the life lived together and reminisce it through these pictures in old family album.
Later in the film, here turns to the dilapidated house to get the roof mended and tells the contractor to build a "strong foundation" for the pillars to be erected. In one of the most poignant scenes of the film, he is seen taking pictures in the debris and the grandfather's photo overlooks from the wall. The camera seems to have a conversation with those ruins as the top shot looks down from the broken roof. He has assumed the old role of family photographer but this time there are no happy faces around.
One of the characters in the film says, "One may live anywhere but the village is where the roots are."The film seems to ask constantly- "Are they?" The thing called roots is an illusion of protection. The sad truth is there are no roots but a vague sensory trip that was triggered last time when a jalebi tasted like home, a whiff of yellowed pages of grandfather's old book also echoed with his voice and the song that obliviously blared from the speakers filled the room with lost yesterdays.Roots have shifted and so have homes. Gamak Ghar is a lump in our throats that we have passively inherited and learnt to habitually gulp down.
However, the reward of Gamak Ghar is not in what it tells for the entire span of the film, it is in the last five minutes when winter peters away to a bright sunny day and the window looks out to the laborers carrying bricks inside for renovation. The frame that personifies the house in this shot is the most marvelous of all – the waiting is finally over. Will the people return too? The film hopes and draws a full circle as there is a 'upanayan' ceremony waiting to happen soon. Once again.
Watch it for it is a letter that has finally been posted after years of waiting -a letter homebound. It will definitely reach home but only too late.