Things aren’t going as planned for the Bhardes – a regular middle-class family from Mumbai. Six months ago, the father, Mr. Bharde, bought a chick from a street vendor for a mere Rs 10. He thought the chick would make a good toy for their two cats Ginger and Garlic. Much to their surprise and dismay, the chick braved all odds to grow into a rooster and has become a nuisance at home.
Now, Mrs. Bharde gets pecked if she doesn’t share some of the vegetables she’s cleaning. Mr. Bharde, a heavy sleeper who can sleep through dhols and firecrackers, is instantly clawed awake. Their children cannot function either – one thinks the rooster hates him. And even Ginger and Garlic aren’t spared – the rooster shows up to lay claim to their food every time he sees them eating. The exasperated family must now decide on the future of the bird.
When Rishi Chandna, a director and producer at production house ShootUp Pictures heard about this story from his co-producer Ritika Ranjan, his jaw dropped. “I had not heard about such a situation anywhere in any city, not just Mumbai,” he says. Although it is pretty common in rural areas and villages to have chickens as pets, he never imagined this happening in an urban environment. “I found it funny in an absurd, farcical way. It wasn’t haha funny. There was something deeper to this which I wanted to explore. Because I couldn’t understand fully why this had happened and what was going to happen next.” The result is Tungrus, a 14-minute short documentary that plays like a tragicomedy.
Tungrus antagonizes neither the rooster nor the family. “This was a chance to observe the situation without any bias. We are all creatures of habit – whether it’s the humans in the film, the rooster or the cats. Everybody in that environment adopts certain habits,” says Chandna. The film gets its name from Naseeruddin Shah’s character in Mandi, which is also the nickname Mrs. Bharde came up with for her husband. She is reminded of the character every time she sees Mr. Bharde chase the rooster around the house to make him stop crowing.
The film has a naturalistic look and evokes the feeling of the cramped apartment. Chandna, along with his cinematographer Deepak Nambiar, worked consciously to make sure not to sanitize the film. “A lot of cinema works towards making their subjects seem neat and tidy and sweetened for consumption. I am really opposed to that. If you want to shoot a real situation, you have to respect the space and the constraints that it brings and you have to adapt to it,” he says.
Chandna took a liking to the worn-out look of the house. “There’s a shot where you’re looking at the rooster who is outside in the grill area and the window is absolutely dirty and smudged. When we were taking that shot, the uncle asked me, ‘Isko saaf karne ka hai? (Do you want to clean this?)’ I said, “No. This is your house. This is how it is, we will shoot it.” The approach was to work with the space, and not have it changed to suit their needs.
Does Chandna want to make a statement about our perception of animals through Tungrus? “After seeing the film, you can probably relook at your relationship with livestock and with the meat that you eat. That is going to be one of the takeaways for someone who sees it inevitably,” he says.
While the family is queasy about eating a bird they’ve spent 6 months living with, Mr. Bharde feels it is the only option. “Personally I feel that uncle’s take on the situation is quite healthy. It’s fine to have a direct relationship with your kill rather than consume meat the way we do in modern society where you don’t know what you’re eating or where it’s coming from. There’s a desensitization that’s crept into our consumption of food today which the film can talk about.”
Tungrus will have its world premiere at the Visions du Réel festival in Switzerland followed by a screening at the renowned Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto. Chandna is hoping it will continue its international festival run for the rest of the year before it comes home. “Eventually we also want to have a solid premiere here in India at one of the respected and prestigious film festivals in India. And at some point later, we’re hoping that the film will get picked up and released online so that people can see it.”