With each passing year pulling us deeper into the wilderness of adulting, we keep getting better at complicating the simplest of things by overanalysing them. We focus so profoundly on the chaos, the imperfections, the flaws, that we often miss out on the sheer beauty of the calming simplicity of people or objects around us.
However, all hope isn’t lost yet as Rohini Chandra, a free-spirited storyteller and an award-winning filmmaker based in Los Angeles, chose to capture the beautiful imperfections of India in the simplest manner in her documentary ‘Yeh Sundar Safar’ (This Beautiful Journey), which was released on August 4, 2020.
Hosted, shot, written, edited and directed by Chandra – who identifies as queer – the documentary features Anand Sharma, Megha Sharma amidst other people she met while shooting, along with a special appearance by the late Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput. The film is produced by the Chandra Family, Havish Ravipati and Virginie Drouot, and the music is by Chris Haugen, Saarth Desai among several other composers from across the world.
‘Yeh Sundar Safar’
From a 45-day long impromptu journey across the country and ten hours of long, raw shooting, emerged an hour-long documentary that explored a range of topics including family, politics, history, food, social issues, spirituality, and religion. Marina Abey Thomas, an Indian journalist and leading voice of India’s youth, features in the film and talks about these issues.
“With edgy cinematography, the film displays the cinematic meaning of the mundane with a raw, journalistic, and rustic visual style. It also displays how the power of storytelling through filmmaking can bring people from different walks of life together,” says Chandra.
According to her, the documentary sheds light upon how the modern generation is trying to take more charge, and speaking up against injustice. “For instance,” she explains, “ten years ago people were ready to go and study abroad, which still happens, but there’s also a part of India’s youth that really wants to bring a change.”
Other than that, the documentary touches upon a number of ongoing socio-political issues, such as prevention of inter-regional marriage in Kashmir, the hospitality of the farmers (who are currently protesting against the farm bills), the youth’s modern take on India’s future, and the push and pull between modernity and tradition in the country.
One of the recurring themes in the documentary is that of hope. Despite all the conflicts and darkness, Chandra explains that through her documentary, she wants to ignite a ray of hope among the viewers. “I feel that as a journalist it’s your job to portray an issue and bring light to it with a need to resolve it, however, I, as an artist, wanted to bring out the need to embrace the imperfections,” she says.
Apart from making short films and documentaries in her free-time, the filmmaker takes pleasure in singing, writing songs and acting.
“I first grew an imagination from music, books, movies, and the Adventures of Tintin in my green backyard in New Jersey, and ever since, I have tried to spread love and celebrate diversity, adventure, and culture through the art of storytelling,” says Chandra.
Having spent a number of years learning music in Mumbai and visiting the country during every summer vacation as a child, Chandra says that she has always been very fascinated by India – its landscapes, culture, people, hospitality and food.
“India, for me, is a calm and a simple place where I can pause and relax. Moreover, being the first generation Asian American, I always feel very excited by the concept of travelling to the motherland and exploring new parts of the country, which was one of the reasons why I decided to shoot this documentary,” she adds.
“It was a very new and refreshing experience to travel and shoot as a queer person in different parts of the country, interacting with different people and learning about their cultures while subtly breaking the social boundaries,” she said. “I also find India to be an escape for me from the fast-paced life I have in the States.”
The documentary has not only garnered more than 1,00,000 views on social media since last year but has also bagged several awards including the Best Documentary and Travel Film Award at Picasso Einstein Buddha International Film Festival and Best Documentary Award at Kashmir International Film and Cultural Festival.
The film was also selected as the finalist for New York International Film Awards and made it to the official selection at Montreal Independent Film Festival, Los Angeles Lift-Off Film Festival and Chinh Youth Film Festival.
Prachi Batra is an intern at LiveWire. She loves watching sunsets, sipping light coffee and writing stories.
All images provided by Rohini Chandra.