The struggle of an aspiring actor always makes for an intriguing narrative to play around with, giving a chance to the writer and director to tell something already familiar but in a new way. Achal Mishra's Dhuin is the story of Pankaj, played by Abhinav Jha, a small-time theater actor who wants to go to Mumbai to test his luck and make it big in the film industry. For now, to keep his mornings engaged, he does street plays in his hometown of Darbhanga, in the evenings, he spends time with the local people from film and theatre circuits to discuss cinema and his nights are spent taking acting classes on YouTube. However, aspiring to be an actor is not the only challenge of Pankaj's life. His family is struggling to meet ends, his father, while looking for a job for himself, wants his son to earn for the family.
Darbhanga perhaps has a special place in the heart of filmmaker Achal Mishra. In his films, along with the actors, the town also plays a character. However, unlike his previous venture 'Ghamak Ghar', this film is set in a relatively urban setting. The course of the film runs through the season of winter, thus, the screen at several times is, well, fogged. Cinematographer Anand Bansal uses the morning and night fog to engulf the protagonist, just like he is engulfed by the tragedies of his life.
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The cinematography of the film is simple but adequate and effective. It perfectly exhibits the many aspects of the town of Darbhanga, with the camera being still for most of the scenes, except for those when Pankaj walks in distress. In a scene, probably one of the best of the lot, Pankaj, two filmmakers, and a director are sitting on the ground in the evening, opposite a monument, discussing cinema, particularly Kiarostami. While the three filmmakers talk about the Iranian filmmaker, Pankaj has no idea what the conversation is about. He shares the love for cinema, but not the knowledge the other three people have of it. He has his moment of embarrassment and realisation followed by a scene where he returns home and we only see Pankaj and the spiral of thoughts in his head.
The film is notable for its authenticity, especially in terms of the local accents and dialogues. The film, in sense, is a docu-fiction. Most of the people we see on screen are non-actors, playing themselves, providing it the rawness.
I recently had the opportunity to see the film in the Habitat International Film Festival, with the crew and cast being present for audience interaction. While talking about the consistency of the theme of home and migration from one's hometown, Mishra says, "I am making these films to find some answers myself. I have been away from Darbhanga for some time, I go back to that place to make films and in the midst of it, to figure out some things."
While being asked about why he makes films in winters, he said, "This one just happened to be shot in winters. Prashant, from whom this film is inspired, told me about how he had to take his father his father somewhere. That image of father and son on a bike in a winter morning just stuck with me and I knew I wanted to make the film around it."
The film has an unusual runtime of fifty minutes, too long to be a short film but not enough for being a feature film. While addressing this, Mishra says, "There were no considerations about the runtime. We just shot what we had to, there were a lot of improvisations. I had a five-page script and we knew what we wanted for the film. The runtime turned out to be fifty minutes but we knew we didn't want to add any scene or shoot more."
The cinematographer, Anand Bansal, also talked about the static frames throughout the film. He said, "It has a lot to do with how Achal sees his film. We moved the cameras when we thought we needed to." Achal jokingly interrupts and said, "We didn't have the money to move the cameras."
The title of the film 'Dhuin' didn't come easy to Achal. He says, "I think it is harder to give a title than making the film itself. I was stuck when it came to naming the film, it was called different names at different stages. I knew I wanted it to be something light and related to fog. I hadn't heard Dhuin as a Maithili word but someone told me about it, it sounded nice and didn't give away a lot about the film so we decided on it."