Shankar’s Fairies, which will have its world premiere on August 13 at the Locarno Film Festival, in Switzerland, is about a child’s view of the adult world, says the film’s director Irfana Majumdar, during a candid conversation with Silverscreen India.
As per the official synopsis, the film is set in 1962 Lucknow, in a newly independent and idealistic India that is still class-bound and exploitative, and tells the story of Shankar, a village man with a gift for storytelling, who brings up a police officer’s daughter while far away from his own family.
The central character of the story, Shankar, is based on a real-life house help of the same name.
“It is about Shankar, but not just Shankar the servant. However, the film is not from his perspective. We don’t know many intimate details about him — like his family, his opinions, his own private space,” says Majumdar about her Hindi feature debut.
“It’s from the child’s point of view, or us [the viewers] looking back as the child. It is about those several selective childhood instances that stay with us and affect our thought process, but might hold no significance to others,” Majumdar explains.
The film, based on the childhood memories of her mother Nita Kumar, will enter the competition in the Concorso Cineasti del Presente section, which showcases 15 features by emerging global talents.
“My life was shaped by Shankar. I believe all children are influenced by stories, images and treasure the adults who share their imaginations with them,” Kumar, a professor of History and Anthropology, said in a statement. She is also a writer, producer, and production designer of the film.
Majumdar calls her film “a personal journey into the heart of India.” It revolves around the director’s grandparents and their children: a nine-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son.
Shankar’s Fairies was shot in Kumar’s ancestral home in the cantonment area of Lucknow.
The hundred-year-old house was the starting point for the film, which was conceived in January of 2016 when Majumdar’s maternal grandmother died.
“She had been living in that house and after her death, the extended family decided that the house had to be sold. So, within a year, we were going to lose that house as well,” says Majumdar. Therefore, in February, they decided to make a film in the house and by the end of October, the film was shot. “It all happened very quickly.”
With no background in films, Majumdar, who has directed and edited three documentaries, says she “jumped into making the film,” and it was not until 2019 that Shankar’s Fairies was brought to the editor’s table.
The house that inspired the film was built by Majumdar’s great-grandfather and as per the filmmaker, it was a ‘silent witness’ whose “beauty and fragility mask an entrenched hierarchy and system of oppression that haunts India even today.”
In a statement, the Majumdar said, “My grandparents loved beautiful things, good food, and socialising. There was no one who didn’t exclaim over their flowerbeds, artfully arranged rooms, and tastefully planned menus. However, the truth about this lifestyle was that it was only possible through the labour of an army of servants: individuals part of an injustice so deeply embedded that even today it is unquestioned and taken advantage of by a whole class of ‘good people’.”
The film marks the acting debut of Majumdar and her husband Gaurav Saini. The couple play the roles of an on-screen husband and wife. They appear in the film alongside Jaihind Kumar, a friend of Saini’s, and Shreeja Mishra and Adwik Mathur, both of whom were chosen after holding several acting workshops with children in Lucknow.
Despite facing problems like bringing together like-minded people given the low budget, the film went on to get selected for the prestigious Film Bazaar’s Work-In-Progress Lab 2019 and the NFDC Film Bazaar Goes to Cannes programme in 2020.
Shankar’s Fairies is yet to release in India. “We would like to have a limited release. But prior to that, we want to take it to a few more festivals, for the next one or one-and-a-half years,” says Majumdar.