Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

A scene from "Walking Over Water"

Walking Over Water: An ‘Autofiction’ Manifesto

I was making all kinds of films all these years, but mostly non-fiction films. The idiom of story-telling in my films were more or less indebted to a fictional tradition. I pushed the boundaries to such an extent that it becomes invalid after a point if I could hook my viewers. In some films, obviously a viewer – friendly idiom happened and in some others a labyrinth signaled to more subterranean plots. In ‘Walking over Water’ a lot of 8mm home-video footages were blended with enacted ‘drama’ and I don’t know whether a conventional terminology like ‘docu-fiction’ is apt to use for it.

They say that Christ was cent percent human and cent percent God. One can accept or reject it. ‘Walking over Water’ is both fiction and non-fiction at the same time. I shot my son for a period of 14 long years from the age of Eight. He is not acting out a role of a character in the fictional part of the film. But keeping the basic character of Ozu (his name) unaltered, I had planted other characters around him. It is not to say that everything about what you see in the film about his character is ‘docu’ and all other characters are part of the fictional narrative. For example, the conflict between his parents on the subject of ‘fiction’ is real. His mother has got a theological opposition to fictional films dubbing them as an escape to an imaginary world bereft of reality.

This actual life conflict is a daily reality for the character of Ozu. It is his experience that his father (in this case, the filmmaker) breaks the cups at home while quarreling with his mother on the subject of cinema. It is a bizarre situation for the viewers as well as the young man. When this ‘Grihajudha’ or war at home is put under trial in the family court of writer Mahasweta Devi, it is a documentary sequence. But when the same quarrel between his parents is discussed between Ozu and his girlfriend Prasanti, it is a pure fictional sequence. You actually see a cup there where the word ‘DIRECTOR’ is inscribed on it.  Prasanti calls it a ‘War-memorabilia’ and thereby triggers Ozu to open up his personal life vis-a-vis his parents. She talks about the strange stories about both the bridges Vidyasagar Setu and Howrah bridge – as they meet at a Jetty at Hooghly which is situated in the middle of these bridges. The story which Prasanti starts narrating to Ozu is about the construction of Vidyasagar Setu and is part of the city lore in Kolkata. The then Govt. in power could not complete the construction of Vidyasagar Setu for more than a decade. As usual, Vidyasagar Setu was also built starting the construction from both the opposite sides of the bridge.  But both the ends of the same bridge could never meet at the middle. Both the sides of the bridge had two different levels from the river. Then how was it mended and the bridge was completed?

Joshy Joseph (right) directing a take of “Walking Over Water”

Prasanti comes up with a story which acts as a springboard for Ozu to think about his parents.  So, the structure of the film alludes to different metaphors like the Golden Record in the NASA Spaceship Voyagers and the very title ‘Walking Over Water’. It is a network of metaphors.

There may be a genuine issue of dissonance for some viewers with this film, but I was prepared for it.  I tried to push the envelope as we live in our fractured lives, by attending to a WhatsApp message and watching a film or a play or while listening to music. Most of the times, we are obliged to live a very fractured life, where we are separate from our self. Wow attempts to make you aware of life which is not separate. Because, what is explored in it is the actual life, absent from our every day. Every character/personage is present in the film. It is structured in a very Indian way of story-telling that audience can see even those details which characters/person are not aware of themselves. The narrative and its atmosphere is kept open that viewers can climb up to the film.

It reassured me about one thing, while the film was premiered at Basushree Cinema. Kolkata will connect with it. May be only Kolkata. Vidyarthy Chatterjee, the veteran critic wrote his debut book after seeing Wow. “Calcutta Films – a Joshy Joseph Trilogy” in which he analyses my three major Calcutta Films, (1) “One Day from a Hangman’s Life” (2) “A Poet, A City and a Footballer” and (3) “Walking Over Water”. The Bengali title of Wow tells it all – “OBHIMANI JOL’ (Hurt Waters). Poet Sankha Ghosh had presented his poem ‘Water’ to me, as a token of his appreciation after watching ‘Wow’.

Let the mist and mysteries remain.  I could arrive at that zone in ‘Walking Over Water’ through a narrative which conceals and reveals or vice-versa, which is essentially an Indian way.

“Can water fathom any of your sufferings? Why then, why

Why would you embrace water leaving the moistness of your soul?

Does water bring pain to your bosom? Why then, why

Why even think of forsaking the weighty tears of your days and nights?”  

(Water – Sankha Ghosh)

Also Read