INTERVIEW

‘The streams have dried up. Where will we find our fish?’ Children’s film ‘Pipsi’ has some answers

Two eight-year-olds deal with drought, debt and death in the Marathi film ‘Pipsi’.

It is easier to get a bottle of Pipsi, a local and cheap cola drink, than water in the bone-dry village of Rakh in Maharashtra. And yet, eight-year-old Chaani and her friend Baalu manage to store some of the precious liquid in a bottle to grow a fish.

After listening to the story of king Satyavrat and the fish from the Mahabharata, the children become convinced that a fish alone will save Chaani’s dying mother. The village doctor has pronounced that she has only three months to live.

“The streams have all dried up,” Chaani tells Baalu. “Where will we find our fish?”

Eventually, they manage to find a fish and name it after their favourite drink, Pipsi. But will Pipsi save the day?

Directed by Rohan Deshpande and produced by Vidhi Kasliwal, the Marathi-language Pipsi deals with grave matters related to life and death, myth and reality and fact and fiction and leaves it to two incredibly determined eight-year-olds to make sense of them. The two children, performed brilliantly by Maithili Patwardhan and Sahil Joshi, give the movie their all. Pipsi has been screened at the Mumbai Film Festival (October 12-18) in the children’s cinema section Half Ticket.

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Pipsi.

Although Deshpande conceptualised Pipsi with writer Saurabh Bhave, he left the production halfway for reasons that Kasliwal doesn’t want to discuss. She did, however, chart the journey of the film from the page to the screen.

“The germ of the idea for the film came from the discussions that Rohan and Saurabh had as friends,” Kasliwal said. “Both come from smaller villages in Maharashtra and they are familiar with such a story and setting. They wanted to do something that involved drought and children. When they came to me with the idea, I instantly loved it. It had the promise of childhood and was so aspirational. I feel that as makers we have a responsibility to give hope to people.”

The initial story idea did not extend beyond two pages. “Initially, what we had was a story about a mother, a daughter and a fish that the daughter wants to use to save the mother,” Kasliwal said. “Gradually, we began discussing the layers that we wanted to put into the film: how much of the friendship should we touch upon, how deep do we want to get into it, how much of the issues of the adults do we go into etc. We were very sure we wanted to keep it from the point of view of children.”

The experience of drought is central to Pipsi. The cracked and parched earth is the terrain on which the two children grapple with farmer suicides, agricultural distress and debt. The movie was shot at Arni, a village in Yavatmal district.

“It was constant process of collaboration and brainstorming,” Kasliwal said. “For instance, we worked out the climax only at the edit stage. We were thinking how we should we end it – should there be rain, should there be death, should they abandon their beliefs. In the end, we decided to go with an ending that is interpretative – one which allows everyone to interpret it in their way because that is how life is.”

Pipsi. Courtesy Landmarc Films.
Pipsi. Courtesy Landmarc Films.

The child actors who deliver stunning performances were the first and the last to audition for the roles. “We were lucky that the first children we auditioned were Sahil and Maithili,” Kasliwal said. “When you give children a script, they take everything so sincerely. They knew each other’s lines as well. They would come up with a lot of nuances or actions they needed to do. They brought their naturalness into the film. They became great friends as well, entertaining each other between shots.”

Preparing children for a movie that handles suicide, drought and death isn’t easy. “We took workshops with them,” Kasliwal said. “Both come from different backgrounds – Sahil comes from a village near Pune whereas Maithili is from Bombay. So we had to handle each differently. Sometimes when you are in a smaller town or village, though your external exposure may not be as much, I think you get used to harsher realities really quickly. I think this idea is somewhere an underlying layer of the film as well. A lot of people who have watched the film wondered about why the children aren’t reacting to the suicides as much as they should. Is it because they are ignorant about it or is it because they are used to it? It is both and you can read it either way.”

Pipsi. Courtesy Landmarc Films.
Pipsi. Courtesy Landmarc Films.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.