Aunty Sudha Aunty Radha is a world apart, capturing the slow rhythm of daily life in a kothi in Lahra, Uttar Pradesh, without embellishment. ♦
Originally published in India Today.
One of the most striking things about Tanuja Chandra’s first documentary, which premiered internationally last month and features her 93 and 86-year-old aunts, is her own uninhibited presence. As Chandra laughs goofily, encouraging Sudha and Radha to describe their lives, it’s easy to identify with her-the aunts’ patterns of story-telling and declaiming will resonate with those who have spent time with elderly relatives. But it’s rare to see this kind of interaction onscreen, particularly among women of different generations.
“At the start, I was tense and possibly awkward,” Chandra says in an e-mail interview. Her aunts’ banter and unselfconsciousness helped her get over the pressure of being on camera. “They don’t bother with trying to impress anyone or disguising anything, whether it’s to do with their physical appearance or what they speak about,” she adds. For example, a lovely scene shows Sudha popping a chocolate in bed once Radha has fallen asleep. “There’s practically no filter there-something most of us urbane and modern people can only aspire to.”
Chandra is known for her women-centric commercial features, but Aunty Sudha Aunty Radha is a world apart, capturing the slow rhythm of daily life in a kothi in Lahra, Uttar Pradesh, without embellishment. She teases out how the household is a particular example of interdependence, laying bare the loyalty and love between the aunts and the staff. “Their chatter, comforting attendance and wicked sense of humour are crucial to the daily existence of my aunts,” she says.
Conversations about the past and the inevitable future are light but poignant. “Their brand of honesty, which is brutal but not bitter; their sarcasm, sharp but oddly embracing; their habits and preferences which no force on earth can now alter…these things informed the structure and tone that the film eventually took,” says Chandra.
The filmmaker believes her experience in Lahra will help the feature projects she’s currently working on. “Very serious topics like death can be addressed in a sprightly manner and not lose any of their relevance,” she says. It was also “a revelation” to witness “the lives of so-called ordinary people. If we look with patience and empathy, there is so much everyday heroism and love.”
Chandra hopes documentaries in India will one day be “valued the way they are internationally”. She says: “There are countless stories (in India) waiting to be documented. Funny, dramatic, tragic, mysterious” Aunty Sudha Aunty Radha is currently on the festival circuit and will likely be on a digital platform next year.