Tracing the Meditative Paths from ‘Gold-Laden Sheep and the Sacred Mountain’
Ridham Janve’s evocative feature becomes an impressive addition to the slow cinema.
There is a certain specificity that the language can bring to a film. While depicting a culture on the screen, one can always bring a more authentic experience by keeping it rooted in the respective ethos. Tamil filmmaker Vetrimaaran has expressed in his interviews how his films are rooted in a perception based on a Tamil person’s understanding of the world. So language is an essential and inescapable part of it. That particularly native approach is felt through the films where the filmmakers get a dialect right. Prateek Vats’ ‘Eeb Allay Ooo!’ goes with a specific Delhiite accent and elevates a thoroughly humanizing depiction of the characters. Bhaurao Karhade’s 'Khwada' feels satisfying largely because of its depiction of the particular region with respect to the use of its accent. Sonchiriya was one of the recent examples where the film’s version with the 'Bundelkhandi' dialect was lauded to be a more rewarding experience.
So it comes as no surprise when more young directors are trying to latch onto such particularities. Ridham Janve’s film is no exception. And I mean it in the best possible way. ‘Sona Dhwandi Bhed Te Suchha Pahad’ is based in the local Gaddi language, which is spoken by the people where the film takes place. There are wide landscapes surrounding the Himalayas and the local myths. The whole plot revolves around that. But the language first and foremost becomes the foundation for how the film is deep-rooted in the place.
In a considerably distant place in the Himalayas, the Gaddi locals have very little to engage in apart from their daily chores. These shepherds roam around and take their sheep to graze over the slopes along these mountains. The film settles to their pace and embraces that unhurriedness. The long takes make you stay in the moment, give you a sense of their place. You start walking through those stones and pebbles, getting mesmerized. Fog envelopes the whole landscape. Clouds make their presence felt. You enter the misty fog, walk with these shepherds, and get lost in their mundanity. Their way of living can become yours. Your rewarding experience on how you respond to it.
But it is not just about their sluggish lifestyle as a result of being distant from flourishing civilization. Their perception of the world depends on that very way of living. The world outside is a mystery to them and they indulge in discussions about how the world they live in is just as much filled with mysteries and unsolved theories. They believe in the presence of a certain unknown. The Lord Naga, as they call it. They speak about it with intrigue. They align inexplicable details from their lives to this entity. They have a fear of its presence or even getting close to where it resides. The Lord Naga is ruthless. He does not forgive anyone who does not believe in him. Through their chatter, they try to assign meaning to the unknown.
They are a part of the place where satisfaction depends on very little. For the ageing shepherd- Arjun, it may as well be to feel a sense of superiority over his servant. And the servant would find it in getting a drop of alcohol that the old guy is keeping from him. He is the one who tells this fatherly figure about his dream. ‘Dreams are a funny thing’, he says. He goes on to describe an old incident of a plane crash where the locals benefited by the gold and silver from that plane. So his dream makes him visualize the gold-laden sheep. Around the same time, a plane has been crashed in the mountains yet again. And there is a reward for anyone who can find its traces. It is clear when something from the outer world marks its presence, it creates an obvious intrigue. In this case, this opportunity from the outer world not only creates such intrigue but make them look beyond their needs.
What lies behind the sacred mountain is a mystery for most of them. They often say how that is where the Naga resides. Yet no one has dared to head in that direction. The entity has been ruthless on the ones who did not believe in its presence. Even the shepherds who had lived most of their lives there were not able to stand against its will. We gather such bits of information from their conversations. The place is perhaps reachable but unattainable. The mystery is omnipresent.
You see almost a Tarkovskian fable through the narrative. In Andrei’s narrative, three men seek out to a special place called ‘zone’, that no one knows the origin of. But they travel all the way, just on the hope of something they had heard from the narratives about the place - how it fulfils one’s innermost desires. There is uncertainty. But that hardly stops any of them from seeking this place. That yearning is common. In these mountains, it is hard not to get lost. It is hard to keep track of where you are going. All paths toward the destination seem even more blurred and distant. Isn’t destination a funny thing? The three men from Stalker try in the search of seeking one. These shepherds roam around in the search of whether they have one.
The way Tarkovsky composes time in respect to the journey of its characters - following them all the way through long tunnels, backing their every small step and every breath and mystifyingly transporting them to almost a fluid reality, ‘The Gold-laden Sheep…’ try to capture something along those lines with its characters and their spiritual awakenings. There are several long takes trying to get a sense of their lives. The camera does not get as close to the characters as Tarkovsky’s film does, it rather observes those shepherds from a long distance, making those landscapes look like a Pollock painting. Meanwhile, the theme of greed creeps in slowly which largely envelopes these shepherds.
It is truly a testament of how a place can create the narrative rather than the other way around. Time and space are used in respect to the ethos. Thus the Gaddi shepherd’s ethereal journey becomes a little more alive for us.