For Singh, who resides in Pune, the very fact that his film was being shown at the festival was an honour. “Of course, winning the award was definitely a high point given that IFFI was one of the first film festivals that I ever attended,” he says. The award carries a trophy and a citation along with a prize money of Rs 40 lakh to be distributed equally among the director and the producer — in this case the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC). Singh’s film is an adaptation of Punjabi novelist Gurdial Singh’s story by the same name, and deals with the issues of exploitation and migration of lower-caste, landless labourers. It sketches the lives of Dalits living in ghettos in Punjab.
Singh says he chose the issue because it was something that would “strike a chord with people across the country”. Elaborating, Singh says, “The movie tells the story of a village where the landlord has sold land to an industrialist and, consequently, asks the villagers to vacate the place. Rickshaw pullers in the village, led by the protagonist Melu, protest the move, thereby changing the life course of the entire village.”
This is not the first award for the film, though. In addition to three national awards, it has also won the special jury award at the $50,000 Black Pearl trophy at the 5th Abu Dhabi film festival for best direction. The film, which was completed last year, had a world premier at the Venice International Film Festival and since then has travelled to South Korea, BFI London Film Festival, Hong Kong Asian Film Festival and South Asian International Film Festival in New York. In addition, it was also recently released commercially in theatres.
“The film has been around for a year and travelled to a lot of countries. The DVD of the film will be coming out sometime this month,” he says.
Singh’s next project is set in the days post Operation Bluestar in Punjab. The working title of the movie is Chauthi Koot (Fourth Direction). “The film is being jointly produced by a French producer and the NFDC. Having a budget of around Rs 6 crore, Singh had even gone to Hong Kong to raise money for the same. He says they have raised around 60 per cent of the finances and the film will go on the floors in 2013 around monsoon. “I want to shoot the film during the rains. It deals with the lives of people caught in the violence that happened in 1984,” says Singh.
About the award, Singh says, “It is nice. To be honest, awards have their own importance. For filmmakers, however, the joy is seeing the film reaching people across the nation and the world. That is the more important.”