A short film about a boy from a construction site in Bengaluru who goes to sleep in the back of an auto rickshaw and gets transported to a different part of the city is among the titles being screened at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (April 6-10). Playgrounds, directed by Bangalore filmmaking duo Shamik Sen Gupta and Pallavi MD, has been previously shown at the Incubator for Film and Visual Media in Asia festival in Hong Kong in March, where it won the top prize in the Asian New Force category.

Playgrounds is set in two working-class neighbourhoods – a housing colony where an auto rickshaw driver realises that a three-year-old boy has stowed away in the back of his vehicle, and the construction site where the boy’s parents live. The tension in the plot arises out of the choices that need to be made – returning the boy even as the rickshaw driver’s ailing mother-in-law needs to be taken to hospital, and facing down the mistrust of the boy’s family when the good deed is finally done.

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Local theatre actor and director Amjad Prawej memorably plays the auto driver, while Pallavi, who has written, edited and directed the film along with Sen Gupta, also makes an appearance. Like several short films, Playgrounds is a labour of love, self-funded and worked upon for three months. “We rehearsed with the actors for two weeks, developing character, building before-after scenarios, and mostly over-preparing for what would be largely a guerrilla style shoot,” the filmmakers said in an email interview.

The 18-minute film was inspired by a real-life incident. “The sudden burden on the auto driver and the panic of the parents whose child is lost was an interesting starting point,” the filmmakers said. “But we felt this was really the tip of an iceberg – we could leave it at just this incident or go deeper, contextualise it to a growing metropolis.”

The filmmakers conducted research on auto drivers and migrant labourers, both ubiquitous groups in a city that is on the move and growing rapidly in all directions. The precariousness of trust between these competing working-class groups is deftly explored in the encounter between the rickshaw driver and the boy’s parents. “The dynamics that emerge from each of the characters’ economic condition and status in the city were inherently interesting to us, where every character is right in their own place, in their own argument, and where their basic survival instinct quickly overrules their rationality and morality,” said the directors.

A still from ‘Playgrounds’.
A still from ‘Playgrounds’.