In Achal Mishra’s new film Dhuin, a young theatre actor strives to stay true to his craft, worries about money, makes plans to migrate to Mumbai and rows with his retired father – all within the span of 50 minutes.

Any disappointment that Dhuin doesn’t run any longer is evened out by admiration for just how Mishra and his co-writers have managed to pack into a crisp run-time. Set in Darbhanga, which was also the backdrop for Mishra’s remarkable docu-fiction debut Gamak Ghar, Dhuin has the flavour of a short story rendered in an entirely cinematic language.

The struggles of the actor Pankaj (Abhinav Jha) remind us of both humankind’s timeless rebellion against immutability and the self-doubt that plagues the rebel. Made in Hindi and Maithili – the title is Maithili for fog and is pronounced “Dh-wee” – Dhuin is among the six titles being presented at the National Film Development Corporation’s pavilion at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival.

Dhuin (2022). Courtesy Achalchitra Productions.

Dhuin was inspired by an incident narrated by one of the actors in Gamak Ghar – the actor had to accompany his retired father to a job interview. “The image of the father and son on a bike in winter stayed with me,” Mishra told “I wrote a five-page script and we decided to play with it.”

Along with a skeletal crew, Mishra landed up in Darbhanga in January 2021. “Everything flowed from there – we would shoot, re-shoot, improvise,” he said. “The length was never figured out. We thought it would be a short film. But when writing the father-son story. I found the world of theatre very interesting, so we kept on including more of that aspect.”

Keen on exploring Darbhanga’s urban features, including details of its feudal past, Mishra took a cue from the films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Mia-Hansen Love, in which subtle shifts of mood and moments of clarity take place during long walks by characters.

Dhuin (2022). Courtesy Achalchitra Productions.

One of the film’s key scenes takes place outside Darbhanga’s new airport. A withered tree, with only its trunk and branches surviving, provides a vantage point to see the airplanes taking off.

“The tree was removed a few days after our shoot,” Mishra said.

The first cut was 54 minutes long – longer than a short and long enough to be a film. Mishra, who edited Dhuin himself, finally fixed the duration at 50 minutes.

The feeling of peering at a miniature portrait, and the instant intimacy forged with the characters, flow from the pacing as well as the framing. Anand Bansal, who also lensed Gamak Ghar, has shot Dhuin in the 4:3 aspect ratio, preferred by filmmakers seeking to map the mental landscapes of characters.

Mishra, who is also a photographer, has used 4:3 in his photographs as well as in Gamak Ghar, a triptych about Mishra’s ancestral home that is presented in three different aspect ratios.

“I like portraits, and this aspect ratio does better justice to framing characters,” he explained.

Gamak Ghar (2019).

Pankaj’s disquiet deepens after his meetings with other Darbhanga natives who are where he wants to be – in Mumbai, pursuing seemingly fruitful careers in show business.

Pankaj is lost during an erudite conversation about the films of Abbas Kiarostami – a moment that was inspired by the experience of one of Dhuin’s co-writers, Prashant Rana, Mishra said. Jha had been part of a discussion about Iranian and Romanian cinema, but later told Mishra that he had no idea what was being talked about.

Dhuin too is about belonging and being out of place, rootedness and youthful drift. Mishra was channelling his own position as an insider-outsider during the filming of Gamak Ghar. The 25-year-old filmmaker lived in Darbhanga until he was 10, later studied in London, and now divides his time between Mumbai and his hometown.

Achal Mishra.

Like Gamak Ghar, Dhuin is self-funded and made on a floor-level budget. While its length makes it eligible for film festivals, it is debatable whether Dhuin qualifies for a release in theatres or on streamers.

Having gone ahead and made his second film with integrity and without interference, Mishra is already onto his next project – a documentary on the Sahitya Akademi-winning writer Vinod Kumar Shukla.

The critical success of Gamak Ghar, which is available on MUBI, caused some strain for Mishra. The pressure to make a second film was building up, he said.

The Dhuin experiment, which evolved organically, was “fun and liberating”. Mishra added, “We felt so free, we were playing around, in fact, underplaying the [filmmaking] process.”

Dhuin (2022).

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All these years later, Maithili cinema is still in search of a home

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